By Jennifer Maggio, Crosswalk.com
If we surveyed a thousand single moms, there would be a thousand different answers on the best practices of how to parent your children well. Different strokes for different folks, as they say.
That said, we want to provide some clarity and calm to what can sometimes be a difficult journey of parenting alone. Let’s be real. It is hard. It is really hard. There are droves of single mothers who have gone before you and have done it well. They have raised well-rounded, loving, respectful adults who are contributing to society in amazing ways. Do not let the naysayers distract you from the task at hand.
In order to raise your children up in the way they should go, you are going to have to persevere, pray, press, and push through. You will likely cry, scream, and collapse in bed at night with exhaustion. But you can do it! Yes, you can do it! You will do it. Know that there is an army of women throughout the United States praying for single mothers. Know that you are not alone. Know that God goes before you and makes a way when there seems to be none. He is going to give you strength for the daily grind. It will likely be just enough strength for today, but sufficient strength, nonetheless.
Here are a few tips to help you with your parenting tasks along the way.
25 Parenting Tips for Single Moms
1. Teaching your children is not the same as leading your children. Be sure to lead them by example. They will often emulate what they see. Do not assume they are not looking. Do not make the mistake of thinking they are unaware of your bad choices. Do your best to honor God with the way you lead your children. People follow those who lead, not those who speak.
2. You cannot do it alone. You need God! You need an army. You need your family, friends, church, single moms’ Bible study, coworkers, and parents at your children’s school.
3. Focus on the behaviors you want to see in your children. Focus on the positive, not the negative. We nag too much. Reaffirm positive behavior. Recognize when you need to issue grace. Don’t major in the minors. Relax. While it is important to create structure, sometimes, single moms can err on the side of too strict because they do not want their children to be “that” kid. While admirable, it is dangerous because it will backfire. Being too strict can lead to rebellion.
4. Say “I’m sorry” to your children. We all fall short of perfection, really short, every day and all day. Be willing to acknowledge your shortcomings. It teaches your children great character!
5. Never misuse your children’s trust. Do not lie to them. Do not ask them to lie for you about anything, ever. If you are at home, do not have your children say that you are not. Do not have them tell even little “white” lies. Remember, you are their first teacher. This is a lesson you do not want to teach.
6. Foster the relationship. They will one day be your friends! Be kind. Treat them the way you want to be treated. Do not talk to them inappropriately. Remember, they are little people, do not be rude or unkind just because you have had a bad day.
7. Let friends come play, despite your exhaustion. You want to be that house! You want to create an environment that is available for fun. You want to be the mom that allows her children to foster strong friendships.
8. Lose the mom guilt. Do the best you can and never compare yourself to other moms.
9. Find lots of free activities in your community and ask others to join, e.g., kids eat free night at restaurants, parades, parks, community festivals, etc. Even if funds are tight, you can still have a great time with your children. Going for walks around a local park, hiking trails, or neighborhood play areas are all free. Having an arm-wrestling contest at a local park with your kids’ friends is free. Be creative. Have fun.
10. Communicate with your children. Talk to them openly and honestly. Keep the lines of communication open from the time they are very small on through their adult years. Many lines of communication become closed in the pre-teen and teen years, so work hard to open or re-open them.
11. Provide clarity on decisions. It is okay to explain to children why you said “no” about a request. As they age, it is important to acknowledge their curiosity. Asking “why” does not mean they are being disrespectful. Your response can help create a better understanding that establishes a lifelong principle in their lives (Now, once you have offered an explanation, the answer is firm. Do not allow continual nagging or questioning, or negotiating. Let your no be no).
12. Work on you. It is hard to train when we ignore what is going on inside us. Continue to grow. Pursue your goals and dreams. Take that class. Develop that hobby. Get counseling for past wounds.
13. Avoid overindulging your children. They really do not need the latest phone, toys, clothes, shoes, or to attend every event. Many single moms overindulge out of guilt.
14. Create healthy conversations around their father. Do NOT badmouth their father in front of them or even behind their backs. Honor that he is their father, regardless of his behavior if it happens to be poor. Be open to conversations that remain honoring, the same way you would want him to honor you.
