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for Single Parents, Part I: Raising Your Village
My point is
simply that you have every opportunity you need to make your
life and your family life richer and more satisfying, but you
gotta work at it!
by Jay Ann Cox
"It takes a whole village to raise a child."
Many of us have heard this African proverb, which reminds us
that we must work together to make our children's upbringing
a safe and sound one. It also warns us that whatever environment
our child grows in will inevitably be the village that influences
our child; though often isolated, we are not alone. As single
parents, this truth cuts both ways --
as much as we would like to do it alone, we really can't, and
as much as we need support and help on an almost daily basis,
it just doesn't seem available when we need it.
Before our children, many of
us found community easily if we sought it. Work and active recreation
are naturals for finding friends, but if you suddenly have family
ties that might make you late for the tip-off, or take you home
rather than to the traditional department happy hour, you might
be feeling the isolation that many parents feel.
Honestly, too, some of us are
just not "joiners." But now you've got this chatty
seven year old who wants to explore her world, or an active toddler
who takes you by the hand and pulls you into the frey, like it
or not! Remember those goodwill visits in the early baby days?
That someone kind, helpful and non-judgmental was a godsend,
but as baby's newness wears off, those visits soon taper off
How do single parents bridge
the gap between the need for autonomy as a family and the need
to share those wonderful, soul-nourishing moments with an extended
circle of friends? And who has the time!?
This article, in several parts,
will offer very practical ways to think about your "village":
how to use tools and resources you have right now to seek out,
build and maintain the community that will get you through the
day, the night, and all the wonder years.
In Parts 1 and 2, I'll provide
an overview and definition of self-work, books, role models,
family, and networks. Although as many of your family members
as possible should be working to build community, this article
will focus on just you as the parent. I hope these suggestions
and ideas can be adapted to suit any situation --
legal, psychological, custodial, or religious status -- or any size family. My point is simply that you
have every opportunity you need to make your life and your family
life richer and more satisfying, but you gotta work at it!
Break Ground for
Your Village in the Library
This section could be miles long
because I love books and reading so much. Don't be too quick
to pass up books if you have an active family. I have found that
the snips and bits of reading I manage to do here and there,
ever since my son reached the age of grasping objects and throwing
them (i.e., books) have still made a great impact on me. I do
think it is an important part of parenting, both to keep up with
the latest and greatest ideas as well as the classic parenting
wisdom of the ages. Every professional has an ongoing reading
agenda, and parents should be no exception. Sorry, no slack just
because you don't have enough time! Everyone has 10 extra minutes
they can squeak out during a day.
Where to start your parent reading
list? I offer just four titles and one email list here, for starters,
because the parenting shelves at the bookstores are literally
exploding every day with new titles. You can get overwhelmed,
and there are probably a lot of boring and misguided resources
out there. Several of recent publication offer downright dangerous
information, if applied as strictly as the book recommends. You
won't find those here!
Whole Child, Whole Parent by
Polly Berrien Berends is my all-time favorite #1 parenting book.
It offers a very thoughtful, philosophical and spiritual overview
of children's needs and how parents are charged with meeting
them. Another terrific book is The Good Enough Parent by Bruno
Bettelheim. Kids Are Worth It by Barbara Coloroso is an easy
to follow guide to discipline that respects your children and
you. Finally, The Courage to Raise Good Men by Olga Silverstein
is required reading for any family, not just those with boys.
Our fathers, husbands, brothers and sons are all affected by
the dilemmas explored in this book; likewise the mothers, daughters,
sisters, and wives of men are affected.
A unique Internet resource is
my read-only mailing list called "Seeds" by familycoaching.com.
I started it in July 1998, and several days a week, you can receive
a brief quote, idea, suggestion or thought to "seed"
your own parenting. The list is free.
Another free resource is a book
discussion group listserv that focuses on Attachment Parenting.
Check out http://www.tudish.com/jmholmes/apbdl.html
for more information.
Keep reading material handy in
the car, in the bathroom, anywhere you sit down to nurse the
baby or play with the older children. I know one mother who looked
forward to her driveway reading sessions. Her twin infants and
4 yo daughter would fall asleep in their carseats while out doing
errands. Rather than waking everyone up to get them in the house
to sleep, she would sit in front of her house and read until
someone woke up. Everyone was happy.
