Single parenting is possibly one of the most confusing landscapes to navigate. It’s bad enough when you are married and at least have another opinion or in the case of a relationship that is crumbling, a significant difference in how you think parenting should be done. When you are a single parent, a lot of what you are going through is done with the guidance of example or watching your friends and family fail miserably.
Honestly, I’m just making up my own rulebook as I go. I’m hoping some of this helps you too.
Teenagers are hard
Teenagers are dreaded in the world of parenting. What I can say about them is they will start to smell very bad. They will test the limits of your love for them on a continual basis. They will break your heart. They are supposed to do this. Otherwise, you wind up with people who are comfortably attached to you and dependent on you for the rest of your life.
I see a lot of single parents who are heading in this direction. Sometimes I think they miss the point of reproduction and raising kids. They are not permanent fixtures in your household. These are human beings and you have been tasked with the job of making them capable and versatile enough to withstand the pressures and hazards of adulthood. It is not your duty to buy them ice cream, cell phones, stuffed toys, $200 shoes, cars, or any other damned thing they want. For one thing, they won’t appreciate it if you do and another thing, at some point the idea of the whole thing is they become independent enough to get this stuff on their own.
That’s why they are insufferable jerks to you. It is a biological drive to push away from you. The same reason tiny little birds hurl themselves out of the nest and sometimes they fly and sometimes they hop around on the ground until a weasel eats them or they figure out how to fly back into the tree.
Smaller kids are still fun and cuddly and want hugs and think you are a superhero. They have not had the overdose of estrogen and testosterone that makes people crazy. They probably talk to you in a very wise, logical way. Especially if you are a single parent, because they have been going through the exact same bullshit you have, and they are trying to figure out how to love you both. They will develop some pretty cunning coping mechanisms in the process. They also need help with figuring out boundaries since single parents are sometimes bad at those.
They might drag you all over the Renaissance Festival wanting to eat all the food and ride all the animals and throw knives and shoot arrows and all of it, but it is okay to tell them no. Otherwise, you will find yourself without any food in the house, but your kid has a bunch of experiences they probably won’t remember doing in a few years.
If you want to show your kid you love them, give them a hug. Take them on a walk and listen to them. Amusement parks are awesome, but goodnight hugs get you more miles.
There is no rulebook. When someone new comes into your life, one of the things you will want to do as a single parent is to shelter your kids from the possibility of more heartache. You are projecting. You went through a lot of pain either in your divorce or other failed relationships. You should protect your kids, but also, don’t shelter them. This is a nice time to show them a couple of different things.
First of all, you can show them that people can be affectionate and communicate and not be at each other’s throats constantly. This is a good time to model what they might pick up one day when they start dating or beginning healthy relationships of their own. What they saw before when you were married was not healthy. If you are in a relationship and you have doubts that you want to model that kind of situation for your kids, you might reconsider if that is the kind of relationship you should even be involved in.
I know a woman whose kid never met her boyfriend of 5 years. I think he met him when they finally got married. I can’t even wrap my head around that. I dated someone who didn’t meet my kids for a few years and by the time she did, they were happy to include her in their lives.
I soon learned that her hesitation had more to do with her inability to commit more than it did their capacity to welcome someone new. Her departure made me reluctant to let my kids meet anyone in the future.
But kids are resilient. They have a lot of love to share, even if our hearts have hardened off a little bit and we have become jaded.
The other thing that is vital to show your kids is something many of us might have been fortunate to have been equipped with when growing up: the ability to give up. The reality of long term relationships is how so many of them don’t last. The divorce rate is well over half in the US right now. That is not to say that the 45% who stick it out are happy either. When adults are committed, sometimes they do everything they can to “make things work.” When things fall apart, they get bitter, they fight, they play petty bullshit games. They poison one parent against the other, because they can’t accept that their kids can be happy without a personality disorder to keep them from making good connections with others.
So, people continue on through their lives, hopping from one failed relationship to the next, like stones in a raging river. Mostly they keep going for what was familiar, which was dysfunction. Their kids see this. They take it to heart.
What kids could see is a healthy adult not forcing themselves to “make this work” and instead saying “I’m not putting myself through a bunch of crap anymore.” Maybe if kids saw this more than they did the emotional devastation, settling, or allowing one adult to push their will onto their parent, they would be able to make better boundaries. And not repeat the mistakes of their parents.
What I’m trying to say is this. If something isn’t working, it’s okay to let it go, even if your kids are used to that person. And if something is working, you don’t have some timeline or a rulebook to follow. It’s very binary. It’s either working, or it’s not. Trust that. Trust that people come and go from our lives every day. The good ones will stay, the bad ones should leave.
If you haven’t done the work to recognize which is which, then don’t subject your or your kids to either. Stop, figure it out, be single if you must. But be content. But don’t rely on your kids to fill that void either. They are not a replacement for a partner.
One day, they will grow up and go away. That’s the entire point.