Survival Guide for Single Parents: The Primary School Years

You've got it all.
As a single parent with a school age child, you've got it all--all the responsibility for generating income plus all the responsibility for nurturing your child. Thankfully, there are some benefits to having it all and you live in an age where people want single parents and their kids to succeed.

Whether you became a single parent by choice or by fate, you want your child to grow up healthy and secure. There are strategies you can follow to make single parenting work.

Make home a haven.
Life outside the home can be laborious and exhausting for both of you. Out there, you have to be kind to people who are unkind. You have to tackle projects that are boring or beyond your skill set. It's easy to come home tired and cranky and to kill the pain with a frozen pizza and the glow of a screen, or worse. How much better if you can make home a haven of physical and emotional safety.

No parent wants their child's life to be the one Martina McBride sang about in "Independence Day." "I was only eight years old that summer, And I always seemed to be in the way." Elementary school children may be at the peak age of this "in-the-way" description. These children don't need the constant care of an infant, but they haven't achieved the independence of an older teen.

They need your love and warmth. Save some kindness for their mornings and evenings. Play. Read. Work puzzles. Eat together. Smile. Keep communication open.

Connect to the Community.
You need the community, and your community needs you. Your life and your child's life will be enriched by engaging with the gifted people around you. You need that emergency contact who will cover for you in a pinch. You can benefit from and help someone else by sharing responsibilities such as carpool, errands, and after school care. Keep up relationships with friends and family, and don't forget the importance of a platonic relationship with a member of the opposite sex so your child grows up with a healthy respect for men and women.

Support your child's interest in sports, music, clubs, or church. You don't want to overschedule, and it can feel like you live in the car; but these interests that you're facilitating in elementary school can flourish keeping your child busy, connected, and out of trouble in high school.

If you or your child is not at peace with your status as a single parent, consider getting some therapy or counseling. Whether just a few sessions or a regular slot on the weekly schedule, counseling can help build family wholeness.

Some singles find their best support through single parenting communities such as SingleParents.org or ParentsWithoutPartners.org.

Set Limits
You need clear, consistent rules with consequences. There's no room for guilt and giving in to childishness. You're the only adult in the room. It's up to you.

Maintain regular mealtimes together. Establish a bedtime routine that allows your child to get enough sleep to be well rested in the morning. You both need a balance of time alone and time together. Plan those times. Make them meaningful, and stick to the plan.

Technology, technology, technology. Consider an internet nanny such as Safe Eyes. This is the age when children are introduced to or stumble across pornography or dangerous chatrooms. Keep communication open so your child can come to you when trouble arises. Check the online history on your devices. If you discover your child has been on sites that make you uncomfortable, take action. Get help from a school counselor or clergy.

If you feel like your parenting strategies are not working, talk with your child's pediatrician or look for a parenting workshop in the community. Celebrate Calm offers live workshops geared to families dealing with ADHD plus online training through their "Calm Parenting University" and free weekly newsletters.

Having reasonably well-behaved children who are pleasant to be around works to your advantage. When other parents or family members know that your child is gracious and respectful, it's easier to arrange to for shared responsibilities and childcare. It's easier for you to get the break you need.

Manage your finances.
Stay out of debt. The income differential between a single parent home and a home with two wage earners can be thousands of dollars. It is unwise for you to take on consumer debt to provide anything past the necessities for you and your child. If necessary, consistently eat at home. Resist the pressure. Live within your means.

As hard as it is to admit, if you're going to live within your income, your child will likely not have what some of his peers have; and if you take on that second or third job, then your child will not have the parent he needs. Temporarily, you and your child can likely manage a few months of extra work to get yourselves in a better place financially, but be cautious of working so many hours that you sacrifice time together. Your child needs you.

Get educated on child development.
You can substantially reduce your stress level when you understand normal child development. As a child advances through elementary school, he becomes more self-directed, questions and criticizes, develops a sense of humor, respects and desires privacy, and goes through a clumsy stage. Knowing and recognizing these stages helps you not to take it personally when you become the object of criticism and a searing joke. You want your child to learn to question, and you're the person available he has to practice on. It may not be any more of a challenge to your authority than an accident during potty training. It's all part of growing up. Knowing developmental stages also prevents you from ignoring or downplaying troublesome behavior.

Check out PBS or the Child Development Institute. Focus on the Family addresses a variety of issues that impact primary school age children.

These are big years. Parent with dignity and respect through this season. Get the support you need, and invest the time and energy it takes to raise a strong, honorable child. It's worth it.