By Kaelanne Jordan
A mental health clinician has this message for all single mothers and fathers: “You are not alone. You are doing the best you can for your child/ren, and you are doing a fantastic job. Give yourself some credit…”
So said Crystal Johnson of the Archdiocesan Family Life Commission (AFLC) during a Topic Thursdays episode on Facebook live, yesterday (Thursday, September 5).
The programme, 15-20 minutes of live engagement which commenced June 27, was initially aimed at engaging the online community during the July/ August vacation in a “real way”, addressing issues of everyday life.
Previous sessions explored inter alia puberty, the father’s role in a daughter’s life, pornography, faith and hope in marriages in financial distress, and miscarriages. However, due to its “overwhelming response”, the sessions have continued.
During the latest episode, Johnson spoke on single parents, the negatives and positives associated with single parenting and some coping strategies for single parents.
Single parenting occurs when a parent, whether mother or father is raising a child on their own without a partner or spouse. The reasons vary, from divorce, abandonment, separation or the unfortunate passing of a spouse or partner.
Johnson highlighted the “long ago” approach of a village—grandparents, aunts and uncles raising a child made single parenting not “as heavy” as it is today.
“And I think because of modernisation, this village started to disappear and the lack of this community presence causes dysfunction to develop,” she said.
In either case, being a single parent can be very “difficult” as there are more “stresses” and “challenges” coupled with more responsibilities and decisions that are normally shared between a couple.
However, Johnson believes there are opportunities for a single parent to offer a “unique experience” between a parent and child i.e. the bond “that is beyond imagination” created between the two.
She also highlighted if the now single parent was part of an unhealthy or chaotic relationship, there is now an “ease of conflict” in the household. “Sometimes, it is a positive in that regard,” she asserted.
In terms of the challenges faced, here are Johnson’s observations:
Financial: In a one-income household, a single parent may now work longer hours or find a second job to fulfil the household’s needs. The parent may also scale down on some of their child’s ‘requirements’ such as extra-curricular activities.
Quality of parenting: Working extra hours and/or two jobs may cause the single parent to miss out on some of their child/ren’s milestones and activities at school. Johnson adds that there may also be stresses that the parent may be experiencing which can result in unintentional “offload” to their child/ren. Finances can also affect the quality of parenting if the parent is unable to afford or meet a child’s needs.
Adjustment for both parent and child: “This can come with a lot of emotional problems as well,” Johnson said—the basic adjustment of being by yourself and for the child, adjusting to being in a single-parent home. There can also be some “resentment” that may occur towards the parent who is no longer attempting to be present.
Loneliness: For single parents whose partner has died, Johnson said the element of grieving is great as there is grieving for the partner-relationship and grieving from the child for the loss of a parent. Johnson also observed loneliness in regards to the perceived lack of support from the Church. She asserted “know that God is standing by your side holding your hand. He is there to help you….”
Coping strategies in dealing with challenges facing single parents
Maintain a routine: All children require structure. Parents ought to structure their and their child/ren’s day as best as possible so that the child feels a sense of stability.
Implement self-care: In order to take care of your family, you ought to take care of yourself as well. Johnson encourages single parents get quality time to find “a sense of self”.
Go to church: Johnson encourages attending church as a family. “Keep praying for comfort to get through the challenges,” she said.
Show kids love: Always give kids affection, praise and positive attention.
Maintain discipline/ground rules: Praise but reinforce. Johnson suggests that all parents participate in the Archdiocesan ‘Common-Sense Parenting’ and ‘Children are Gift’ programmes.
Get your financial game on: Budget realistically with the aim to “cover” yourself and your child/ren in the long-term.
Stay positive: Surround yourself and your child/ren with positive role models that support and motivate you to be the best parent you can be.
Tune into to Topic Thursdays, every Thursday at 2 p.m. on AFLC’s Facebook page, @familylifecommission. Topics can be suggested via the comments section.