There is lots of advice, most of it freely given on the internet or by friends and family, on how to be the perfect parent, the perfect mother or father. And single parents often hear the most advice, as they struggle to keep themselves and their kids happy and often turn to friends and family for help. But not all of this advice is necessarily good.
Many parents will expect you to put your kids first, and even if they don’t do this themselves, they’re very quick to point out the fault in the statement, “put yourself first, then your kids”. It just isn’t done! And if you’re a single parent, then you should just naturally put your kids first, because who else then is there?
Author Ayelet Waldman found this out the hard way, when she announced that she loved her husband more than she loved her kids. This comment caused such an outcry that she then examined this idea of modern-day parenting in her book, Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities and Occasional Moments of Grace.
As single parents you cannot obviously say that you love your partner more than you love your kids, but you can definitely say that you love yourself more than your kids. And why not? You were here first, weren’t you? If it wasn’t for you, your kids wouldn’t be here, and they certainly wouldn’t be as loved if someone else were doing the job, right?
Loving yourself first doesn’t mean that you neglect your children – in fact, I believe that loving yourself means loving your children as much as possible, providing as much as you can for them, and doing everything in your power to keep them happy. Especially if you are a single parent and you do not have the luxury of a partner to take over when it gets tough.
A friend of mine has a 4-month old baby boy, and she is in the enviable position where her mom-in-law has asked if she can have the baby sleep over at her house twice a week, once during the week and another night on the weekend. This, in my opinion, is brilliant! It means that she and her man (yes, she is married) can spend some quality time together, catching up on sleep or simply watching a movie and relaxing on the couch, or even going out for a few drinks without having to worry about their little one.
She said to me that she feels too bad to allow this, because she’s worried that it will affect her son, and that he’ll grow to love his grandma more than her. I laughed and told her not to be silly – sending him off for two nights a week is the best thing that she can do! It’s in his best interest, because not only does she then get a good night’s sleep (her little angel has a sleeping problem and wakes up often more than 7 times a night), but she can also focus more on her relationship and herself, and when he comes back she is refreshed and ready to devote all of her attention to him.
I personally would have loved to be in her situation when my son was tiny! I would have jumped in with arms wide open and asked for a third night! But of course, I would also have felt horribly guilty and probably not have gone through with it.
Having children is a big step, and most single parents do not do this with single parenting in mind. If you happen to lose your partner, due to divorce, death or abandonment, and find yourself alone at home with the kids, then you certainly need to start focussing on yourself, and figuring out ways to keep yourself happy.
Because happy parent equals happy child.
Especially in a single parent family. If the parent is feeling stressed or beaten down and they are unable to muster up enough emotion to smile happily at their children, play games with them, even read them stories, then the children will very soon grow to mimic the unhappy emotions.
If you can get your kids on your side, make them understand that for the family to be happy and prosperous then everyone in the family needs to be happy, then things will go much more smoothly.