After a divorce, legal separation, or death of a spouse reality soon sets in that only one parent will have custody of the children. In many cases, these are experienced by parents of pre-school children. How does a single parent cope with child discipline issues?
The custodial parent should continue household functions and implement family discipline. Depending on the previous family participation by the husband, a lot of mothers find coping by themselves extremely difficult. After a divorce, family routines often become disorganized and discipline is slackened. At a time when organization and consistent discipline are needed, your capability to nurture the whole household decreases because you are straining to reorganize yourself. Try the following strategies to cope with this situation:
1. Children do not adjust easily to too many changes quickly. If changes (e.g., different house, school, city) are necessary, undertake these bit by bit and with preparation. Family life must go on and apparently some changes are required. As your children grow they will have to take on some added responsibility. This is a nonnegotiable fact of single-parent household life. Gather the children in a form of family council and make a list of the new responsibilities to be portioned out and let each child have a say in picking out his or her contribution. Squeezing in too many duties on your children at this vulnerable time may cause them to rebel and further resent the divorce (if this was the case). Organization in the household makes the children’s general adjustment and your discipline much easier to handle.
3. Single parents have to run a tight ship. Remember, discipline also entails emotional support. If you increase both your expectations of your children and your methods of expressing your love to them, they will most likely honor the changes in discipline.
4. Following a divorce or death, a single parent often moves back to the town of the grandparents. Grandparents can offer valuable support, both for the parent, who needs love and company, and for the children, who may need the love and care only a blood relative can provide. Your children may gravitate to the grandfather as a father figure, which is normally healthy behavior. Single-parent support groups and church fellowships may also provide you with social contacts and valuable support.
5. You cannot be both a mother and father to your children. This cliché is unrealistic. If you are a good mother, be a good mother; if you are a good father, continue to be a good father. A lot of single mothers are understandably concerned about providing male role models in their children’s lives. Mothers are not expected to become baseball players and plumbers overnight. You can allow opportunities for your children to meet males who will act as role models at school, clubs, religious and sports events. Appreciate that a male role model is not a backup for a continued father-child relationship. The main goal in raising your child through a divorce is to uphold his sense of security within the broken family.
Most preschool children of divorce experience the following types of behaviors.
Because many preschool children do not express their feelings, they may show regressive behavior. This results from a sense of loss and insecurity, and may manifest in the form of thumb sucking, masturbation, mood swings, and sleep disturbances (caused by a fear of waking up and finding mommy gone too). Children may also regress in developmental advancement, such as toilet training. The preschool child may cleave to the custodial parent for fear of losing that parent, too. He may crave attention and not let you out of his sight. He may also feel that he is at fault for daddy’s departure. The child’s energy needs and behavioral changes put an added stress on you as a custodial parent at the same time that you are struggling with your own adjustment. If possible, delay any sudden modifications in your parent-child relationship, such as a return to work or school, for a couple of months. Your preschool child may be too young to realize your needs and may translate your departures as desertion. Try to accept his desire to sleep with you and accompany you wherever you go. Allow your child to be near you as often as possible.