Single Parenting in the 21st Century

When my son Rylee fell off a bunk bed, cracked his skull, and ended up in an emergency room, every fear in my life crystallized in a horrifying flash of uncertainty. I started to think back to a few days before when I had become frustrated and scolded him, and I became frightened that it may have been the last day we ever spent together. Regret and doubt filled my heart as every mother’s worst nightmare of seeing her child succumb to a life-threatening injury became my reality. My three year old needed a major brain surgery, and I had no control over it. Days following the surgery, I took it upon myself to monitor the machines connected to him and would panic every time I heard an unfamiliar sound. Not a single thing more real or terrifying had occurred in my entire life up until that point.

Luckily for me, my son stunned us all with his bravery as he kept smiling, eating, and shocking the doctors with how quickly his recovery had begun. Inevitably, the circumstances had thrown my ex-husband and me in a room together once again. In that moment, the petty arguments we used to have seemed meaningless in the big picture. We bonded for our son’s sake with nothing more important than his recovery and stability. Through this negative situation, my eyes opened to how important it is to set a great example, whether or not his dad and I stayed together. My journey through parenting has led me to believe I’m more content with my life now than before I became a mother. Back then, I didn’t have the motivation and selflessness I do now. In fact, research shows that parents tend to feel happier and have a stronger sense for meaning in life than non-parents. I think this is true, especially as it relates to organization and responsibility. The importance of establishing discipline, structuring the household, and having a healthy relationship with my son’s father became abundantly clear to me.

Every parent’s job includes being a respectable role model by establishing a discipline regime, creating rules and restrictions, and providing direction. After all, we’re the ones who teach these little people how to act, think, and conduct themselves in the real world. When setting boundaries for children, it’s important to stand firm. Our children will appreciate it later down the road just as we have grown to respect what our parents taught us through their discipline. Moreover, becoming a parent doesn’t mean suddenly achieving perfection and the utmost understanding for the universe, as it is a learning process for adults as well. Parents make mistakes. The key is to learn from those mistakes so it’s possible to keep moving forward while demonstrating high but achievable standards. It’s easy to tell children to act kind, stop yelling, and so on, but when they look to their parents and don’t see them abiding by the same guidelines, it’s likely that the message won’t come across effectively. Our little ones ultimately learn from what we show them through our actions and not what we say with our words.

Standing firm doesn’t mean becoming overbearing. In fact, parenting with overly restrictive methods may cause moral transgression in children. Moreover, if children learn how to live a life rich in love and logic, they stand a much better chance of growing into loving and compassionate people. Children who see their parents doing the littlest things like giving up a place in line, holding the door for other people, saying thank you, and so forth, will begin to imitate what they see and eventually adapt those behaviors to make them their own. It certainly put a smile on stranger’s faces when my three year old insisted on holding the door open for the people coming in behind him at the doctor’s office before entering himself because he had that demonstrated to him.

With established discipline, it’s possible to structure the household to have stability. Cell phones, computers, televisions, game consoles, and even personal tablets have become a luxury more than a privilege in some households where parents tend to use them as babysitters. Although electronic devices may help us have that quiet time we feel we so desperately need, children with developing minds might miss out on the proper social interaction they crave and need. Many children lack proper social development these days due to the misuse of technology. In this case, available doesn’t equal suitability.

Of course, these devices can teach our children several things if used properly and in moderation. Finding the right balance where a child can use interactive technology for educational purposes without abusing it in everyday life is crucial. After all, our children have become a touch-screen generation. This technology will stay active in our lives for years to come, so it only makes sense that our children acquire the knowledge appropriate to operate these devices but not to come to depend on them. It’s important to set limits with our children when it comes to technology, but scolding and reacting negatively will commonly encourage dishonesty. Using a more mindful approach coming from love and encouragement may improve the communication.

Many parents will also agree that something new and different like co-parenting can be hard to adapt to. Still, when both parents love and care for their child, the child deserves to have both parents involved in their lives. Splitting up holidays, vacation time, and even figuring out child support is not an enjoyable task for anyone involved, but the advantages it will have on a child’s life should outweigh those negative experiences. Ultimately, if children see their parents strive to get along and meet in the middle about parenting decisions and parenting time, they will still grow up learning to respect their parents and other people alike. Co-parenting takes practice and commitment, but if both parties work hard at it together, it’s more rewarding than the alternative. Separated parents may even wind up establishing a solid friendship through the process. And when co-parenting isn’t a sensible option, a child only needs to feel primarily secure with one parent to achieve the full benefits of balanced behavior proving the possibility that either mom or dad can efficiently raise a child alone.

It’s no secret how challenging life is for a single parent, especially in terms of keeping our children feeling secure in a structured environment. Despite difficult times, children raised by parents in separate homes do not have to grow up with less opportunities or love. In The Secret of Childhood, Maria Montessori says, “Parents have a very important mission. They are the only ones who can save their children by uniting and working together for the improvement of society.” Solo parents everywhere can show their children the same stability and organization as children raised in a family setting. Commitment to healthy discipline, structure for a household and practice with co-parenting will create a stable, loving, environment for our children and the generations that follow.

My son and my dog in front of my 2012 garden.

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