15. Do not bring adult information to them. Your kids are not your best friends. They are not your counselors. They do not need to know about the household money struggles, your emotional woes, or adult challenges. Be mindful of developing a friend network that can support you so that your children are not unnecessarily burdened.
16. Seek help from friends, family, a single moms’ support group, and/or your church. It truly does take a village, so create your village. Stop complaining that you do not have a village. Work on creating a village. Be the friend you want to have in others. It takes time, it may not be perfect, but your village can help you when you need a break.
17. Self-care is important. Money may be tight, and you cannot afford a spa day, but you can afford to get into a nice warm bath with soft music after the children go to bed. You can take a lunch break in your car (or wake up earlier) to have 15 minutes of coffee and prayer. There are intentional things you can do to support your own emotional health. Small things make big differences. It is not selfish to address your needs. It makes you the best mom you can be.
18. Serve others. It is so important that we teach our children the value of volunteerism and servanthood. We have stronger communities because of our service to others. Beyond that, there is so much research that says acts of service support our own mental health.
19. Establish boundaries and stick to them. Stop negotiating with your children. There is a time that occasional boundary changes need to take place. Far too often, we find ourselves negotiating away our boundaries with our children, and it becomes a habit—stand firm. Our children must know that there will always be rules, whether it be through school, employers, or the law of the land. They must understand how to follow the rules and honor boundaries.
20. Acknowledge their pain. Sometimes, our children carry hurt from the past (or it could be current pain). Do not avoid talking about it because you may not know what to say. Sometimes, the most important thing to say is, “I’m sorry you are hurting. I don’t know what to say. I love you. I’m here for you.” Sitting in silence with a hurting child and offering only those few words can make so much difference. Your very presence tells them they are safe and supported.
21. Encourage your children often. When our children are small, it is easy to praise their first words, first steps, first potty visits, etc. As they age, sometimes it’s harder to encourage because we tend to focus on the things they may not be doing well. Offer regular words of affirmation. “You are an awesome kid. You are amazing at that sport. I always appreciate how you keep your room clean. I am so thankful that you work hard at your grades.” Regardless of the difficulties, your children are experiencing, they are doing something well. Find it and praise them for it (Note: Be honest. Do not give false praise. They need to be acknowledged for the things they are doing well and instructed in the things they need to work on).
22. Be consistent. Children of all ages need to know what to expect in order to feel safe. Do not be a “fun, wild, crazy mom” one moment and a “militant mom” the next. Find a healthy balance and stick to it. Yes, it will be hard. Yes, you will be tired. Your children’s safety and sense of security are too important not to be consistent.
23. Have fun. Love them. Laugh with them. Dance with them. Play board games. Be creative. Have a race. Create a contest. Sing karaoke. Do not allow the stresses of life to dominate every part of your family and take the joy out of living. Learn to have fun again together.
24. Take them to church. Start early, taking them often. They will go willingly when they are younger. They will likely make it harder on you as they age. That is normal. They are exerting independence (which you want them to do), be consistent, and insist on it. Developing the habit young creates a yearning later. Even when it seems they are not listening, they are. The Word does not return void.
25. Be encouraged. You will make it!
Related: Single Mom 101 Podcast!
Jennifer Maggio is a national voice for single mothers and hurting women. Her personal story has been featured in hundreds of media venues, including The New York Times, Daystar Television, The 700 Club, and many others. She is CEO/Founder of The Life of a Single Mom Ministries, a national nonprofit that works with churches to develop single mom’s programs and currently serves more than 1,500 churches.
The Life of a Single Mom has served 406,000 single mothers over the last decade and counting. Maggio is an author of several books, including The Church and the Single Mom. For more information, visit www.jennifermaggio.com.
Jennifer Maggio is a mom to three, wife to Jeff, and founder of the national nonprofit, The Life of a Single Mom Ministries. She is author to four books, including The Church and the Single Mom. She was named one of the Top 10 Most Influential People in America by Dr. John Maxwell in 2017 and 2015 and has appeared in hundreds of media venues, including The New York Times, Family Talk Radio with Dr. James Dobson, Joni and Friends, and many others.