Written by Ruth Langford, F.Isnt.Pa.
Parenting after separation can be a daunting prospect, whether you are facing parenting entirely on your own, or alternating with the other parent. You may be worried about loneliness, financial worries, social isolation, making decisions on your own about your children’s welfare, what happens if a child is seriously ill, trying to juggle work, children and running the house on your own, what happens if you’re ill or late home from work, for example.
The tips below should help ease the path of parenting alone, and provide you with useful “tools” in coping, enjoying parenting and above all, knowing that you are doing the very best you can for your children.
Guidelines for you
· Plan for Christmas / birthdays/holidays – spread the cost by either having a small savings plan (most banks have savings accounts you can open with just £1), or buy a little each month. Set a limit on the amount you will spend per child on presents and on food, decorations, entertainment etc. Being organised and planning ahead for holiday periods and weekends helps, the longer periods can be difficult when doing everything by yourself. Christmas and other religious festivals need to be planned in advance. If you are worried about being on your own over a festive period try and organise to be with friends and family.
· Get yourself financially sorted, work out a budget and know your weaknesses; shop around for better deals on all the utilities (use one of the price comparison websites) and cut back on things you don’t need, instead use the money for a “rainy day” fund for you and the children to have a day out or a short break in the future. Use charity shops, Ebay and car boot sales to buy clothes, toys and games; watch out for sales and shop months or a year ahead for things like school uniform.
· Avoid taking your children grocery shopping with you, make a list and stick to what is on it. Your finances will be strained and you don’t need the pressure they will bring to bear on you to buy them stuff. Instead, listen and watch for a special toy or other item they may yearn for and buy it as a surprise gift the next time they come to stay. Plan meals for the week ahead, and use food wisely (a whole chicken can be roasted one night, the left-over meat turned into a risotto the following night, and the carcass made into a stock for soup the day after that). Consider using the online services most supermarkets provide, you can see exactly what you are spending as you shop, making it easier to stick to a budget, the delivery costs can be as low as £3, which is often less than it would cost in petrol – and you can shop in your pyjamas with a cup of tea!
· A good support network has a variety of people you can turn to when you need to. Different people offer different kinds of support. Some friends are good for doing things with and for distractions; others are good for listening and understanding. Evidence supports the view that informal social support can help people negotiate stressful experiences such as parenting alone. Knowing that you have a good support network around, whether that’s friends or family (or both) means that you know you have people you can always rely on and trust, whatever the problem.
· Lean on your faith - Parents with a strong faith say that this helps keep them “strong”. Faith communities offer both emotional and practical support for all the family, and often hold social occasions and shared celebrations to enjoy with others.
· Find a local support group in your area for parents, or join online groups/organisations, like Wikivorce, where you can talk to other parents in similar situations, share coping tips, concerns and the tough times and celebrate the good times together
· Get organised - if your children are older, make sure they have everything they need for school organised the night before, if your children are younger, organise school stuff when they are asleep. Set out school uniform the night before, prepare lunchboxes in advance and keep in the fridge overnight. This prevents the pre-school rush and creates a more relaxed environment before school, giving you time to chat with your children and enjoy some time together before school. Keep a homework diary so you can keep track of when homework/projects are due in.
· Prioritise the household chores - sometimes things will have to wait!
· Do the best you can, with what you have at the time.
· Join your local library, not only will you be supporting it, but it cuts out the expense of buying new books for both you and the children. Most libraries often have events for children during the holidays and during the week for parents and toddlers.
· Plan ahead for the school holidays, collect money-off vouchers for local attractions, and remember that you don’t need to spend money to have a great day out – children love a picnic and a day on the beach. Plan for rainy days, have a stock of art materials, baking ingredients, dressing up clothes (charity shops/car boot sales are great places to source dressing up clothes), cardboard boxes to be turned into spaceships/castles/dens etc.
· Take each day at a time, and try to eat and sleep properly so you can cope as best you can.It can be very hard emotionally, especially at the beginning, trying to get the day-to-day things done for the children when your head is in turmoil;
· Make sometime for yourself; it can be lonely without another adult so try to find time for adult conversation even if it’s on the phone or in the Wikivorce chat room once the children are in bed.
· Don’t get obsessed about what your children’s other parent is doing, or planning to do. Concentrate on what you are doing. It can be unhealthy to continually to worry about the things they are doing. You cannot control them, or be responsible for their behaviour/relationship with the children; you are only responsible for your own behaviour and relationship, so focus on this instead.
