Single Mommy

Dear Sharon,

My 6-year-old daughter is growing up with a single working mother and a grandmother to care for her, but no father. What can I do to fill in the blanks? How will she be affected in the future by this void?

-“trying to be a good Mommy.”

Dear trying to be a good Mommy,

The first thing you need to remember is that the definition of a “good mommy” is someone who tries her best. Being a mommy in any family setting, single, married, divorced, etc., is very complicated, there is no blueprint that leads us down the path to creating the perfect child with the perfect future.

There are many wonderful things about growing up with a loving mother and grandmother. Female households are rich with energy and love. Your daughter is learning that women can be strong, self supporting adults, an essential thing for girls to know. Single parent/child relationships are impressive in the depth of commitment, love and understanding that is often present. The strong bonds formed in single parent homes provide a sense of self esteem and security that are often quite noticeable in the children of single parents I know.

In many ways, your family is no different than others. All families need to create a community around them that provides their children with a broad view of perspectives and experiences. The more people both of you know and spend time with the less isolated you will be and the more your family will flourish.

Of course in the process of making friends with people that are fun and/or reassuring for you and your child to be around it is important to incorporate men into your extended family. The spirit that men bring to adult/child relationships is a welcome addition.

There are many things you could do to nourish relationships with men. Often a male cousin, uncle, or brother who likes children and is regularly welcomed into family life can make a big difference. You might talk to your daughter’s school about the importance of her having a male teacher or tutor. If she is on a sports team see if you can arrange to have a male coach. Be on the look out for another family where the Dad might teach her how to ride a bike, swim or throw a ball when they are spending time together. If you are spending some time away from home, whether it’s for a Saturday afternoon shopping excursion or a summer vacation, try to invite some adult male friends to come along.

Remember that men generally feel far less “good” at parenting kinds of things than women. Take the time to tell the men in your life what a difference they re making to you and your child, most the time they won’t have a clue.

Many single mothers think getting a boyfriend might give their child the father they so desperately need. This way of thinking is far different from what I just described and can often backfire. Even if your future partner and your child get along very well, (this is not always the case) the introduction of a new intimate relationship into your home, even on a part time basis, can be very threatening. The addition of a boyfiriend is a big adjustment for a child who is used to being the sole beneficiary of every precious moment with her all too busy mom.

If you are dating, only introduce your child to your friend if you are considering entering a long term committed relationship. When you do decide to bring a friend home be careful not to end up having a “date” to catch up on your relationship when your daughter is around. Try to have your friend enter your child’s world instead of your child entering your adult relationship. Watch a movie she wants to watch, go to a restaurant she chooses, see if the three of you can play her fa ×vorite game together. If over time your boyfriend and your daughter develop a good friendship of course that will be great. Although entirely possible, it is usually not a simple or easy accomplishment.

It is important to keep in mind that YOU have a good family and that you can tell your daughter the story of her life from a very positive perspective. Many single Moms feel guilty about depriving their child of a father even when the reality of their history and life together is very positive. (Single Dads can feel the same way). (Of course your story is a good one, look at the wonderful child in your midst), It is good to tell your version of “I wanted you so much, I’m so happy I have you, I remember the time we……,” including not avoiding the details of how you came to be a single parent family.

In spite of your positive attitude, your child may have some complaints to share. In fact all children do no matter what kind of family they have. Children in two parent families go through periods of hating their mother, father, siblings, etc. It is particularly hard for single parents to listen to their child’s disappointments because of the guilt they carry. This can be hard on children. When the inevitable “I wish I had a Daddy” surfaces, Mom feels a pain in her heart than is very hard to bear.

I believe that the amount of guilt single parents feel is unwarranted and keeps their children from working through emotions that are a natural part of childhood. Your child may go through phases when she needs to want a Dad, talk about Dads, or think about the positives and negatives of her own father. Her need to do this is a very healthy thing, it doesn’t mean you have done anything to make her life unworkable, I have no doubt she can still have a wonderful future.

Children grow and flourish when they are loved and well thought of, and this applies to all kinds of homes. There are two parent homes where love does not happen easily. There are single parent homes where it does. The quality of adult child relationships is what is important. Unfortunately some single parent families have an extra burden of economic hardships and isolation that can strain family life but at the same time they often create communities that raise a child beautifully.

I love to spend time with young adults who have been raised in single parent homes, they often have big hearts, are generous and have a sense of self that is very nice to be around. They don’t necessarily settle for the first adult partner relationship that comes around; they understand that life can go well in lots of different ways.

Congratulations on trying to be a good mommy, I think you are.