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I remember when my boys were four and six years old. I’d decided that I’d rest a bit one morning – it was a Saturday, and my workload had been especially heavy that week.
Now, before you have me arrested for child abuse, I’ll make it very clear that my kids were both in my line of “sight” when I occasionally chose to open my eyes. I’d moved to the couch, and was absentmindedly listening to them play with their trains on the rug on the floor beside me.
Suddenly, it got quiet. I opened my eyes, not realizing that somehow both eyelids had snuck closed, and peeked at the floor. No boys. I popped up and headed toward the sound of whispering voices. Entering the kitchen, I was quickly thrown from my state of half slumber by the sheer chaos that was my kitchen.
Every can, box and bag had been removed from its home in my pantry, and now sat neatly atop a thrift store shelf that I’d just finished painting. There was water sloshed across the floor, cabinet doors left ajar, and the refrigerator door was wide open. And strewn across my once-clean kitchen was an entire pound of pasta.
I was angry. Very angry, in fact, but I took a breath, folded my arms across my chest, and started talking to them.
Sean, the older boy, had been the ringleader. He’d convinced little Austin that it’d be a good idea to clean and organize the kitchen for daddy, and that they’d make breakfast while they did so. Pasta was an obvious choice, and knowing that they were under no circumstances allowed to touch the stove, they’d tried to make spaghetti using the “cold method.” In order to test the pasta, they’d thrown it against the wall like I’d shown them in jest several months prior: if it sticks, it’s done.
It was a dang mess is what it was. But they, as small as they were, were trying to do something nice for their dad. Sean had noticed my exhaustion, and his young mind translated the care I’d given him into care he could provide to me.
Unfortunately, when you become a single dad, no matter the reason, no one hands you an instruction book. So I’d like to send just a few lessons your way; not because I’m a better or more experienced parent than you. But because I learned them the hard way, and sharing what we learn is how we become a community of good parents with even better children.
1. Your kids hear more than you realize.
They’re not going to listen when you tell them to pick up their socks, or when you ask them for the fifth time to keep the front door closed. But they’re going to remember your words when they’re in a difficult situation.
2. You can never be too prepared.
My kids aren’t six and four anymore. They’re now in the throes of teenage angst, and they’ve been presented with some serious adult issues.
A friend of the boys was recently arrested for shoplifting. Sean and Austin had been with him at the time but chose to abandon the situation once they realized what was up. Not every child is taught to heed his conscience, though. Consider these statistics about kids from single-parent homes (source):
71% of all high school dropouts come from a single parent household.
85% of kids in juvenile detention facilities do, as well.
75% of children in chemical dependency hospitals have one parent in the home.
63% of all suicides in the United States are members of single-parent homes.
Most cases of driving under the influence of marijuana occur in teens and young adults under the age of 25.
It would seem that the odds are stacked up against your kid, just by the measure of your relationship status. It’s not true. Teach them to be good humans. They’re listening.
3. Expect everything, and nothing will be unexpected.
You’re not perfect, and no one can expect you to be. Your kids are going to do something stupid. You might even do something stupid.
Maybe your kid was caught smoking pot behind the school. Maybe she was charged with underage drinking. These things stick, and truthfully you can’t always prevent them. Crime is especially prevalent amongst children from single-parent homes, and you’re going to need to know what to do should a situation arise.
Depression and suicide is a very real threat to children, as well. Open communication with your kids will help you to keep on top of things, but it’s critical that you recognize the signs of depression and act immediately if you suspect your child may be suffering.
Finally, don’t only expect the worst. Sure, there will be pasta on the floor and the fridge will be left wide open. Step back and remember that your kids are learning by example, and that’s truthfully 80% of parenting: teaching them to show kindness, to make good choices and to never touch the stove.