You may have always been a single parent, and knew that even before your baby was born that you would be bringing them up alone, or you may be newly single and struggling to cope with the demands that parenting places on you.
Parents tend to think that younger children are not able to understand adult emotions, but this is not necessarily true. Your children know when something in the home is wrong, even if they can’t verbally express to you what the problem is. The best way to answer any questions your children may have is honestly. You can tailor your answers based on your children’s age, but be aware that keeping important information from your children may not necessarily be the best idea.
Explain the situation
The best thing you can do to help your children deal with divorce or splitting up is to let them talk. After you’ve explained your decision, make sure that you let your children know that they can talk to you about their feelings. If they know that they can always come to you to tell how the divorce is affecting them, they are less likely to be angry with you, or to let the divorce affect other things in their lives, such as school activities or relationships with friends.
Expect changes in behaviour
Children tend to feel unwanted or unloved when their parents are splitting up; they often blame themselves, and feel that something they have done has caused their parents to separate. It’s important that you let your children know that they are still loved very much by both parents, and that this is not their fault. Your children still need to know that they are part of a family, and that both parents are making an effort to be an active part of their lives.
Be honest and open with your children
If you are a new single parent and your children attend a school, nursery, playgroup or pre school then it is a good idea to let teachers know as soon as possible. This way, they can keep an eye on your child’s behaviour and will be able to make allowances for any changes in the way they act when they are away from you.
You will also find that teachers, nursery managers and play leaders are all trained to understand how difficult things can be for children from single parent families, and they will be sympathetic and supportive of the whole family. They will also have access to support and advice that you may not be aware of, and that can be beneficial to your situation.
Listen to your children. You may find that they behave differently after visiting the absent parent and you will need to find out why. Instead of interrogating them the minute they walk through the door, let them come to you, because they will!
The health and wellbeing of your child
This has to be paramount, and is something that we are all spending time doing all the time without even realising it! Life will be hectic in a single parent household, and it is easy to let things slide. Before you know it bedtime has been pushed back an hour because supper was late because you spent an hour on the phone chatting! Of course you must have time for yourself as well but for a household to be happy and healthy, meal times and bed times have to become almost sacred!
Tired children are grumpy, lethargic and uncommunicative. They also argue with their siblings and are more prone to get run down and catch every little illness that is currently doing the rounds at school. To try and keep things well balanced and harmonious, insist that you all eat a healthy supper together every evening, go to bed at a reasonable time and get plenty of fresh air. Children perform and behave better at school if they are well rested and in good health, and you will be a better parent if you follow the same rules.
Try and keep an honest and open dialogue with your children wherever possible, but don’t overload them with worries and stresses that are yours. It’s unfair of adults to blame children for their own difficulties, but often it’s difficult not to-particularly if you do not have anyone else to share your problems with.
It’s really important that your children known they can trust you and talk to you about their worries, whether their concerns are to do with school, their parents or their friends. Make sure they know that they can talk to you about anything at any time.