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What I learned from being a single parent
Being a single parent doesn’t have the label it had just a decade or two ago. While some parents are single due to circumstances — such as a death of a partner — some, like me, are single by choice.
I adopted my son when he was 7, only three years ago. I used to call myself the “rookie mom of a 7-year-old” when I first brought him home, but now see that we remain rookie parents because all children in all stages bring something new to the learning curve.
Being single, though, does bring certain challenges. In the three years I have been a single parent, there are some things I have learned:
1. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Remember all the good things you did for your family when you were childless? The aunt or uncle who showed up at the baseball games and ballet recitals? The baby-sitting so the parents could get a night out? Well, it’s OK to ask for some help back. It’s hard to do it alone, and sometimes you will need the help. Recently, my son was sick, so my sister went over and stayed the afternoon after the baby-sitter left. She often helps out on school holidays, too, since my days off nowhere mirror his school days off. My neighbors have also been a big cushion when things go bad. My sister is a rock star to help out as often as she does, and I would be lost without my neighbors.
2. Keep a close accounting of your money. This may seem obvious, but even though I am very good at managing money (I bought my first house as a single women at age 28), the extra costs of child care and raising him hit me hard, including after-school care, tutors and baby-sitters for his nonschool days. Since it’s only my salary we depend upon, it’s imperative that I keep myself financially solvent so I can raise him the way he deserves to be raised, and have the same opportunities as his peers with two parents.
3. Don’t be afraid to fight, even if you go into the ring alone. I live in what I consider to be a very suburban bedroom community. I bought there because I loved the house and knew the good school district was good for resale, but I didn’t ever think I would have a child in the school. And I quickly learned that my community had very few single parents. My son, who was adopted from Russia, came here without a word of English, and so I had to be his advocate at the school throughout these three years. Sometimes, when it’s just you, it feels awkward or weird to be in there questioning decisions of professionals, but you have to do it. Which leads me to No. 4.
4. Expect to feel uncomfortable at times. Last spring, I took my son on an overnight Cub Scout camping trip. While there were moms there, most left for the sleeping-in-tents-part and came back the next day (or not). One father even asked me, “Why did you stay? Where’s his father?” If you live in New York City, you will be one of many and not be singled-out (pun intended) but in a suburban town like mine, expect to be. It comes with the territory. I use it as a life lesson for my son, teaching him that families come in all shapes and sizes.
5. Enjoy the upside of single parenting. I can’t tell you how many moms have leaned over to me and whispered that I was lucky to not have to consult with anyone else on parenting decisions. I’m assuming it was just a bad day and they love their parenting partners, but I do appreciate that aspect of single parenting. I decide whether he needs a haircut or less time on the computer. And while I sometimes worry that having only one parent is hard on him, he seems to be happy in our little world and I make sure to include others so he never feels isolated.
Like I said, there are many ways to build a family, and different ways they may look. My hope is that my son knows this, so he can go into the world and not judge others for what may look different to him. Because after all, when it comes to parenting, single or not, it’s all about raising our children with love and respect.