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Making a New Start as a Single Parent

By Diane C. Shearer, LMFT, CFLE

Being a single parent is tough work no matter what the circumstances, but suddenly finding yourself in the role of a single mom or dad after many years of being married is often a tremendous lifestyle shock and takes some getting used to. While married, we have a backup person in case something goes wrong in our tight schedule. While married, we can ask the other parent to shoulder some of the responsibility of parenting and homemaking. While married, as much as we hate to admit it, we have someone else we can blame if we make a mistake. Being single and being a parent requires a great deal of time, energy, and self-discipline. It can be depressing at times, but it is also important to realize that this time will slip by quickly, and before you know it, you'll be waving those little buggers off to college! So, now is a great time of year to begin looking at your single parenthood in a new way, reframing it to be the most rewarding time of your life. Here are a few quick tips to get you started:

Count your blessings. During these difficult economic times, if you have a job, be thankful that you can provide for your family. If you are unemployed, this might be a great time to start a business out of your home so that you can spend a lot of time being there for you kids. If you are really struggling and are about to lose your home or car, enlist family and friends to help you make new goals so you can begin again. There are always choices for us to make. You might also go back and remember some of the difficulties you encountered when you were married that are no longer a daily issue for you. For instance, if you and your ex were in constant conflict, what a blessing to not have to deal with that anymore. Maybe you were married to someone who always dipped into the checking account without telling you or racked up thousands of dollars in credit card bills. Isn't it great to always know where your money is going now (even if there is less to go around)? Maybe it is something as simple as being thankful you don't have to clean up after another adult, or share the bathroom, or be annoyed by dried toothpaste in the sink! Find the benefits in being the head of your household.

Simplify and make every hour count for something. One of the problems I see single parents engage in is being really busy without knowing why they are so busy! We can fill up our lives with too many activities, too many useless responsibilities, and too many draining people. Simplify your home life so that chores are easier. Do you really need all those pillows on the bed (what a pain when you try to make it in the morning). Does folding the bath towels in threes make a difference or can you just have a clean basket and a dirty basket? Too many knick knacks to dust? Get rid of them. Also, stop saying yes to every volunteer position that comes your way. I remember that I had to begin to say to married parents, "I'm sorry, but I'm a single parent and I only have so many hours in the day. I'll be glad to bring chips and dip to the soccer party, but I don't have time to help plan it." They were always very understanding and I think they actually respected me (and were maybe even a little jealous) that I was comfortable saying no in a kind and confident way.

Make a plan for your life. I know that making New Year's resolutions rarely works, but every year, I try to sit down and make my goals for the year. I know that I probably won't fulfill them all, but I like knowing that at least I have a direction. Divide them into three categories: personal, financial, and parenting. The personal category might include things like losing weight, dating again, becoming more spiritual, etc. Financial goals would include anything having to do with your career, paying off debt, or saving for a future goal, like buying a home. Your parenting goals might include being more disciplined, how you want to spend special time with each child, or how you want to nurture each of your children's talents and unique personalities. Just knowing where you are going will help you feel more in control of your life.

Diane Chambers Shearer is a licensed marriage and family therapist, divorce mediator, and parent educator in Atlanta, Georgia. She is author of Solo Parenting: Raising Strong and Happy Families (Fairview Press, 1997) and publishes The Peaceful Co-Parent, a quarterly newsletter for divorce parents. For ordering information, visit her web site at www.dianeshearer.com

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