Has becoming a single parent left you with feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt? You're not alone. Many single moms and dads wonder if they're doing "enough" for their kids, even while they know they couldn't possibly try any harder. If you're prone to questioning your ability to do the work of two parents on your own, take an inventory of what you're already doing well. Chances are, there's a lot of good there that you can build on.
And when you uncover gaps, look for small changes that make a big impact—like these twelve practical ways to be a better parent:
- Set boundaries. As adults, it's up to us to exercise our authority by setting boundaries with our kids. This includes not letting them bulldoze us into changing our minds when they don't like an answer, as well as allowing them to be kids instead of confidants.
- Create a set of household rules. Your household rules define your expectations and help your kids make choices that are in line with your principles. Just remember to keep your list of rules short, so that your kids can remember it. It also helps to focus on what you want your kids to do rather than a long lists of "don'ts." For example, be kind, be helpful, and be courteous. You can cover a lot of ground with a few succinct, memorable rules.
- Establish everyday routines. Household routines are procedures that make our lives easier. For example, there are certain things you do every morning as part of getting ready for the day, and things you do each evening as you prepare to sleep. Similarly, there are things your kids need to do each morning and evening.
- Knock something off your to-do list. Pick one thing to follow through on this week—whether it’s scheduling a doctor’s appointment you’ve been putting off, or organizing the stuff that's accumulated on your kitchen counter. The more in-charge you feel about your life, the more present you'll be with your kids.
- Say no. I sometimes catch myself saying yes to things I don’t really want to do (or even have time to do) and then resenting it. Instead, say no—and mean it. And if your kids are used to arguing back with you, trying to coerce you into changing your mind, acknowledge to them that that has worked in the past but will work no longer. Your "no" means no.
- Say yes. Once your kids know that your "no" means no, you'll be free to surprise them with an unexpected "yes" now and then. So go ahead and be spontaneous. Having fun together is a great way to build a closer relationship with your kids—and that's a huge part of gaining their cooperation with everything else you need them to do.
- Involve your ex—even when you don’t have to. If your ex is involved, do what you can to support your kids' relationship with him or her. Rather than being a weakness, a cooperative co-parenting relationship can be a huge strength for you personally, and for your kids.
- Set a positive example. Your kids are learning endurance and determination by what they see in you, right now.
- Be approachable. Let your kids know that they can talk to you about anything. And when they do, listen, without anger or judgment.
- Put yourself first sometimes. Taking care of yourself isn’t selfish. True selfishness would be always and only putting yourself first. And when you do decide to do something for yourself, pay attention to how to feel after. Chances are, you'll return to your kids with more appreciation, enthusiasm, and energy than if you'd never taken a "me time" break to begin with.
- Step outside your comfort zone. Parenting on your own often means doing things you're not entirely comfortable with, from moms who teach themselves how to fix the toilet to dads who learn how braid their daughter's hair. Rather than shying away from what you're not good at, realize that the best way to improve is to practice the skills you need to learn.
- Set goals for yourself. Consider where you want to be one year from now, both personally and professionally. Write your goals down in a journal or share them with a friend who's willing to hold you accountable for taking steps toward making those dreams a reality.
Finally, remember that there's no such thing as a perfect parent. But we can all become better parents by working at our craft—raising our kids to be strong, resilient, capable adults.