Saturday, April 12, 2008

Single Parenting: Rising to the occasion.

As the single parent of two wonderful (now adult) children I know the difficulties single parents face. This isn’t just an issue for single mothers, but single fathers as well. Raising healthy happy and confident children is crucial to their adult years. This is true for both sons and daughters, but many single parents fall short when it comes to raising their sons.

My perspective comes from raising my children with zero input from their father. If you are fortunate enough to have the father’s involvement even though you are not together, then work together. Show a unified front to the children (even if you don’t like one another). Show your child that you are both focused on their well being. Show them you can rise above personal feelings and do the right thing for the right reason. That alone will have a major impact on their views of right and wrong as well as their self worth.

When I was asked to write a piece on my experience as single mother and raising a strong confident empowered son I was eager to do so. But, I didn’t have different rules or guidelines for my children. I raised them both as individuals. When all is said and done the same rules apply, the same challenges are faced by both our sons and daughters. We no longer live in the days when more were expected of men than of women. And should our daughters one day be faced with single parenting; shouldn’t they also know these rules?

However, many of our actions as a mother can have a larger impact on our sons, than on our daughters so I will focus on those. If you want your son to become a good man there are several key factors that will hinder or help you along the way.

First and foremost, never compare the child to their father unless it is in a positive light. The problems and issues that led to the father being absent are not the child’s fault. The actions of either parent should never cast a shadow on the child’s self worth. Yet I see so many who compare the child (most often the son) to their father and the child subconsciously begins to believe they will become the same type of person. When mom does not respect and/or love the father any longer and the child believes they are just like the father (in a negative sense) the child cannot feel truly loved and valued, nor can they love themselves.

The next thing to always keep in mind is that everyone you bring into a child’s life and especially a son’s life is a role model. As the mother you will influence your daughter(s) the most, but you and many others will influence your son. You need to KNOW the morals and values these other people have and the impact those values will have on your son. This includes family as well as friends. A young boy is by far better off without a male role model than he is with the wrong male role model.

My children were raised without a father, and without family nearby. I was very cautious who I allowed to influence my children. Many volunteered, very few were allowed. I see people who make promises to children and never keep them. This behavior is allowed because they are a friend not the father. WRONG!! Never allow someone, no matter who they are to break a promise to your child. If they do it once, they will do it again. Your son will grow up believing it is ok to break a promise; that things come up and interfere with keeping ones word. Is that what you want your child to learn?

Gee, mom thinks the world of this man, he is the uncle, brother, grandfather or friend, and he never kept his word so that must be ok. The child had to accept that and in turn will grow up to believe his children (and others) will also accept it. Naturally, things do occur and plans do change, but your acceptance of this will be burned into your child’s mind. The lifestyle of your friends and family members will also impact your son. Be careful what you “imply” you approve of. Many of us do not agree with the choices our friends and relatives make but we love them anyway. That is fine, but make sure your child knows YOUR values, not those of others.

In order to raise a strong confident and empowered son we need to show them we believe in them and their judgment. Children and especially sons need to have faith in their judgment and need to know we have faith in them as well. We cannot make decisions for our kids; we need to provide them with the skills and tools to make those decisions for themselves. That is our duty as a parent. We need to teach them that making mistakes is what leads to making the right choices in the long run; providing they also learn from those mistakes. Most of all we need to teach our children to own their responsibility. This is especially true for our sons. Our duty as a parent is to guide and teach, not to live their life for them.

A young boy will always seek approval from a single mother. Make certain he knows you will listen and guide, but that he is responsible for making the decisions and that you “know” that if he checks his heart and conscious he will make the right choice. Most importantly is listening and “hearing”. You may hear things you don’t want to hear, you may be asked questions you are not comfortable answering, but you need to rise to the occasion and be the ONE they know they can turn to.

We all know it is not easy to always be the bad guy. The only one who disciplines, the only one who says no. But we also need to remember that being a single parent does not excuse our willingness to let things slide, nor does it excuse their behavior. Do not allow your child to use the excuse they don’t have a father to turn to. You need to be both mother and father. You need to show your child that their self worth is not tied to how many parents they have.

We live in a society where people make excuses rather than owning their responsibility. Don’t allow that to be you and your child’s lifestyle. Depending on the situation and the level of involvement from the father it is up to you to show your son that no matter what else occurs he and he alone can be whoever he sets his mind to be. He doesn’t need to worry about who others are or how they live. He only needs to be proud of who he is.

I think the most important thing any parent can do, whether single or married, is to let your child know he can always turn to you. No matter what the topic is he can ask you and know you will listen. He can tell you and count on you to ACT not to REACT. Huge difference ladies! Be prepared, you will be tested, but in the long run you and your children will grow closer.

Be honest about your own life. As a parent, and especially a single parent, our children want to believe we are saints and never make a mistake. But in the long run they benefit far more by hearing we do make mistakes and we learned from them. Don’t be afraid to show your son the real you.

I have a hard and fast rule in my life. Never date or marry someone who isn’t good enough for my child or my best friend. If the man in your life was dating your sister, your daughter, your best friend…… would you approve? A child whether male or female knows and picks up on so very much we do. Mom’s, if you are dating ask yourself this question. Is he someone you want your son to become or someone you want your daughter to marry one day? Not the actual person, but the character and integrity of that person. Are YOU the woman you want your son to one day find and marry? Are your friends good examples of what you want your children to grow up and become?

As adults we can separate and value the good in people, and understand each person’s right to make their own choices whether we approve or not. But children take everything at face value. Make sure they see you living the life you want for them. Make sure they know the value and importance of leading and not following. Allow them to test and learn and they will become the man or woman you want them to be.

Sheilah Etheridge

From the Single Mothers Raising Son's Blog:


Christina said...

This is all really great advice Sheilah. I have a four year old son, and his father is absent. I was searching the internet to find advice about dealing with this type of situation. I have no idea since I grew up with both of my parents in the home. That's when I came up on your blog. As I said, this is all very good advice Sheilah. Why aren't you blogging anymore? I would love to hear more about your successful experiences raising your son(s) as a single mother. You really must go on dear! You never know how many people you could be helping! Gratefully,

Anonymous said...

Great advice. You have really thought things through. However, for some, because of economic pressures it may be hard to always think so clearly and stay strong but it is definitely worth it to follow your advice as closely as possible. The only thing I would add is to try not to overload yourself and maintain good social relationships for yourself and others as much as possible. This will help combat lonliness and disconnectedness that can be part of single parenting and just trying "to survive". Richness in relationships is very important and help give a sense of purpose and bouy oursleves and our children through some of the rough waters of life!