· Do the right thing for your child - Another difficult area when relationships break down concerns the “in-laws.” The only thing to suggest is that you do the right thing for your child. Even if it's not what you would want to happen. Seeing and being in contact with the in-laws may be an unpleasant or painful experience for you, but they are still a very relevant part of your child's family, their culture, and their heritage. It is healthy for your child to have a sense of family that includes all relatives.
Guidelines for your children.
It can be a lonely and confusing place for children during this difficult time. Just like bereavement, healing is not linear. So it can take however long it takes! It is easy to underestimate the complex tensions that accompany divorce-even a fairly amicable one. Your child may be angry and upset because one of his parents has left, but as you’re the only parent around for him to vent his feelings on he is likely to take it out on you. Your child may become sullen and awkward or loud and angry.
It's very hard for you on top of everything else that you have to cope with.
However, try not to take it personally. Try to understand your child's feelings of dislocation and try and take a positive view.
Here are some Positive Parent Top Tips that have been drawn from the experience of mums and dads who have had broken relationships.
· Leave photos of the missing parent around, use their name-it helps your child heal. It's important that your ex is still part of your child's life. Be ready to talk naturally about the good things that happened. It will help your child move easily through change.
· Encourage your child to keep in contact with the non-resident parent through e-mails or phone calls. Show respect by sending them a birthday card.
· Try to encourage your child to see her mum or dad. Try to encourage the relationship, or at least keep the doors open for better things to come.
· Don't use your child as a messenger or a spy.
· Discuss with your ex about Christmas, weekends, and who's going to have who and when. And stick to the arrangement if at all possible. Children need stability in their lives.
· Encourage your child to continue their relationship with their other parent. There will always be long-term issues to work out and face and the quicker that they do that the easier it will become.
· Remember it's important to keep your promises to your child. He may feel let down by one or both of his parents so only make promises to him that you can keep.
· Keep on reassuring your child that the breakup is nothing to do with her-especially if your child continues to seem anxious about it. It's important that your child doesn't blame herself.
· No one is a perfect parent. We all have days when we're frustrated, angry, depressed, or simply "done." Forget all the stuff that needs to get done, and just sit for a few minutes. Or, if you can, go outside and take a walk. This will help to clear your head and enable you to return to your responsibilities refreshed. Make plans to swap play dates with a neighbour or go out with some friends for an evening. Alternatively, consider hiring a babysitter so you can go out by yourself for a bit. If you feel like you just need a fresh start with your kids, doing something completely different and unexpected can break the tension and provide a clean slate to start from.
· Try not to take out our stress or anxieties on the children, or talk to them about “grown-up” matters (this is what your support network is for, this places extra responsibilities and burdens on young shoulders that they shouldn’t have. Children are very good at picking up vibes from their parents. They're very sensitive to our moods. If we can explain to our children, why we’re feeling anxious it will help them to understand and they may not be so worried by our behaviour. For example,” I'm sorry, I am a bit tense today, as I’ve just had the phone bill in.”
· It's much easier for a child to handle something specific, rather than to just see you in tears or in tantrums! Also, some children always assume it is their fault, and it's good for your children to know that they are not the problem.
· Make sure the children understand house rules and why they are there, and encourage them to help with some of the household chores in return for a small treat or pocket money.
· Be patient - It may take the children a while to adjust to the fact that you only have one pair of hands and can't do everything at once. Try and be patient and explain this to them.
· Pick your arguments, with teenagers sometimes it’s worth foregoing on some things
· Be prepared for the other parent to move on with their life (if they haven’t already done so relationship wise) this can also mean geographically, prepare the kids for this sort of 'change' issue as well.
· Let your children express their fears, concerns and hurts. Reassure them as much as you can. Prepare for your time with them. Plan activities; preferably ones which require lots of interaction and which their other parent won’t do.
· Don’t disparage the other parent in front of your children, even if you are aware he or she is alienating them against you. The children love you equally and your criticisms of one another will only confuse and stress them. In the long run, it is counterproductive for either parent to vilify the other. Have you considered that your child might still miss their estranged mum or dad - regardless of how you feel? Eventually – and it may be a long way down the road – the children will see through the criticisms and lies and will turn against an alienating parent. And never argue about aspects of the court case or any other issue in front of them: this will just make them more anxious and angry about their new fractured situation.
Healthy relationships, including those with the ex, need to be worked out. Success doesn't happen overnight, and often calls for much personal sacrifice and self-discipline. But it's worth all the effort in order to provide a stable environment for your children so they can grow up to be happy, confident and well-balanced adults.