Do your homework on parenting.
Research new ideas, form reading groups, gather all the information
you need to make informed decisions in parenting. Read for fun
and diversion. Read novels, mysteries, travel books, newspapers,
magazines. If you will be making new friends to live in your
"village," what you have read can be conversation starters
and common ground to begin amazing new relationships.
Of course, read to your children!
Even just to see you reading, to hear your voice reciting "Goodnight
Moon" again, your children can benefit from your reading
agenda as well.
Your Village Begins
Self-work can be defined as that
needed personal development and spiritual growth work that many
of us discovered essential for dealing with our single parent
"stuff." Parenthood is such a monumental transformation
that what previously seemed to be successful coping strategies
got blown out of the water by the arrival of our beloved children.
Of course, if you have deep need of psychiatric counseling, then
you should get it (and you deserve it!), then work on raising
your village once you've healed up a little. Self-work can be:
- group therapy
- support groups
- reading self-help books
- attending workshops
- individual counseling
- spiritual practice
and a wide variety of other methods
for healing your wounds and coping with daily life.
In order to attract and maintain
the support system of your village, I strongly suggest that you
start resolving the issues of any dysfunction NOW, get complete
on a less than terrific childhood, and overcome any reluctance
to grow up and be an adult or parent. Face it, you are the adult
here, and it's your turn to be provide the "parental guidance"
for your children.
Some simple ground rules can
provide you with the necessary boundaries to do effective self-work.
Know your limits and get your needs met, because if you are constantly
overtaxing yourself, or sacrificing what you really need, you
will be no good at all for your family. This can work both ways,
if you cling to a structure that does not serve your new role
as parent very well. For example, if you used to take a long,
hot bath every night, you might have to reconceive the idea to
be a hot shower whenever the baby falls asleep for more than
If you cannot function without
a shower in the morning, then you must find a way to get one.
I can remember waking at 3am once, delighted that the baby was
deeply asleep for once. I joyfully got up and took a very long
shower, washed my hair, did my toenails, and went back to bed
with my hair in a towel. I felt so good I shed a few tears, and
vowed like Scarlett never to go dirty again! After that realization,
I learned to put a bouncy seat in the bathroom where my son could
see me, I sang loudly (and badly) while lather, rinsing and repeating,
and I was able to take regular showers this way. Everyone's needs
got met, and we started to enjoy the bathtime echo chamber singing.
On the other hand, one mother
I know has found that she cannot stand a dirty kitchen in the
morning. It is non-negotiable because of the negative feelings
she encounters at the sink if it's not empty. No matter how late
it is, she does her dishes (and enlists help of the family) so
that she can wake up to a clean kitchen and a fresh start on
While losing sleep for clean
dishes or clean hair might not be the trades you would make,
you do have needs. You must honor them, not only to build stamina
for the long haul of parenthood over the years, but also to model
self-love to your children. Do you want your offspring to be
self-sacrificing and whining and martyring themselves all over
the house? YECH! There's nothing worse than a houseful of whiny
Finally, the last aspect of self-work
is simply: Be loveable. If you want to gather people around you,
no one is going to cooperate if you are a crabby old sourpuss
all the time. If the first words out of your mouth are complaints
about whatever is pushing your buttons today, or the fact that
you are a long-suffering single parent and life is just so hard,
even the most stalwart of your tribe is going to secretly and
silently roll their eyes, steel themselves against your negativity,
and find a way to head home early, take another call, get off
the phone, or suddenly remember a very important appointment
with the bowling shoe fitter. Smile a little, ask "How are
you?" and connect. Your village has a two way street.
(For more on Raising Your Village,
- Jay Ann Cox
PhD works with entrepreneurs,
women and families to improve the family-work fit. Her home-based
business, Sarabi Consulting, offers tele-conference workshops
on a variety of topics as well as individual mentoring and coaching.
A single mother by choice since 1995, she has a lively home page,
is a member of several online communities, an active volunteer
at her church, and attends regular LLL meetings. She also has
an occasional day of grumpy, robe-wearing hermitism. Jay is
an EP Coach
and our Single
Parenting Expert. You can reach her via e-mail, [email protected]
orher web sites; http://www.sarabi.com,