7 Habits of Successful Single Parents

By Terry Gaspard, LICSW

The key to successful single parenting is to reflect daily upon the importance of preparing for your new life and accepting that change is necessary. It’s important to adopt a positive mindset and to set a good example for your children by using effective coping strategies.

It will take time for you and your children to adjust to your new lifestyle but maintaining an optimistic outlook will help ease the transition.  Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable and acknowledge when things are difficult and you need support. Strive to embrace a balanced perspective that includes having time to develop your own interests and devoting special time to your children.

It’s worth mentioning that there is a silver lining to being a single parent. Fortunately, many parents gain self-confidence in their ability to handle challenges and their children become more determined and independent after a divorce.

However, making the transition from married to single life will have ups and downs. It takes time to adjust to financial changes and expanded household and child care responsibilities. It’s essential that you develop daily habits and routines to smooth the way for you and your children.

Since I’ve always found paradigms and principles useful to setting goals, I am borrowing the habits below from Stephen R. Covey‘s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and adapting them for single parents. In a few cases, I borrowed his heading and in others, developed my own.

7 Habits of efficient single parents:

  1. Be positive and proactive: Get support for yourself and your children. This includes counseling, social outlets, and child care. Avoid playing the role of victim and remind yourself that things will get better over time.
  2. Create a positive vision: Take control of your life and develop a clear picture of where you are heading. Decide what your values are for raising your children and start by setting two goals that are meaningful to you. Keep in mind that it can take up to a month to see any change.
  3. Learn to Prioritize: Don’t sweat the small stuff and keep the focus on spending time with your kids and positive interactions. For instance, in our house we had pizza on Tuesday nights which gave us one weekend night to spend more time together when I wasn’t so focused on cooking and cleaning up.
  4. Think win-win: No matter how you feel about your ex, don’t bad mouth him or her or argue in front of your kids. Children pick up on petty fighting and may take it personally. So walk away or take on the role of peacemaker if tension is brewing with your ex. Otherwise, your children will feel forced to take sides, which may cause them to develop loyalty conflicts and possibly emotional problems if there is high conflict. Don’t make your kids messengers between their parents. Communicate directly with their other parent through email or face to face.
  5. Seek first to understand: then to be understood: Take every opportunity to listen to your kids when they talk about their feelings with you. Be open and honest without giving them too many details or blaming your ex for the divorce. Even if you perceive your ex was responsible for your breakup, your children shouldn’t hear this from you. Reassure them that you are there for them and that things will get better.
  6. Develop smooth transitions and schedules that are cooperative. Work with your children and your ex to reduce stress in the lives of your children. Try your best to develop routines for their leaving and coming home if you are co-parenting. Attempt to be flexible yet consistent with the custody schedule. Keep in mind that as kids reach adolescence they become more independent and may not want to follow the original custody schedule. Open up lines of communication with them but you and their other parent need to decide what’s in their best interest.
  7. Make time for yourself: Take time to do the things that you enjoy. Set expectations for your children to do regular chores. This doesn’t mean overburdening them with too much responsibility. However, having high expectations for your kids will set the stage for making them more independent and will allow you to have more down time.

How can you embrace this time of your life as an opportunity? First of all, it’s imperative that you focus on the things that are truly important and learn to let other things go. This involves making a commitment to helping your children adjust to your divorce and practicing amicable co-parenting. Working together with your ex and communicating effectively is ideal. However, if this isn’t possible, either because your ex is absent or adversarial, you can still become a successful single parent.

At times, you may feel guilty about putting your children through a divorce but don’t let that stop you from setting effective limits and boundaries. For instance, allowing your children to stay up late or sleep with you may backfire because you both need your space and sleep. Be aware that kids play parents off each other and may say things like “Dad (or mom) lets me stay up until midnight.” Even if this is true, you can say “Your dad (or mom) has his/her rules, but in my house bedtime is at 9pm.”

As a single parent, it is of primary importance that you help your children cope with your divorce and develop a mindset of being a positive role model for them. In order to do this, you must take care of yourself. Embrace your new life by taking care of you and modeling a healthy lifestyle for your children. For example, sign up for yoga or an exercise class (alone and with your kids), eat healthy, and schedule in social times with friends. You will be a more effective parent if you are rested and feel connected to others.

As a parent who is taking care of his or herself, and gaining confidence, you are equipping your child with the best tools possible and the self-esteem to move forward with their life. Developing a sense of adventure and new rituals such as family game night or taking walks together will help you stay connected with your children.

Your divorce can be seen as a transforming event, and you alone are responsible for creating a new kind of family for you and your children. Learning to go easy on yourself and focusing on the big picture will enable you and your children to make a good adjustment to divorce.

Do you ever wish that you could have a closer relationship with your father? If so, please share your comments or questions with us. Be sure to order my new book “Daughters of Divorce: Overcome The Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship.”

Terry’s book, The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around, was published by Sounds True in February of 2020.

**Terry offers coaching to individuals and couples about divorce, marriage, remarriage, or relationship issues. She is also an expert on matters related to children of divorce and the challenges facing adult children of divorce. You can sign up for low-cost coaching here. In most cases you will be able to meet with her within a week.