Tough But True Advice for Single Parents

Parenting is hard enough when there are two people joining forces to raise a family, but even more so when one has to do it alone. Even today, when almost a third of all children are born into single-parent families, single parents still face a lot of negative or misguided viewpoints, most of which center on the opinion that “One parent isn’t enough”. These sentiments are paralyzing and can lead some to feel that they are doing their children a disservice by not conforming to the typical family structure. If you find yourself dealing with feelings of inadequacy, here are some things to keep in mind.

Stop comparing

It’s the first day of the new school year and your kid comes home in tears. Almost everyone else came to school with a new gadget; where was hers? Or she tells you, as you tuck her in, how Ella’s father took her to a Hannah Montana concert over the weekend. Why can’t her Daddy do that for her as well? Or, why can’t you?

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the seemingly never-ending list of things you can’t do, things you can’t buy, times you can’t be there, and things your kid will never have. And it is so easy to succumb to the need to compare. But as long as you keep measuring your career, your net worth, your possessions, your achievements, your kid’s grades, and your relationship status against those of others, you will always be wrestling with feelings of inferiority and doubt. This is a trap. Your sense of self-worth shouldn’t be tied to material things. Love, life lessons, simple, priceless joys – these are the things that really matter. Remember: no one is keeping score. The only proof, if there is one, that you are a good parent (and this isn’t even true all the time) is if your child is happy. And an unhappy, unfulfilled, insecure parent cannot have a happy child.

Quality over quantity

Being a single parent means you have to work doubly hard to make up for the household income that a two-parent family would have. It also means that there is a big chance that you are not able to spend as much time as you want with your child. Instead of succumbing to the guilt of being an inadequate parent, become a more conscious parent.

Whenever you spend time with your child, make sure that it is quality time. Instead of being merely physically present, be mentally and emotionally present as well. Don’t come home early just so you can be in the same room as your child, while he does homework and you answer email on your smartphone. Help him. Talk to him. Ask him about his day. Make a rule: the moment you come home, you put your phone and laptop away. Believe me, this helps. It’s not about how much time you spend together but what you do with that time that matters.

It takes a village

Some children are brought up by one parent and a grandparent. Some are raised by older siblings, a parent and an uncle or an aunt, two moms, two dads, or two sets of grandparents. Don’t let other people’s perceptions about a “normal” family guilt you into thinking that yours is inadequate. There is more than one “normal” family structure and more than one way to raise a child.

Remember that a lot of children grow up without fathers and turn out just fine. No one wants to grow up without a father, yes; but no scientific study has yet proven that a father is absolutely essential, either. What children do need is at least one adult who loves, respects, and takes good care of them. The fact that you don’t have a partner doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to be a single parent. If you have a supportive network of family and good friends, they can be your child’s parents as well.

It’s okay to feel inadequate

Just because you’re a parent doesn’t mean you’re exempt from feeling despair, helplessness, and incompetence. It doesn’t mean that you’re not supposed to allow yourself to feel overwhelmed or envious or lacking. These feelings are perfectly normal and it won’t help to suppress them. Let the notion of being a “perfect’ parent go, because even the best have “off” days and grapple with emotions such as doubt, low self-esteem, and depression. The trick here is to not keep these feelings bottled up but also to not let them overcome you. Whenever you feel a case of the blues coming on, try to get some alone time and do something you love. Garden, journal, read, or watch a movie. Meditate or do yoga.

It is hard enough, as a single parent, to deal with other people’s opinions about our life choices and ability to raise children, without us turning those criticisms on ourselves as well. Be kind to yourself and you will become a better parent for it.

About the Author: Jackie Villegas contributes parenting and pregnancy advice to She strives to help parents raise happy, well-manner children that will make the world a better place to be.