Tuesday, February 19, 2019

So you’re a single parent now... What next?


So. You’re flying solo as a mom or dad… Seriously. All of us who have been there remember that initial feeling. “How. In. The. Heck. Am. I. Going. To. Do. This?” Even without knowing you, I’m about 99.99% sure that the events leading up to this have been big to get you to this point. Divorce, death, abandonment, incarceration, terrible breakup, etc. No matter how you feel at this point, whether it be heartbroken or relieved, you are still about to face a daunting task. No matter the age of your child(ren), the challenges of single parenting aren’t for the faint of heart. They are also almost impossible to understand unless you have experienced them.

Good news though! It’s also one of the most rewarding and amazing experiences life can provide (in my opinion). I promise that you will be told all of the struggles that come with it, but let me assure you there are so many hidden perks to it as well.

All that being said, I want to encourage you on this journey. Seriously, by no means am I an expert parent. Nor have I been a single parent for as long as some of the other way more amazing single moms/dads that I know. I’m just a single dad who overshares and cracks way too many daily dad jokes than legally allowed in the continental United States. However, isn’t that the beauty of this whole experience in life? Take a little of this, try a little of that. Mostly though, just learning from others’ mistakes. I am confident I’ve probably made more mistakes than anyone else I know… sooo…. I’m basically a freaking guru by that logic. ;)

I hope even a tiny bit of this is helpful or at least gives you a chuckle.

1) Build your village.
Geez. How many times do we hear “it takes a village…” To be honest, that junk is true. However, as a single parent, it’s just you. You’ll crack quicker than my lips during January if you try to do this solo. And that’s why I love the concept of a village. It’s not just “a bunch of babysitters.” There’s different people with a huge variety of jobs, relationships, specialties, personalities, etc. Find people you can talk to about life. Seek out a sweet older person with a little free time who would love company. Search for someone who has kids the same age as yours. Make those connections. Even if at first it seems forced. (It did for me. Very forced.) You’ll need them in the future. Also remember, some of the work is on our end as single parents. People want to help us, but it’s our job to seek them out and cultivate those relationships.

2) Learn how to walk the line between “socially acceptable” and “who cares.”
To be honest, this is probably my favorite one. I tell this to my kids almost every day. “Listen guys, there are things in this life you just gotta do: Wear underwear, wait your turn in line, bathe, and don’t fart in elevators. But! Don’t think just because you feel pressure to do something that you have to do it. You wanna wear your shirt inside out and backwards or talk to every new person you meet at the park in your made-up frog language? Freaking rock it, kid.” This applies to us too!! So yes… ugh… while we have to do those things sooccciieetttyy says we should, still let your weird, unique flag fly! It’s impossible to please everyone. So just do you, man.

3) Know it’s going to be extremely lonely, but that loneliness is super important.
This might be one of my most unpopular tips, but I really firmly believe that single parents should really try super hard to not have a relationship until you’ve done single parenting for at least a year. That year is freaking LONELY. All by yourself every night with your kid(s) asleep. But it’s in those quiet times where we can really begin to not only discover ourselves as parents, but really take the time to find who we are becoming. Maybe it was because I became a single parent through divorce, but immediately jumping from a married guy with kids to a single full-time dad of four was a crazy mental process. Not only did I have to process those changes, but I didn’t want to lose myself in the mix as just “a divorcee” or “a dad.” That truly single time helped me discover the person I wanted to become through this process. Plus, my kids needed me in my free time. All of me. Again, I’m not saying this is an easy feat. But to me, in the end, it is so totally worth it. Because over time, you’ll become more and more self-sufficient AND more aware of the mate you truly desire and truly need.

4) Re-evaluate your priorities. It will surprise you how much is actually non-essential.
When I first became a single parent, I foolishly tried to continue everything I was doing when I was still part of a marriage. Going to every kid’s birthday party (and trying to bring the best gift!), helping and participating in way too many volunteer activities, going to my children’s class for every single classroom party/event/field trip, paying every single bill on time, etc. Finally, one day I realized I needed to really dig and discover what’s actually truly worth my free time (because there wasn’t much of it). Amazing – once I cut out a few of the “have-to’s” off of my schedule, my stress level came way down and became much more manageable. After that, I was able to go through my list of what I had cut out and add things back in as I had the time and energy.

5a) Schedule special time for you and your mini-me(s).This has probably made the biggest difference in my kids’ lives. Trust me, I get it. Besides the school hours, I was basically with all four of my kids all of the time. It was about 4-5 years of me doing it full-time solo 24/7, 365 days a year. However, after a while, I began to realize that being with my kids wasn’t the same as “being with them.” Just marking a special night on the calendar to do something fun like go to the park, doing a fun craft, or going on a fun night out will make such a difference to them. I kind of began to view it like a relationship. If I never carved out specific time for my significant other, it would be easy for that flame to die down. Being together all of the time is great, but if I’m not putting in work to show them that they are valuable and worth my time/energy for something special, they might not feel as close as I truly desire them to feel.

5b) Learn your kids’ love languages.
Quality Time, Physical Touch, Words of Encouragement, Gifts, and Acts of Service
It’s one of the gifts of single parenting. We’ll see their true selves. All of the good and all of the bad. With that, it is pretty easy to pick out your kids’ love languages. Do they like to snuggle on the couch? Receive little letters telling them specific ways you are proud of them? Help you build something? Go out shopping to purchase a family member a special present? Once we figure out how they like to receive love, we can nurture those avenues to help them understand how they show love to others. Even when we’re at our lowest, showing love to someone else is always the best way to cheer ourselves up. Being able to model that for our children is an amazing experience.

6) Finally, cut yourself some slack.
All parents majorly screw up. However, as a single parent, most of the time there is no one to tag team in when you are really tired, upset, or stressed. This simple fact will lead to us saying/doing things to our children that we will regret and feel horrible about. Our kids are smarter than we think. They know we love them and are genuinely trying our best. So let’s not be so quick to loathe and berate ourselves for mistakes. Instead, let’s take a moment to collect ourselves, apologize to our children, and remind ourselves that no one is perfect. Single parenting is a huge learning process. Learning from our mistakes is what helps us grow. So chin up! You’re doing great!

Be Blessed and Be a Blessing,
Seth

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