Dr. MJ Bazos MD, Patient Handout
Single Parenting

Guidelines for Parents

Single-parent families are more and more common in today’s society. One of every four North American children lives in a single-parent home. While most single-parent homes are the result of divorce, many parents are raising children alone for other reasons as well. Some parents may be alone due to the death of a spouse. Others choose to have or adopt a child without a partner. Whatever the circumstances, single parents cope with unique issues and challenges.

A death in the family
Losing a parent is one of the most traumatic events that can happen to a child. A child under 5 years of age cannot understand that death is permanent. Older children may have an understanding, but will have many questions they may be afraid to ask. Where did Daddy go when he died? Why did he die? Who will take care of me if you die? Children can react to death in many ways. Some will be quiet and sad. Others may be angry, guilty, or refuse to believe the parent is gone. It’s important to accept your child’s response, whatever it is. If signs of sadness or anger continue, talk to your pediatrician. He or she may recommend professional counseling to help get the healing process back on track.

Unplanned pregnancy
An unplanned pregnancy brings great change. The job of caring for a new baby is not easy, especially for single parents. Those who work may feel they aren’t able to spend enough time at home with the baby. Money can be tight. Finding affordable child care might be hard. Be aware that help is available. Family, friends, and religious and community leaders are your best resources for support. If you need to find a job, employment agencies and temporary services can help. You may also qualify for government programs such as Head Start, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Women, Infants, and Children Supplemental Feeding Program (WIC), and Earned Income Credit (EIC).

Single-parent adoption
It is increasingly common for a single person to adopt a child on his or her own. Adoption can bring special challenges to parents. The child may be a baby just a few days old, or she could be school age. The adopted child may be of another country, race, culture, or from an abusive background. As a result, adoptive families can easily feel different from other families. The differences are real, but the rewards of working through these issues can be great. Working with your pediatrician to prevent and solve problems can be very important to your child’s happiness and success.

Divorce and separation
Nearly two thirds of all single-parent families are the result of a divorce or separation. For a child, divorce can be just as hard as the death of a parent. A long period of grief and mourning can be expected. The age of the child also plays a role. A preschooler may regress in such things as toilet training, and may develop new fears or nightmares. A school-age child is more likely to show anger and feel guilty or sad. He may also do poorly in school. A teenager may worry about moving away from friends or not having money for college. No matter the age, some children feel responsible for the divorce of their parents and dream about getting them back together. Divorce or separation often leaves parents angry with each other. During disagreements with your child’s other parent, stop and ask yourself: How will this affect my child? You may disagree with each other, but try to set aside your differences for your child’s sake.

Use the following tips to avoid problems:

A word about...child support
In a divorce, separation, or unplanned pregnancy, both parents have a continuing financial obligation to the child. If you have custody of your child, seek child support. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, millions of single-parent households do not receive child support. In some cases, one parent doesn’t want money from the other parent. In others, the parent may not be able or willing to pay or perhaps cannot even be found. Many times, the parent with custody simply does not try to get child support. Contact your state child support enforcement agency for guidelines on what parents must pay for child support. If your child’s other parent has disappeared or won’t cooperate, your municipal or provincial government may be able to help.

Talking with your child
Talking with your child is a very important way for you to help each other through tough times. Being able to share her fears, worries, and feelings with you can make your child feel safe and special. The more often you talk, the more comfortable she will feel. Be patient as you listen to her questions. You don’t have to have all the answers. Sometimes just listening is more helpful than giving advice. If needed, don’t hesitate to get help from your pediatrician or a family counselor. The following suggestions may be useful in talking with your child about the changes in your family.

