Support for Single Parents

Being a single parent is such hard work. A solo mom or dad is on call 24/7, as primary cook, caregiver, disciplinarian, nurse, confidante, driver/escort and homework buddy. There is no respite. And, for single dads of girls or single moms of boys, there’s the added stretch of figuring out how to put on hockey gear and ballet tutus, not to mention reassurance and advice about body changes, sex and other rites of passage.

Besides a double workload, a single parent can suffer from feeling lonely and overwhelmed unless a support system is in place.  Certainly joint custody, the norm in many divorces these days, offers some guarantee of stability, predictability and even respite, but there are many single-parent families who don’t enjoy that civilized kind of sharing. That’s where grandparents can play a very important role.

When Kristen of Fredericton decided to adopt a baby girl on her own, she had lots of conversations with her parents before proceeding with the adoption. “I knew I was going out on a limb,” she admits, “so it was really important that my parents were on board with my idea and were willing to help out and be my major support system.”

Her dad, Frank says “We were certainly concerned about Kristen taking on such a huge responsibility, but we also knew she had maturity and the right attitude. She had a very realistic plan for handling parenthood on her own,” he says. “Since we live a few blocks away, we were happy to make a commitment to help her out when she needed support.”

While parenting can be full of surprises, Kristen and her parents felt it was important to set up a routine so everyone knew what to expect. Stability is important to young children and Frank and Elsie wanted some predictability in their role as grandparents too. “We set up a schedule so that we picked up the baby from daycare two evenings a week so Kristen could work late, see a movie with friends or run errands,” says Elsie. “Now our grand-daughter is in kindergarten and we still have the same routine, where we pick her up, take her to the playground and home for dinner.”

Giving a single parent a break is critical to her well being and also a chance for the grandchildren to bond with their grandparents. A single parent appreciates knowing she can count on that break. And for children, the stability of a regular, predictable date with grandparents is important too. Setting up a routine on a regular basis works for everyone.

However, it’s equally important for grandparents not to take on more than they can handle. Be realistic about your own capabilities and health when making a commitment. It’s better to commit to an hour of babysitting once a week than to promise a sleepover or full day of babysitting that may compromise your health.

Support your single-parent child without taking over. As tempting as it is to take on the role of the missing parent, don’t try to fill those shoes.  Your job as a grandparent has its own special worth. For instance, a grandfather can provide a good male role model, as long as the role model doesn’t infringe on the disciplinary rules and values of the single parent. A single mom needs to know she can count on your support of her values too. Respect the household rules so your grandchildren get a consistent message from all the adults in their lives.

Foster a healthy attitude to the family unit. Whether a single-parent family has been created out of divorce or death or by choice, it should be respected as valuable entity. A single-parent family, conscientiously cared for, is not as ‘broken’ or ‘fractured’ as a two-parent family where there is constant conflict or abuse.

It takes courage to be a solo parent with its multi-faceted role. Don’t forget to praise your single-parent child for the great job he or she is doing.