Other than parents of multiples, I’m not sure there is anyone with a tougher parenting job than a single mother, and there are plenty of them. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 13.6 million single parents in 2007 raising 21.2 million children. To provide perspective, that is nearly 26% of children under 21 in the U.S. today. And the Web site, About.com reports that 84% of custodial parents are mothers.
Single moms fill my parenting classes looking for help and I’ve spent many hours discussing their frustrations with them about their role as the sole caretaker. One particularly huge mistake they make that leads to discipline problems is using their children to fill their relationship needs. For example, labeling the oldest male child to be “the man of the house” or being in great need of friendships and treating the female children more as girlfriends rather than children. Being a single parent requires the courage to be firm and in control without creating more chaos for the kids. Here are 8 tips on discipline for the single mom.
Hold Family Meetings. Children need to feel a part of the team and when they do, they are more likely to cooperate and will misbehave less often. Schedule a consistent day and time each week to sit down with the children to connect with them. The activities that work best for these sessions are any that encourage dialogue and sharing. You may also use this time to go over family rules but don’t make this the highlight of the meeting. Once you have demonstrated what the role of the facilitator looks like, allow the kids to take turns being the facilitator themselves, determining the discussion topics and agendas.
Create Structure, Routines, and Boundaries. Children need sameness and routine in daily life, especially at a time when the structure of the family has suddenly changed due to death, separation, or divorce. The more structure they have in their world, the more secure they feel and again, the less likely they are to feel compelled to misbehave. Some single moms are afraid to step up and create order and limits because they fear hearing their children say the dreaded words, “I want to live with Daddy, he doesn’t have so many rules.” But it is these rules that will help them become the young adults you want them to be.
Establish New Traditions. Take the opportunity to create new traditions and rituals as a family to create special moments and new closeness with the children. Doing so will allow for new bonding but will also help past and hurtful memories fade away. If the children’s’ other parent is in the picture and visitation is a new norm around the holidays, see the complex scheduling as something positive and not stressful, and an opportunity to create new activities or routines.
Boyfriends Should Not Discipline. Children sometimes see the new boyfriend as a threat and experience jealousy. They don’t like sharing their mother with other siblings, let alone a stranger. The boyfriend is there for mom and not for the children, so I encourage dating single moms to set up rules from the start that the boyfriends should not have any role in administering discipline. It is perfectly fine for him to find special ways to connect with the kids with fun, play, and games, but the discipline should be left to mom.
Engage Male Family Members For Boys. It is a fact that boys who have male role models in their lives mature in healthy emotional ways. Boys need men to learn from and have as mentors. If there is not an active and present father in a boy’s life, I suggest that single moms find ways of setting up extra time for him using her father, brothers, uncles, and other male relatives. Reach out to them and let them know how valuable they are and encourage them to spend time with her boys to help them grow into young men.
Speak Respectfully About Their Father. Regardless of mom’s feeling toward her ex-husband, to the children he is still their father and still someone they may look up to. The children may not truly understand what the breakup was all about and certainly don’t see the world the way their mother does. It is important that mom always speaks respectfully about him to the children. If she doesn’t, they may feel angry toward her for doing it and become more sympathetic toward their father as an act of defense. This kind of inappropriate behavior on mom’s part also models backbiting and sabotage for the children. Mom should keep her negative emotions about the children’s father to herself and not confide in the kids. Close friends and therapists are best for this.
Take Care of Yourself. One parent raising the children alone may feel drained and pass it on to the kids emotionally. Even if mom doesn’t pass it on in obvious ways by yelling and snapping at them, the children will feel it and sense it. When the flight attendant on a passenger aircraft demonstrates the oxygen mask, she always instructs us to put it on us first and then to put it on our children. This illustration demonstrates that we must first take the measures to take care of ourselves so that we can effectively take care of our children. With an already over extended schedule, it may seem impossible for a single mom to take time out to take care of herself. But if she truly wants to be the best single mom for her kids, she must find a way to make it happen.
Bill Corbett is a syndicated writer for numerous parenting publications nationwide and is the author of several books. Liz and Bill Corbett own the parent/teacher education organization, Cooperative Kids. They have six children between them and two grandchildren. Get free parenting advice at their Web site www.CooperativeKids.com.