Being a single parent can bring many rewards, and also new challenges. Whether you’ve just become single, or are about to be, or have been for ages, it’s good to inform yourself so that you can make the best decisions for your family.
Co-parenting when you live apart
If you’d hoped to bring up your child as a couple, you may be feeling angry and hurt.
But as a lone parent, it’s important to hide those feelings from your child and let them build their own relationship with their other parent.
It’s usually better for children to see both parents regularly, even if you start new relationships. Of course, this does not apply if your ex-partner is violent or abusive towards you or your child.
At first, you may find your child behaves badly when they come home after a visit. Playing up is one way they may let you know they’re upset or confused about the situation.
Unless you think something bad may be happening on access visits, the best way to deal with this is to be reassuring and calm. In the end, your child will learn to look forward to visits and coming home.
You’ll almost certainly need to talk about your own feelings. Try to find another adult to talk to.
Single parents with a disabled child
Looking after a disabled child on your own can be exhausting and isolating, but lone parent carers can get support and financial help.
Try to include your child’s other parent in their care, if possible. If your child needs any aids or adaptations around the home, you may be able to get a grant to help with the costs.
There are also a range of benefits and tax credits you may be eligible for as the lone parent of a disabled child.
These include the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) for children, Universal Credit, and tax credits. If your child is 16 or over, they may be able to claim the Personal Independence Payment (PIP).
You can find more information on benefits and tax credits on the Contact website, or you can call the Gingerbread helpline for free on 0808 802 0925.
Some charities and organisations issue grants to parents who have a child with a disability or long-term illness. Call Contact’s free helpline on 0808 808 3555 (Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 5pm) for a list of these organisations.
When your child doesn’t live with you
There are any number of reasons why you may be living apart from your children. Your relationship may have broken down, or you may live or work far away, you are in prison or your child is in care. In any of these circumstances it can be hard to maintain communication with your children. Here are some ideas and some organisations to support you.
Ideas for types of contact
- Keeping in touch with your children will change depending on how old they are. You as the parent need to operate on their level, even if that means you doing new things.
- Younger children will like picture postcards through the mail. A young child will enjoy using a wall chart and colouring in the days until they see you again
- Children can chat on the phone from a very young age, perhaps two years old (but be mindful that they don’t always like to)
- You can record some bedtime stories and rhymes for your child to have at their other home
- Once children have a mobile phone, you can text as well as phone
- Young people love using MSN and Facebook to communicate. If you don’t use these, LEARN!
Remember that children are not interested in your housing situation or how depressed you are feeling or how you can’t find a job and have no money. All communication needs to be about them, what they are up to, what is their favourite toy, colour, food etc. Praise everything they say. Don’t put pressure on them to return contact, let them go at their own pace.
If the other parent is restricting contact
Will the other parent come to mediation?
Offer to have your parenting time with another person present, eg a family member, if the other parent has concerns
Try writing a polite letter to the other parent asking for regular news updates
Provide their school with a supply of stamped addressed envelopes; most schools will happily send copies of reports and newsletters.
Attend Parents’ Evenings.
Take some legal advice
If the other parent is blocking ALL contact, start a scrapbook and stick in it pictures of you, letters and cards you would have sent if you had been allowed. What a wonderful gift for a child when they are older!
If your children are in care
You will have to be guided as to contact and parenting time by the rules you are given, depending on the reason your children are in care.
If you live in a different town/country
In addition to the contact methods above, you could consider a Skype phone and/or a webcam. Time spent together will be limited so make a regular ‘date’ for contact rather than “speak to you soon”. Don’t be too upset if a young child does not want to speak to you on the arranged date; just arrange another time. Be flexible as to the child’s routine. This is particularly important where you are in a different time zone: be sensitive as to bedtimes or when a favourite TV programme may be on
Where can I go for support?
MATCHmothers is a charity that offers non-judgemental support and information to mothers apart from their children in a wide variety of circumstances. https://matchmothers.org/
Overview of the law https://www.dad.info/article/category/family/divorce-and-separation/
Family Rights Group https://frg.org.uk/
Families need fathers https://fnf.org.uk/
Fatherhood Institute https://www.fatherhoodinstitute.org/
Helping prisoners with Storybook Dads https://www.storybookdads.org.uk/
Talking to your child when a parent leaves the family home
Trying to find the right words to explain to your child when a parent leaves the family home can be really difficult. Do you tell them the truth? How do you react to their questions? Read on to get more insight into how you can approach this delicate subject…
There are a variety of reasons for a parent being completely absent from your child’s life.
