Single parents need to be applauded for what they do, especially mothers. Recent research shows that more than 40% of boys are growing up without their fathers, and that 82% of single parents caring for children are women. So Mom, we applaud and thank you. (You too, single dad. You're just not as significant in this paragraph, so your applause is stated in parentheses.) Being a single parent is very stressful, but you can do a few things that can have a huge impact on your ability to solve common childhood problems and reduce stress in your family.
This article references aspects of the following video. You will likely get more out of the article if you watch the video first.
Premise of the video "Dad Discovers Abusive Mom On Son's iPad" ("Abuse" in this video is speculative. It all happens off camera with only sound available. This blog is not necessarily addressing abuse specifically.)
A young mother wearing earbuds sings along with music while an iPad takes video of her. Her children–sounds like two children between ages 3 and perhaps 7 or 8–happily play in the background, occasionally appearing in the video captured by the iPad. After about a minute, the mother stops singing and takes notice of the kids or of something they may have done. She puts the iPad down and hurries off screen. With the iPad still recording, you can hear her react to what sounds like a mess of spilt milk. There is very loud screaming, it sounds like possible physical contact of some kind toward the children, one of the children is called a "spoiled brat," and by her own admission, we learn she is a single mother.
This video isn't posted here to criticize what this single mother said, nor will it specifically address spanking. Parenting is difficult, and it is twice as difficult for a single parent. Single parents deserve understanding and consideration. However, the video does bring attention to very real situations not uncommon with parents, especially a single parent under stress. By discussing a few points from the video, we want to help parents recognize a few things they can do that will help them solve common childhood problems–or prevent them from happening in the first place–and reduce parent stress.
Observations of This Single Parent
ACTION: She was possibly taking a much needed moment for herself with music and singing–which is very understandable
RESULT: She is not paying attention to fairly young children who at this young age are very likely to make messes or get into things. And when something does happen, she overreacts and blames the children–failing to consider the age and needs of the children.
ACTION: In her frustration and moment of stress, her vision is narrowed. The kids were playing, happy, and having fun. She over looked that and focused only on the mess.
RESULT: She misses an opportunity to keep the kids happy and positive
ACTION: She is clearly frustrated as a single mother by the tone of voice, choice of words, and by even yelling at her children that she is a single parent who does not have help. This is an obvious expression of being stressed and overwhelmed.
RESULT: She may likely feel guilty later–which increases stress–but more importantly, her children will be more likely to react based on how they see their mother act–good or bad. And this example may not be what a parent wants to see from their children.
Also of note, if she did in fact spank her son(s), did you notice that cries are not heard during the spanking but later? This could possibly be because the emotional pain of Mom's reaction is far more painful than the spanking. Again, this is counterproductive to teaching kids and reducing stress in the home.
ACTION: She calls one of the children–"spoiled brat."
RESULT: This not the worst name you could call a child. The issue is when we use words to label children. They will live up, or down, to those labels. If she calls him names often, or uses negative names or labels often, this boy may grow to think he IS a spoiled brat and to disregard future instruction, and feel he ISN'T good at anything because of a lack of confidence. The good news, children can also improve performance based on positive labels: Hard worker, thoughtful, helpful, kind, smart, etc.
How a Single Parent Can Solve or Prevent Problems & Reduce Stress
After watching the video, if you recognized you've responded similarly to this single mom, don't feel judged or attacked. We aren't going to assume we completely understand the circumstances of this young single mother or what her true character is, and nor do people truly understand yours. We aren't going to focus on what she did right or wrong. Again, we simply want to point out the situation to illustrate alternatives that can make life for a single parent easier and less stressful. So we will simply consider a young single mother taking time for herself and overreacting to her young children who made a mess. Focus on how alternatives can help you reduce stress and frustration. Is she wrong for being frustrated that her kids made a mess? Not necessarily. Even though it may be understandable, does this screaming reduce her stress and make her feel better? Not likely. So consider alternatives that help maintain peace in the home–for you the parent, especially. If you are happy, the kids are happy, and vice versa. The following alternatives are generally linked to the actions numbered above.
ALTERNATIVE: Recognize how children act is often linked to their development, and may not necessarily be misbehavior.
