The formula for successful families seems easy: Parents + Children + Love = Success. We idealize it to the point that everyone should be able to reach it, right? But what happens when that formula doesn’t work and you discover yourself the leader of a single parent family instead? Yes, you strive to continue to give your children all of the things they had in the original family: love, protection, fun, and connectedness. But never forget, there is one key ingredient that must be added to the mix: Respect.
Respect the Former
When I was a child going through my parent’s divorce, I soon realized that it was a big no-no to discuss the former family unit. My family. Instead, I was expected not to speak of the other parent, the home I grew up in, or well, anything that wasn’t happening in the here and now. And while I’m sure my parents did the best they could to navigate those rough waters, that was a mistake. Your children’s family of origin will always be their family no matter what changes happen in the future. Allow them to speak fondly of those times, to reminisce, to mourn, or whatever they need to feel connected to what they likely consider a sweet part of their lives.
Respect the Ex
This goes without saying, but seems to be one of the most difficult things to do as a single parent trying to recover from the breakup of the family unit. The feelings of hurt and disappointment can be so overwhelming at times; we can’t stand to keep it in. But—please hear me now—your children are not your therapist. You have no right whatsoever to speak poorly of your ex in front of them. Talk to your best friend, your counselor, or even the pet squirrel you’re taming in the yard. Anyone—anyone—but your child. Disparaging the Ex in front of them not only makes you look untrustworthy in their eyes, but makes them feel as if you think the same things about them since their parent is a part of who they are.
Respect the Child
A family break-up is one of the most difficult things that can happen in life. It’s second only to the death of a loved one in terms of stress level. Remember that your child is grieving the loss. Not only that, but they had no choice in the matter, and have likely had their lives significantly changed. Maybe you’ve had to move, or are now living with much less. Give them a voice in the situation. Listen to their fears, their anger, and their grief—whatever comes. Because the family that parted was not a family of two. They have a right to be heard and at the very least, considered.
While I’m a proponent of doing all you can to make life flow smoothly as a single parent, you should not allow yourself to become a doormat to your children, your ex, or anyone else. Your role has shifted significantly and you likely have more work on your plate than you ever imagined or could ever possibly handle in a lifetime. Know your limits and protect them. Don’t push yourself to the point of exhaustion. Respect yourself enough to know when to put your foot down due to workload, or disrespect from those around you.
Respect God’s Grace
Regardless of how you found yourself here, you are not alone. God is walking this new path alongside you and will guide and protect you through it all. Lean into the grace He extends, knowing that this is not a black mark on your life. Don’t slough it off as if you no longer deserve it because of your circumstances. It’s the greatest gift He gives, and it’s for the taking—for all of us.
Being the leader of a single parent family isn’t always easy. But, things happen in life. Very often, things that we didn’t foresee and that are completely out of our control. Successful single parent families can be a tricky thing to achieve, but it is possible. Continue to love your children as you always have, make memories, and spread your love lavishly. Showing deep respect for the new situation and all who are involved will bring you more success in this difficult situation that you ever thought possible.