10 ways to reduce stress Single-parenthood brings added pressure and stress to the job of raising children. With no one to share day-to-day responsibilities or decision-making, parents must provide greater support for their children while they themselves may feel alone. The following suggestions may help reduce stress in your family:
1. Get a handle on finances. Finances are often a problem for single parents. Learn how to budget your time and money. Know when your paycheck or other income will arrive, and keep track of household bills. If you write down monthly bills and due dates, they will be easier to manage. Do what you can to improve your finances. Contact employment and temporary agencies for help finding a job. Consider getting your high school diploma, a college degree, or other special training.
2. Talk early and often. Don’t leave your child in the dark about the changes in the family. She will handle her problems much better by talking about her feelings. Sit quietly with your child just before bedtime. It may be a great time for her to talk with you.
3. Find support and use it. Don’t try to handle everything by yourself. Get help whenever you can. It is difficult when a single parent must hold down a job and care for children at the same time. Try not to feel guilty about things you can’t do or can’t provide without a partner. You will need the support that family and friends can give. Get to know other single parents through support groups. Your pediatrician can also be a great source of help and information.
4. Take time for family. Working every day, fixing dinner, cleaning the house, and paying the bills can be overwhelming. Set aside some time each day to enjoy your children and your relationship with them. Spend quiet time playing, reading, working on arts-and-crafts projects, or just listening to music together. Time spent together is one of the most important things you can give to your child
5. Take time for yourself. Whether you are reading, relaxing, or visiting with friends, time spent away from your children is important for you, and for them. Go to a movie. Find a hobby. Do things that interest you. Being a single parent doesn’t mean you can’t have an adult life.
6. Keep a daily routine. Making rules, setting a good example, and providing support is tough, but giving in to your child’s demands will not help. Schedule meals, chores, and bedtime at regular times so that your child knows what to expect each day. A routine will help your child feel more secure
7. Maintain consistent discipline. If others help in the care of your child, talk to them about your own methods of discipline. Divorced or separated parents should work together to use the same way of disciplining their children. Discipline doesn’t have to mean physical punishment. You can teach a child to behave in ways that are good for both himself and those around him. Many good methods have been developed. Check your local library for helpful books on parenting. Local hospitals, the YMCA, and church groups often sponsor parenting classes. Learning good ways to handle your child’s behavior will reduce stress for both of you.
8. Treat kids like kids. Children have a right to enjoy childhood and grow up at their own pace. Though single parenting can get lonely, resist treating your children like substitutes for a partner. Avoid expressing your frustration to them. Try not to rely on them for comfort or sympathy. As children grow older, they will be able to take on more responsibility and help around the house. Don’t expect too much too soon.
9. Stay positive. The pain of a separation, divorce, or death will ease over time. Be aware that your children will always be affected by your mood and attitude. They will need your praise and your love through hard times. It’s okay to be honest about your own feelings of sadness and loss, but let them know better times lie ahead for both of you.
10. Take care of yourself. This is a difficult time for you, too. Exercising regularly, maintaining a proper diet, and getting enough rest can help you better deal with stress. Visit your own doctor on a regular basis. Ask your pediatrician not only about help for your child, but also about help for yourself.

Find good child care
Good child care is essential for your child’s well-being and your peace of mind. If you are a working parent, finding quality child care may be one of the most difficult tasks you will face. Never leave a child home alone. Find someone you trust to take care of your children while you are working. Don’t rely on older brothers and sisters to baby-sit for younger siblings. Even the most reliable brother or sister does not have the maturity to be responsible for a younger sibling on a daily basis. Also, be careful about asking new friends or partners to watch your children, even for a short time. They may not have the patience, especially if the child’s behavior becomes difficult. Children need to be cared for by an adult with proven experience in child care. The best way to make sure your child is getting good care is to visit the child care center or watch your babysitter when he or she is with your child. Your pediatrician can offer advice on finding the best child care for your family. The local city or county government in your area may also have a list of licensed child care centers or homes.

All children need a place where they can feel truly at home. Although the parent who lives with the child takes care of the day-to-day needs, the parent without custody should remain as involved as possible. He or she can still help with homework, go to athletic or other after-school events, and contribute support. Cooperation between parents is very important for a child’s long-term well-being. Remember, it’s the job of both parents to stay involved in their child’s life. Work together to arrange a flexible schedule for visits. Neither parent should be kept from taking part in raising the child. Make sure your child knows that it is okay to love both parents.

Dating and the single parent
Be choosy about which dates you introduce to your children. Try to form a solid relationship before bringing someone new into your home. Particularly, overnight guests may confuse your child. If you are dating someone special, you may not know how to present him or her to your child. Talk to your friend about your child before they meet. When you feel the time is right, let your child meet your new partner. Don’t expect them to be close right away. Give them time to become friends. If your new partner is new to child-rearing, he or she may feel awkward with your family. Observe how your friend gets along with your child. He or she should be patient and understanding. Before you leave your child with a new partner, be sure that he or she can be trusted.

A new life
Raising a child on your own isn’t easy. Single parents face unique problems, but children in single-parent homes can grow up just as happy as children in two-parent homes. Providing a loving, supportive home for your children is the most important factor in helping them grow up well-adjusted and happy. By seeking out the information provided here, you’ve taken the first step to adapting to the changes in your life. Making the right choices for you and your children will help all of you live a new and rewarding life together as a family. The information contained in this publication should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.