Rabbi Ross. I’ve read with interest your Parenting e-mails, and I must admit that I greatly enjoy them. Your advice is really spot on, but there is one point I would like to add. There are many single parents like me, and we really get frustrated at times. In many of these situations you write about, there is a spouse backing you up. What happens when you don’t have that luxury? It could be that your spouse has passed away, divorced, or like me, is an accountant and is never home. How would that affect parenting in general? M.R. Brooklyn
Thank you for your kind words. I know several accountants, and completely understand that they are not home many evenings. However, to call this being a “single parent” seems very wrong. I’ve received a few emails from actual single parents, and I can assure you that it’s a completely different situation.
Your spouse is making a living, he’s there for you in an emergency and is a shoulder to lean on. Additionally, your child knows that you are part of a team and not in it alone. Yes, there are times when your husband is not around, but it’s comparing apples to oranges.
Nonetheless, being alone when dealing with children is certainly a game-changer. You have no break, no one to vent to, and everything just seems so much more challenging. In order to respond properly to your question, I’m going to break this answer into two parts. The first part will discuss dealing with children when you’re alone. The second part will deal with being an actual single parent.
When dealing with children alone, the trick is being prepared with a good plan. If you’re getting them to school in the morning, make sure you’re ready to go as they wake up. It makes everything so much easier if you are prepared in advance, such as having their lunches and snacks ready. If you’re running supper alone, try and have everything ready before they get home, and even set up the table. This will enable you to give your children a friendly and warm welcome while focusing on them, rather than on what else needs to be made for supper.
Another important part of the preparation is the mental aspect. I have found that it’s a good idea to psych yourself up before the day begins. Look into a mirror and say, “I am going to be a great mom today! Nothing will faze me!” Granted, if your kids walk in they might think you’re crazy, but it actually helps. Furthermore, if there is a particularly difficult activity or event scheduled for that day, try imagining what different kinds of scenarios might occur, how you might deal with them. This way, when the difficulty should arise, (which almost always does!), you will have a prepared response, and not lash out with something you might later regret.
When you’re an actual single parent, it can feel like you’re on a never- ending roller coaster. If you have more than one child, every day can be a struggle and you might think you’re alone.
You are not. There are so many organizations that would love to help out, you just need to be willing to accept it. There are high school kids that will mentor your children free of charge, and places that will help with after school activities.
I have spoken with many single parents, and they all felt that spending some alone time is the best way to recharge their batteries. As one father told me, “I tried to be a martyr, but I realized that I was doing my children a disservice. They need a healthy parent.” Although it is beyond the scope of this email to list organizations that can lend assistance, a great way to start is to get in touch with your Rav and let him know you need help.
If you have older children, it might be harder on them than you realize. I would recommend giving them some one-on-one time, and letting them know how grateful you are that they are picking up the slack. Recognition goes a long way.
If your spouse has passed away, make sure that you bring him/her up in positive ways. An example would be, “Tatty is looking down on you with such a smile! You’re such an amazing Ben Torah!” You want to avoid anything negative. I once heard a single mother say to her daughter, “You think Daddy would approve of that dress?” That will never work. We’re trying to convey to them that you’re still working together.
As your kids get older, they might inquire as to where your spouse is. You should never ignore such questions, and if you’re not equipped to answer, call Chai Lifeline.
If you’re divorced, you need to be very careful. Although I’ve been working on a completely separate email about divorces, here’s a small tip. You never want to say anything negative about your ex. There is no “off switch” once YOU introduce negativity.
Should your ex be saying not nice things about you, you can tell your child, “I can’t say anything bad about your father/mother. All I can tell you is that we both love you very much.” I can assure you that the parent who speak badly about his/her ex, will be the one to ultimately suffer a poor relationship with the child.
I would like to make one more point that many single parents should think about, although to be fair it applies to all parents. As humans, we make mistakes. It could be we’re frustrated, upset about something else, or even in a bad mood. Whatever the reason, we all make mistakes every day. Yelling at our kids, punishing them severely for no good reason, or even hitting them out of anger.
Kids are resilient. All you need to do is apologize to them. Sit her down and say, “I’m sorry I yelled at you before. I was having a bad day and I took it out on you.” There’s no shame in it, and it might actually teach your child how to apologize. Furthermore, be sure to tell each child at least once a day how much you love them. I know this seems obvious to some parents, however, this unfortunately does not come naturally to all. If a child knows, hears and feels that you love them, they will certainly be more forgiving and understanding.
Have a wonderful Shabbos
Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a Rebbe and has been working with parents and kids for many years. You can read more about him in the "about" section.