The main four are:
- The other parent is not interested
- The other parent is abusive and it is not safe for your child to have contact
- The other parent lives abroad and regular visits are difficult
- You have been bereaved
How do I tell my child the other parent is not making contact?
The short answer is… you don’t, well, not while they are young anyway. Don’t lie to them, keep it factual, answers such as “Daddy lives too far away” or “Mummy has chosen to live with John” if questioned, can be followed up with lots of reassurances of love and “I will always be with you” from you. As they get older it gets harder and your heart will be wrenched by your child asking plaintively “But why doesn’t Mummy love me?” or “Why doesn’t Daddy send me a present on my birthday?”
It’s Ok to say “I don’t know. I understand you feel sad” and move on to something else. It is so tempting to criticise the other parent, especially when they have hurt your precious child, but remember that all that matters is minimising that hurt to your child. Sadly, they will have to face that hurt as they grow up but you, as their rock, will have been there for them all along.
What to do if the other parent is abusive?
It is not so different from the situation above if they accept that they are not permitted to see their child. But what if they constantly try to make trouble and come to the house? How can you skate over the fact that Daddy is “naughty” or Mummy tries to kick the door in? Sadly you cannot protect your children from this hurt, you can only mitigate what happens by being strong, involving the authorities, reassuring your child over and over, and by finding good support for yourself in order to cope with this awful situation.
It is, however, important to acknowledge to your child that what is happening is wrong and that you do not agree with the other parent’s behaviour, whilst saying that you will keep them safe.
What if the other parent lives abroad?
If the other parent is not interested then see above. If they do want to maintain a relationship then there are ways for you both to foster this. Methods of contact between visits can vary with the age of the child, including webcam, Skype, Facebook, MSN Messenger, picture postcards, email, airmail letters, international telephone calls, photographs and voice recordings. It is even more important that arrangements made are stuck to when the parent is far away, because so much time goes by between actual physical contact visits.
If you have been bereaved
This is a very hard situation as you struggle with your own bereavement. Your child may be afraid of upsetting you more by grieving so it is important to “give them permission” to show those feelings: “I am sorry you are sad. I am sad too, I miss your dad/mum so much”.
Whether or not your child has strong memories of their parent, you can encourage these by looking at old photos, talking about things they did with the other parent, how happy they were when the child was born, whether there is a resemblance (“you have the same colour eyes as your them”) and how proud the other parent would be of them. As your child grows older, be careful not to turn this into “Your poor mum/dad would be so shocked to see how you’re behaving.” Just use it in a positive way.
- Remember to keep reassuring your child that you love them and will always be there.
- They need you to be extra-loving, supportive and always willing to answer any questions or listen to any worries they may have about the other parent.
- Don’t criticise the other parent, but acknowledge feelings your child expresses.
- If the other parent is not around, you need to find a way to have some “me” time so you get a break!
- Look around for good role model adults for your child. This is especially important if your child is the opposite sex from you. Above all, remember your child has YOU!
Losing a parent through bereavement
If a child has a loved one, such as a friend or family member who’s going to die, they can benefit from special support.
A child’s stress level is often at its highest before bereavement because of fear and the unknown.
Pre-bereavement counselling gives a child a chance to think and talk about their feelings and share their worries.
The YoungMinds website has more information on counselling services for children and young people
Making a memory box
If you’re a parent and you know you’re going to die, you could make a memory box to give to your child, or make one together.
A memory box contains things that remind you both of your time together. It can provide an important link between you and your child once you’ve gone.
Macmillan Cancer Support has information about making a memory box
If a child has lost someone
Talk about the person who has died
During bereavement, it can help a child to talk about the person who’s died, whether it was a grandparent, parent, brother, sister or friend.
Direct, honest and open communication is more helpful than trying to protect your child by hiding the truth. If you exclude them from family ceremonies and services after someone has died it could make them feel excluded.
This can also help your child be open about their own feelings and avoid confusion about what has happened. It may be helpful to talk as a family, perhaps with your child, about how to include them in any events that celebrate or say goodbye to the person who has died.
