The Single-Parent Trap

Well-meaning single moms and dads often fail to understand that they can't take good care of their kids without first taking good care of themselves.


+ enlarge image Single parents: Don't close the door on your own needs.

After divorce, many single parents try too hard to compensate for the absence of a spouse. In the process, they neglect their own needs in order to meet their children's needs.

Many custodial single parents -- most of whom are female -- have become ensnared in the "Single Parent Trap." As the distinction between what her kids truly need and what they simply want becomes blurred, a single mother can easily fall into a pattern of overindulgence, stretching her emotional resources to the breaking point.

She gives as much as she can, both emotionally and materially, to children who begin taking this giving for granted -- appreciating it less and less, and becoming increasingly demanding. Eventually, and inevitably, the single mother's ability to go on giving collapses, and she vents her frustration at the kids. Then guilt sets in.

In this ongoing soap opera, the children are victims of circumstance, and Mom must do penance through self-sacrifice. Every time she gets angry at her kids, she ends up feeling like a bad parent. "If I could only control my temper," she thinks, "everything would be OK." But her temper is not the problem. Instead, she must learn to moderate her giving to her kids, and begin getting for herself.

Getting Out of the Trap

You must establish an identity for yourself separate and apart from the role of parent. You must allow the adult woman in you to separate herself from her role as Mom. Doing so will help you get your needs met, whether they be social, vocational, recreational, or sexual. In short, for your children's sake as well as your own, you must give yourself permission to be selfish. Only then will you have enough "inventory" to share freely with your children.

Another part of the single parent trap is entering into competition with the children's father. The single mom sees him having all the fun with the children while she shoulders the day-to-day responsibilities. What's more, she notices that the kids are more excited about visits with Dad than they are about returning home. Again, she overcompensates by trying to make life with Mom easy and wonderful. Free yourself by embracing "The Single Parent's Bill of Rights":

1. The right to make time -- and plenty of it -- for your hobbies, interests, and friendships.

2. The right to put your kids to bed early, so you can have some time every evening for yourself.

3. The right to say no to your children.

The quest for self-fulfillment, although it means less time spent directly with your child, never fails to produce a more positive parent/child relationship. After all, nothing contributes more to a child's sense of security than knowing that his or her parent is a happy person.

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