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Characteristics of Successful Single Parenting

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It's common to talk about single-parent family problems and their disadvantages to children. This can lead some single parents to think there is little they can do to have a successful family. That's not so.

Not all children growing up in single-parent families experience negative consequences, just as not all overweight people have a heart attack. More importantly, focusing on the weaknesses and problems doesn't help single parents and their children become strong.

Some years ago, this column discussed the unique strengths of single-parent families. Some researchers have asked successful single parents how they succeeded. This is what they said.

Acceptance of responsibility. Successful single parents accept the responsibilities and challenges of single parenting. They neither minimize nor exaggerate problems but seek solutions. They acknowledge the difficulties (e.g., lack of personal time, restricted social life, sole responsibility for meeting multiple needs, financial stress) without self-pity or bitterness.

One woman lost her husband to an auto-pedestrian accident. She was left with five sons to raise and little education or skills. She was devastated. Ultimately she made a plan and proceeded to carry it out. She decided to establish a home-based business, and it became very successful in a large metropolitan area. This woman was my mother.

Commitment to family. Successful single parents make the family their highest priority. They focus on being the best possible single parent, which often means putting the needs of the child first. They genuinely like and enjoy children, sacrificing time, money and energy for the sake of the children. They try to be supportive, patient and help children cope. Like other effective parents, they are consistent and non-punitive. This discipline style gives children choices, uses natural and logical consequences and provides structure.

Open communication. Successful single parents foster open communication. These parents encourage clear and open expression of thoughts and feelings in the family as a key to developing honest and trusting relationships. They foster individuality within a supportive family unit. These parents strive to accomplish this individuality and independence by each member having individual interests and building individual skills.

Successful home management. Successful single parents manage the family needs well. They strive to be well-organized, dependable and work hard to coordinate schedules. They take pride in their ability to financially provide for the family, although finances still remain a struggle. One single mother effectively organized her children to help with chores. She typed out the jobs for the day on 3x5-inch cards and expected a report before dinner.

Care of self. Successful single parents take care of themselves. Despite lack of time, these parents recognize that caring for themselves is important. They attempt to achieve it through physical, spiritual, emotional and/or social means. They are connected to others on whom they can call on for practical and emotional support.

Maintain rituals, traditions and relationships. Successful single-parent families maintain rituals and traditions, whether bedtime routines, special family time together or holiday celebrations. A tradition is any event with special or meaning to a family. When a family has been disrupted, maintaining traditions becomes a stabilizing force, something that can be depended on.

If the other parent is living, successful single parents encourage the child's involvement with the nonresidential parent, as long as the other parent doesn't present some danger to the child. When possible, the other parent shares responsibility for the children and regardless of where children live, they receive economic and emotional support of both parents.

Have a positive outlook on challenges. Successful single parents have a positive attitude toward parenting and life in general. They see positive aspects in stressful situation and feel that they have succeeded despite many doubts.

All families, including single-parent families, have strengths. Achieving success as a single parent is difficult, but it can be done. As with any family, you can have the quality of family life that you want, if you are willing to pay the price.
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