Most of us wouldn't wish divorce or separation on anyone. But that doesn't mean that single parents are inevitably emotional wrecks. Far from it, many are happier and healthier and have a bigger life than they ever could have dreamed of when they were in a dysfunctional relationship.
Other single parents were never in a relationship in the first place – they chose to parent alone. And even those people whose separations are recent or whose partner has died may not want sympathy at every single turn.
Generally, people – particularly parents - want to be survivors, not victims.
2. Explain to your own children why some kids live with one parent
Not all families look the same. There are those with two mummies, single parents, children who are fostered, kids who spend most of the time with Granny....so the list goes on.
Paint this picture of the many ways that families can exist – and the various reasons for this - to your own children so that kids who don't belong to neat nuclear families don't feel alienated or different.
And please paint this picture in a positive light – diversity is a good thing.
3. Don't assume my children would be better off with two parents
A growing number of studies show that children from single parent families don't necessarily fare any worse, as is so often assumed. There are even some advantages. Research shows that the home environment tends to have less tension and hostility, for example, and there tends to be more unity and consistence.
Children also have more opportunities to develop responsibility, as well as to learn resilience, one of the most valuable skills required to survive in today's world.
If the single parent was previously in a bad relationship, it's particularly easy to see how the child is better off away from that.
4. Remember I'm not necessarily lonely just because I'm alone
In some cases, being single is a choice and it's these parents who you'll spot with a smug smile when they're in the company of bickering couples. Basically what they'll be feeling is blissfully happy that it's just them and their child(ren).
So stop before you make assumptions about single parents being jealous of couples – you may be way off the mark.
And if you do know they sometimes (or often) feel sad about not being in a relationship or that they'd like to meet someone, help by offering a shoulder to cry on or encouragement to get dating, rather than writing them off as constantly lonely.
5. Avoid phrases like "How do you cope?" and "I don't know how you do it!"
As a single parent, these are among the most common comments you'll hear. Sometimes it feels as though everyone from married friends to your own mother never stop asking how on earth you manage.
It's meant as a compliment and it's also understandable - they know how tough parenting can be even when you have someone to share the load.
But whilst being a single parent can be hard, it can also be fabulous. Routine is easier, but there can be more spontaneity too. There's nobody to undermine your authority and you don't have to compromise your beliefs. So please don't assume single parents are getting by against the odds. Thoughtful pats on the back are great – stunned faces aren't.
6. Understand that I may have to be more careful with money than you
Becoming financially solvent after a separation, divorce or death can be a long and difficult process and even parents who started out alone are more likely to be worse off financially than in families with two parents.
So remember that single parents might not always be able to make that mums' night out of contribute large sums for gift for the teacher from all the kids.
7. Take time to listen to me if I want to share milestones or have a whinge
"You won't believe what little Johnny said today!" "Oh you'd have melted if you'd seen Olivia's smile this morning!" "I had a day from hell with Callum's tantrums!" These are the kinds of comments that couples take for granted when discussing their children. After all, the tiniest detail about your child will probably fascinate your partner as much as it does you.
Single parents may not have someone to share these moments with – let alone the moments when your child takes his or her first steps or first words - so take the time to listen especially hard when they want to talk about them.
8. Don't say things like "I'm a single parent too at the moment as my husband is away!"
Get real. Running a household on your own for a few days doesn't make you a single parent and saying this to a real single mother or father suggests you know absolutely nothing about their world and worse still, that you don't really care.
Bottom line is it's both patronising and infuriating.
9. Remember that my alone time may be non-existent or conversely, I may get too much of it
Alone-time can be like gold-dust to some single parents, so feel free to offer them some. But be sensitive.
An open-ended offer of babysitting, for example, can easily be misconstrued as "You obviously can't do it on your own." A more specific proposition, such as, "I'm taking my kids out to the park this afternoon – would yours like to come along," feels like the kind of favour that any parent would offer another, single or not – and, indeed, which they can return.
Nobody wants to be a charity case.
Conversely, if the kids go off to the other parents for entire weekends at a time, the remaining parent may be left feeling abruptly deserted. Encourage them to use this time constructively so they don't miss their kids too much.
10. To get an insight into my world, visit the Facebook page Things Single Parents Don't Say
Read between the lines of this fantastically witty and satirical look at the things single parents just don't say to get an insight into some of the difficulties, obstacles and joys of single parenthood.
Examples include, "My body is a temple," "The CSA is fast and effective," "I love the school holidays," "I have a lot of hobbies," "I'm not tired" and "Sure, I'd love to come to the pub. I'll be there in 15 minutes."
More on Parentdish: The positives of single parenting
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