It’s important for them to have someone with whom they can talk about that person and share their emotions. This could be through photos, games, memory boxes or stories.
Over time, children may start to talk more about their loss at different times and in different ways. Young children may start talking about death or including it in their play, but this is normal and is a way for them to make sense of what has happened.
If your partner dies, not only do you have your own response and emotions to deal with but also those of your children. You may all be grieving for the same person, but each will do it in their own, unique way.
How do children grieve?
Children and young people grieve just as deeply as adults, but they show it in different ways. They can be intensely sad one minute, then suddenly switch to playing happily the next.
Normal grief in children may include behaviours such as being naughty or very good, problems with sleeping, being clingy, regressing to being younger or trying to be grown-up and wanting to please. Anger is a common response. Teenagers may spend long periods of time being either very withdrawn or frantically socialising. These behaviours are only cause for concern if they go on for a long time.
Young children find it difficult to grasp that death is permanent and expect the dead person to return. You may have to repeat the information many times. A teenager has adult understanding but may feel quite overwhelmed with responses they neither understand nor expect. They can also find it hard to admit they need support.
Death of an ex-partner
The nature of the relationship you or your children had with your ex-partner will have a significant impact. Unresolved issues will make their grieving harder. Children may have mixed and confused emotions, particularly if they feel a parent has let them down, but their grief can still be deeply felt.
Even when a child has had little or no contact, they may still be very affected by the death. Relationships between children and parents may change shape but for a child, the parental bond usually remains.
To help you cope:
Children need information and explanations that are honest, simple and in language they understand. Use the word “dead” rather than “asleep’ or “lost” which will cause confusion.
You are now parenting on your own. Whatever you think of the term “single parent”, find and accept all the single parent support that you can.
Grief is exhausting for children and adults. Go easy on yourself and accept all offers of help. Being a good enough parent is being a great parent. It is a natural instinct to try to protect children but they need you to be a role model, not a hero so don’t be afraid to show any upset.
Try to focus on your child’s need to grieve for his/her parent rather than any negative thoughts you may have about him or her. If you don’t have sad feelings, be honest and recognise with the children that how you feel might not be how they feel. Reassure them that this OK and try to be supportive and understanding of their sadness.
A child may be anxious that you too are going to die. As a single parent you are doubly important to them, increasing the anxiety. Reassure them that this is very unlikely but as one parent has already died, they may struggle to believe this. Compile a list together of all the people who would look after them should anything happen to you. This should help give confidence that they would be safe and looked after.
Be kind to yourself and try to leave time for small treats or rewards.
Social Care and Financial Support
You might be eligible for services to help you as a carer. To work out what your needs are, the local authority/trust will carry out a carer’s assessment. You don’t need to have a diagnosis for your child to get an assessment or social care services. If your child needs help or support, social services should still make an assessment of their needs and yours.
A carer’s assessment focuses on you as a parent and your needs, your wellbeing, health and safety issues and important commitments such as relationships, education and employment. If your child is turning 18, you might need support to prepare for the transition to adult services. Under the Care Act 2014 in England, you can ask for a child’s carer’s assessment ‘in transition’.
What to Think About Before You Date Single parent
If you are getting back into the dating scene, you might be wondering, “Should I date a single parent?” or “Is dating someone with children right for me?” Dating a single parent isn’t suitable for everyone, and it isn’t something to enter into lightly.
No matter how much chemistry you share or how much you both value your relationship, there will be times when the children interrupt, take precedence over your relationship, and require the devoted attention of their parent.
You’ll plan a special outing and—boom—someone gets sick. Or you’ll have a long day and just want to unwind, only to find the children ramped up and rowdy. Dating someone with children has its perks, but it also has its challenges, which require careful consideration, especially for first timers.
Only you can truly know if you’re up for dating a single parent and all that comes with the relationship. While there are a million bonuses that come with dating into a family, there are some challenges that can be hard to overcome.
If this reality gives you pause, it’ll be vital for you to consider whether you’re ready, willing, and able to embrace all that comes with dating into a family. Above all else, be respectful of your partner and the children involved. Be honest about how you feel and what works for you at this stage of your life. If it’s time to say goodbye, do so lovingly, without dragging it out or assuming things will change. The children are here to stay. The question is, are you?