You can reduce stress by realizing that you can't hold children of certain ages and abilities responsible for actions they are not old enough for or mentally or emotionally prepared for. It is not "misbehavior," it is merely "behavior" for their age or stage of development. (And these can be different. Not all four-year-olds act the same. Some may develop sooner or later than others.) For example, you wouldn't discipline a two-year-old for saying "No" when it is time for a bath or bed. A two-year-old is still learning to speak and they may be trying out familiar words they can actually say and how and when to use them. It is not "back talk." It is merely "talk." So, you would simply take the child through the routine of bed or bath time and use distraction techniques when he gets really squirmy. For example, while you are walking them or carrying them to the bathroom and undressing them you might say, "Look at your tiny, dirty hands. See the lines in your hands. I have lines in my hands too. Let's clean these lines in your hand. Do you want the car or the plane in the tub?" This process of cleaning a child or getting him ready for bed may be exhausting, but you can better maintain control and peace of mind, which are great stress reducers.
This can also be called a "developmental perspective" of parenting. It is a proactive style of parenting–where you learn about your children and their abilities. You parent by teaching and leading children toward what you want–rather than a reactive parenting style where you react to problems after they happen. A developmental perspective also prepares you for when problems do happen. By responding in a way that is linked to development, future problems can be prevented because your child now has a better understanding of what is expected and how to act.
Learn more about proactive parenting and a developmental perspective forChildrenorTeens
ALTERNATIVE: Be Prepared Mentally–Adjust Your Perspective
Adjusting your perspective beyond "spilt milk" can reduce stress by learning to let some things go, not all and not all the time, but somethings some of the time. The kids were happily playing. Yes it is totally frustrating to now have a mess to clean, but recognizing that it is "spilt milk" and finding a more calm way to address the mess, involving the kids rather than screaming, for example, can help maintain peace in the home. And single parents know, with everything they have to do alone, peace and happiness in the home can be rare. So keep it when you have it. Sometimes parenting isn't about doing it "right" or "wrong." It can often be about opportunities to make things better. Who knows, this "spilt milk" might turn into some great laughter and memories when you join the kids on the floor.
Also, if you are prepared, mentally, for challenges, they can be used to teach valuable lessons. See Alternative #3
ALTERNATIVE: Teach positive alternatives of behavior by showing your children how you want them to behave. Children watch their parents to learn.
You can solve problems, and often prevent them, when your children understand more productive forms of behavior. Instead of voicing, or screaming your frustration (with being a single parent), show children how to react more calmly. In no way are we saying it is easy to be this example during highly stressful moments, but it will be worth it to you as you get better at it. Your children will be happier, more confident, and well adjusted. You will be happier, less stressed, and more confident as a parent.
How to use challenges as a teaching moment: Voice your frustration at the mess. Depending on the age of your children, you might explain how difficult it is being a single parent and ask for their help. Use specific examples to explain how they can be helpful–getting ready for bed on their own, doing dishes without being asked, doing homework right after school, etc. When they make a mess, involve them in the cleaning of the mess so you can teach them cleaning skills. Use words and tones you want them to use when they speak, and compliment and praise them when they show these behaviors. This is how children learn best. They are far more likely to respond positively to compliments and praise than they are punishments. When they are praised for good behavior, they remember this and are much more likely to repeat these good behaviors on their own. You just might come home to a clean kitchen, every once in a while.
ALTERNATIVE: Give them labels you want them to live up to. A moment of stress and name like "spoiled brat" won't necessarily destroy the child for life. But if used frequently, negative names and labels can be a negative reference point for children. "Mom is always calling me a brat, or messy, I guess I am those things." Instead, provide positive qualities for children to live up to. Not only does this give them a positive target to achieve, but it can also help their confidence during stressful times. "I have a messy room, or my school work is disorganized, but mom says I am a hard worker, so I bet I can work to get better." This example may be oversimplifications, but they are true; and they are effective. Give it a try.
It is understandable to be frustrated and stressed as a single parent. You may even have "a right" to be angry in certain situations. But having the right to act a certain way won't always produce what you want. When you are the only parent available as a daily source of comfort, direction, learning, discipline, love, etc., sometimes you just need to realize that calm, peace, and happiness are more important than the mess or frustration. At the end of the day you need to be the example for your children. You need to show them, often when it is most difficult, how you want them to speak and act during these difficult, stressful times. If you can improve your parenting skills and prepare yourself BEFORE problems occur, you can solve problems–or even prevent them–reduce stress, and have more peace, happiness, and love in your home.