There is no manual to raising children, let alone children of single parents.
From one day to the next, it seemed like your world was ending. Your heart sank to the pit of your stomach, and you asked yourself why this was happening to you? You imagined living and raising your kids under one roof. This vision was now shattering before your eyes. Your relationship with the mother of your children has ended and you decided that you will no longer be living in the same home. You are now a single dad.
I was once there and so was the father of my children. For many years, our relationship felt good, and there were little moments that I felt unsure of our partnership. That all changed after finding out he was unfaithful. Initially, we didn’t split up. I wanted to try to work things out since I imagined raising my kids with their dad around. Infidelity just opened up pandora’s box for unexpected behaviors and our egos getting in the way sometimes. With the lack of guidance on what working things out meant, things just got despairingly worse. It was so evident that my five-year-old one day came to me out of nowhere and said, “Mommy, you aren’t happy.” After that, I made a firm decision to end the back and forth.
Becoming a single parent was hard for both my ex and me, and as much as I went through several rough years, I know he went through his share of discomfort too. He was living in other peoples’ homes. He was rebuilding without feeling a sense of certainty of where he was heading. Even though he was able to see his kids as often as he possibly could, he’d lash out, and do things out of spite towards me because it didn’t feel fair to him.
He felt that I won. It wasn’t a win for either of us at first. It felt like a battlefield at times. I realized, later on, that throughout the entire process, there was an obvious misalignment of our visions that in part can be attributed to our lack of communication. Now, after six years of single parenthood and several ups and downs with the father of my children, I found that holding on to the vision, communicating to influence cooperation, and being very patient helped create the co-parenting lifestyle we now have that feels like a cooperative team effort.
Starting a new way of living was almost like building a new home to live in. You have to visualize the future, lay the foundation, build and maintain it throughout the journey. Here are some things to consider at the start of being a single parent.
Lay the Foundation
The foundation of this new home begins with the vision and mission. List some of the values and principals that you feel are important. Imagine years from now what the relationship with your kids will look like in detail. What park, games, activities, and events, do you share together? How involved do want to be in their education? How would you like the co-parenting relationship to be? Pick some keywords like peaceful, understanding, flexible, active, etc. Fill in the blank of this sentence: “As a father, I want to be ______.” Co-parenting is a team effort. The best teams are the ones that learn how to communicate with one another. Share your vision with the mother of your kids.
The building blocks on this foundation are made of how you communicate expectations, and your ability to be flexible to different outcomes. Here are some ways to build on the foundation of this new home to get focused on a positive outcome for your family.
Commit to Your Game Plan
Set expectations, commit and communicate when you will see them. The clearer your expectations and form of communication, the better.
Communication is Key
Figure out the best communication approach. Keep track of what words you use that trigger emotional reactions from the other person and try to find other ways of expressing your concerns and interests. If your patience gets tested when you communicate, don’t quit on your mission. Figure out the best way to get your frustrations out. Consider calling a friend, working out or going for a walk to let some steam off.
Create a Tradition
Come up with a tradition like a family event that your kids can always look forward to with you or have a hobby together. The father of my children has made it a point to take our kids fishing. It’s something they share that’s bonding. Kids thrive on knowing what to expect, and this also helps you feel sure of what your time with them will be like.
Be the Example
Sometimes when you’d like a certain interaction to take place, a good approach may be setting the example of the kind of exchange you would like to have. This may be easier said than done, but keep in mind, the only thing you can control with certainty is your actions, and your actions can influence the other person’s behavior. You are out to win a marathon, not several sprints.
There is no manual to raising children, let alone children of single parents. Your actions now can define the outcome of your relationship with your kids and the mother of your children moving forward. Communicate as clearly as possible what can be expected and what you would like to take place in the future. Be flexible when needed and keep the end goal in mind as you take steps forward. It’s not always a smooth process, but it’s possible to build a new beginning for your family’s sake.
Photo: Flickr/ Pierpaolo