FINDING SUPPORT WHEN YOU’RE A SINGLE PARENT
Arguments about “ideal” family composition aside, it really does take more than one person to raise a child to full potential. Many societies rely on involvement not only from both biological parents, but from the extended family and the whole community. And children do thrive under the influence of multiple perspectives, understood rules with multiple supporters, and having alternate options when their first-choice adult is too busy or tired to talk.
All of which may be poor comfort to the single parent who lives far from extended family and hardly knows her next-door neighbors. Thankfully, there are many options for meeting others—often parents or grandparents themselves—who will be fond of your children and willing to share part of the “parenting” load.
First, a couple of ideas for parents who feel “too busy” to meet others:
- Practice looking people in the eye and smiling, however casual the encounter. And if someone answers “How are you?” with more than a token “Fine,” stop and listen.
- Take inventory of yourself and your dreams, without judging how “practical” they are. This will help you set priorities and eliminate non-essential activities.
- Instead of collapsing in front of the television after work, find an organized group to participate in (Meetup.com is a good place to look). Productive activity revitalizes depleted energy, while passive entertainment only reinforces sluggishness.
For specific places where you (and your children) can meet “surrogate family” adults, try:
- Religious congregations, preferably with a good mix of generations and regular organized activities. Shared values alone will help establish starter bonds.
- Community events such as festivals and carnivals. An array of booths and tables is preferable to seating everyone in one big auditorium, since you’ll have more freedom to move around and strike up individual conversations. Look for events you can attend with your kids: their very presence is disarming, and often they’ll be the first to make new friends among the children and adults you meet.
- Organized programs for children. Look for options where you’ll be able to attend games or other public events regularly. There’ll be plenty of opportunities to strike up conversations with parents of the other participants.
And be proactive about getting to know your children’s friends and their parents. Encourage your kids to bring home peers for casual gatherings as well as planned play dates. If your kids’ friends’ parents drop off their children personally, make a point of chatting for at least a few minutes. (A compliment about their kids, or something specific about the children’s interests, is always a great conversation starter.)
Postscript: If Your Family Is in Real Trouble
If the stress of single parenting is “getting to you” so much that you find your kids’ very presence annoying; if you find yourself taking random frustrations out on them; if you have virtually no communications or relationship with them; or if you see signs they are flirting with drug abuse, lawbreaking, or suicidal thoughts—run, don’t walk, to the nearest professional source of help. Your children’s school or your family doctor can recommend a qualified counselor.