Bringing up children is an awesome responsibility. It's demanding and rewarding work. Being a single parent is all of that and more. It can be extremely challenging and extremely gratifying.
The demands of raising children on your own, combined with the responsibility of holding down a job, may leave you little time to step back and reflect on how you and your children are doing. You may feel tired, frazzled, and you may wonder how you'll manage it all—work and personal responsibilities, time with your children, time for yourself, time for other relationships. You may feel guilty for not raising your children in a home with two parents present.
As you cope with these and the many other issues described in this booklet, it may help to remember that you are hardly alone. Twenty-six percent of children in the U.S. today are being raised by a single parent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Twelve million American families are headed by a single parent, and more than 2.4 million grandparents and other relatives are raising children in this country. In Canada, more than 1 million children (one in five) were reported living with a single parent in 2001, and that number is expected to grow. The traditional, two-parent household only accounts for 25 percent of all families, according to Canada's official statistical agency, Statistics Canada.
As a single parent, your days are filled with so many responsibilities: There are your children to care for, a home to keep up, and the job that pays for it all, not to mention everything else that happens during the course of a normal day. You know better than anyone else how difficult it is to handle it all, often on your own.
But you're also probably aware of the many rewards of raising a family. Single parents can become adept at finding creative solutions to their problems. They often discover strengths and skills they didn't know they had. They can provide their children with the opportunity to contribute to the household in meaningful ways that can lay the groundwork for more independence and responsibility later in life. What's more, it's possible for life as a single parent to be spontaneous, stimulating, and fun.
On the pages that follow, you'll read about the challenges and rewards of being a single parent. You'll read about how to find time for yourself and your children, build a circle of support so that all of you flourish, and get through difficult times together. You'll read about dating and building a social life, and how to take care of yourself so that you keep your energy up and your feelings of stress under control.
Most important, you'll realize that you're part of a big family. Millions of single moms and dads are raising their children solo and share your feelings about being a single parent—from enjoying the unique closeness they have with their kids, to coping with occasional bouts of guilt, especially when wishing for some alone time. Keep in mind that these feelings are normal. Try not to let them overwhelm you.
The first key to successful single parenting is to build a life around what works best for you and your children, and not around others' expectations of what your family should be. Buying into unrealistic images of the "perfect family" instead of focusing on your family's strengths allows nagging guilt to unbalance you.
Let's begin by talking about that subject of nagging guilt.
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