Single parents seem to be prone to a myriad of negative experiences and attitudes — usually because of how they come about their single parent status. Anyone acquiring the role because of divorce, death or unexpected pregnancy comes to single-parenthood with a certain amount of negative imbalance. No one gets married to divorce or become a widow. Most unmarried people do not have sex to have a baby. So, it follows that when expectations of love, longevity, and tradition are foiled by unexpected events, many single parents begin their new role compromised by disappointment and fear. It’s been said that it’s not how you fall that determines strength of character, but how you get up that reveals the real strength. Personally, I believe single parents do not have to settle for the statistics that say their status will taint their future. Instead, I believe that because crisis is the best environment for change, single parents are in an opportune situation to rise above the statistics and create something extremely positive out of the apparent negativity. There are three ways to look at the negative so it becomes a positive catalyst to change:
Learning from the Past One of the best exercises new single parents can work through is taking a serious look at why they view their single parenthood negatively. If you can determine why a relationship didn’t work, why personal responsibility was ignored, or why there is a lack of confidence in the role, you can avoid repeating negative behaviors in the future. Fortunately, some single parents embrace their roles and come out of the gate running a positive race. But more often than not, single parents initially allow themselves to get stuck in feelings of guilt, resentment, or self-degradation. If these emotions are not dealt with, they can linger for years to come. There are numerous books out there that can assist you in learning from the past and making change for the future. Talk to a clergy member or a mental health professional if you have difficulty discovering the root of your negative emotions. Whatever it takes, this step cannot be ignored if you want to avoid repeating history.
Re-Recording for the Present. Most people who get stuck in negativity tend to replay the same negative tape over and over in their heads. This self-talk may include statements that reflect low self-esteem — “I’ll never be able to have a relationship again” — or bitterness toward someone else — “The kids would be better off without him/her in their lives.” These affirmations may serve to feed the temporary need to place blame somewhere, but in the long run they are destructive and usually irrational. When I facilitate single parent workshops, I try to get each participant to think differently about their ex-partners, for instance, so they can talk more positively about them to their kids. If someone says, “My ex is so manipulative,” I suggest they reframe that to focus on the fact that this person is very intelligent. After all, manipulation takes a certain amount of mental savvy! A liar may be re-framed as a highly creative person. An unorganized person may be painted as being fun loving and spontaneous. This does not mean you should ignore how these characteristics may affect their parenting, but because you can do very little about it anyway, why not begin to use the re-recording or re-framing technique to help your kids honor the other half of themselves? Better yet, why not use it to transform your negative qualities into positive attributes. If you are prone to telling fibs, try using this very creative side of yourself to create positive change. Do you get down on yourself because your house is never clean? Then embrace the fact that you value spending time with the children or on other positive activities over housecleaning. Quit telling yourself you are worthless, and begin building self-worth through positive re-framing.
Discovering the Future Now is the perfect time to dream about possibilities. Brainstorm new ways to reinvent your life so that you can be proud of yourself and show your children a great example of how to respond to life’s challenges. When your children are with the other parent, spend time at the library discovering new interests. Learn a new language, become a history buff, find gourmet recipes to try. There are thousands of things you don’t know how to do — find something that excites you, and focus on it. Once I had become comfortable with the visitation schedule my ex-husband and I worked out, I started working on household projects when the kids were gone. It’s amazing how good repainting the living room can feel or how fun it is to rearrange furniture in a new way. It also gave my kids some comfort knowing I was using my time positively and productively instead of moping around all weekend. Other productive things you can do to impact your future include going back to school, working overtime on your job, learning new job skills, or improving skills you already have. The possibilities are wide open — your only requirement is to discover what energizes you and go after it. Learning is virtually free in this wonderful world of technology and information networks. Take advantage of them and create a new and improved you.
DIANE CHAMBERS SHEARER is a divorce mediator, parent educator, and author of ‘Solo Parenting: Raising Strong and Happy Families’. Her URL is: www.nofight.com.