Answers Important Questions
Parenting in a two-person household is tough enough as is. Single-parenting on the other hand, is another level of adversity that is far more demanding on the parent. Cairo East Magazine elicited the help of counselor Maryam Maafa in giving us a golden guide to live by as single parents.
CEM: What is single parenting?
MM: Single parenting is also known as solo parenting and this is when one or more than one child depends on one parent or caregiver. Reasons for single parenting could be due to divorce, separation, one parent passing away or actually both parents passing away leaving a grandparent to take care of the child. Also, in our culture this may happen when one parent travels to work abroad having to leave his or her family back home.
What is the best approach for explaining the situation of divorce to children?
The best-case scenario for explaining divorce to children is when both parents cooperate for the mutual benefit of their child. Both parents should sit together to discuss the important details of such discussion and be prepared for answering their child’s questions in the same way. It could be an opportunity to initialize a co-parenting agreement that may help you answer some of your child’s expected questions. It is best to be honest as possible to your child but bearing in mind his ability to comprehend based on his or her age.
You must inform them that the decision for divorce is a mutual agreement and that the child has nothing to do with the decision for divorce. Explain that this situation is not something easy and it will take time to adjust, discuss new arrangements and give them simple examples of such changes they may be facing, for example, changing homes or moving between homes, if so explain to them how this will be handled. Remember to confirm to your child that both parents love him or her very much.
It is crucial to ask your child how she or he is feeling about the situation, if she or he has worries, concerns or fears. Most importantly, listen to your child and empathize without avoiding their concerns and fears, or belittling how they may be feeling. If your child has questions make sure you answer them honestly, and in the case of divorce make sure you do not express your negative opinions about your ex-spouse, as this is still your child’s parent too. Do not apologize and make sure you emphasize that you are still family and still his or her parents regardless of the situation. Make sure you give promises that you can keep. Allow them to get upset or even angry.
In the case of divorce where the other parent is not cooperative, it is essential to confirm that the other parent loves them but is unable to be here at the same time, and again without being negative about the other parent.
How important is it for divorced or separated parents to try to maintain good communication and mutual agreed parenting styles for their children?
Based on research when divorced or separated parents maintain good communication and mutual agreed parenting styles it usually helps children adjust better after divorce. This is what we call co-parenting, when both parents have an active role in their child’s life, and that does not mean just taking them out for lunch or to the movies but rather be involved in their day-to-day life by being there emotionally, physically and economically. This is done be being present in their life through knowing their friends, teachers, attending important events for them, having constant communication with them, supporting them financially and guiding them to making the appropriate decisions. Based on research co-parenting helps children feel stable and connected to both parents rather than being torn between them.
Co-parenting may differ from one family to another but it is crucial that the parents do not argue in front of their children and this could be avoided by agreeing together on a co-parenting plan away from the child. This usually includes; how will decisions be made, setting household rules that have to be somehow compatible in both homes, how will they implement discipline, who will make decisions and many more minor details.
Setting a parenting plan on paper and sticking to it. By imposing the agreed plan, especially for discipline, will assist parents in not to allowing children gain power over one parent. For example, when the agreed bedtime is 8 pm during school days if one parent becomes flexible the child may tell the other parent, “Dad lets me sleep whatever time I want.” Also, remember that even married parents disagree on how to discipline or parent their children, to help you both keep focus is remembering that both of you want what is best for your child.
both keep focus is remembering that both of you want what is best for your child.
How can parents help their child adjust after divorce and parent them in a healthy way?
Some children adjust faster than others after divorce or separation.
Some basic tips to help your child adjust are:
- Be a positive role model. Parents are role models for their children regardless if they are single parents or married, so make sure you become your child’s positive role model, as it will reflect in their behavior.
- Show your love to your child. Make them feel supported and give them time and your undivided attention so you can play and converse with one another on a daily basis. Parents should be available to answer the child’s questions and put the child’s needs before anything.
- Plan a structured day that he or she is involved in planning (depending on the age of course), this helps the child know what is to be expected.
- Consistent parenting is a must; do not spoil your child thinking that you need to compensate for the divorce. Set limits and impose agreed upon rules and expectations.
- Always check in on how she or he is feeling.
- Be involved in your child’s life. Get to know their friends, teachers, their likes and dislikes.
- Constantly remind him or her that both parents love them.
- Avoid negative statements related to his or her behavior about resembling the other parent. For example when you are angry, “You remind me of your father.”
- Never criticize the other parent, not even when the child is not around.
- Do not ask inappropriate questions when your child visits his other parent, for example, “Who else was with you when you were at your dad’s place?”
- Do not yell, even though single parenting and co-parenting can be stressful.
- Make sure you do not make negative statements about the opposite gender, but rather point out positive examples of the other gender for your child.
What are tips that can help single parents deal with stress?
Single parenting can be challenging financially, emotionally and physically for the parent.
Some crucial tips for single parents would be:
- Make sure you schedule time for self-care and plan calming strategies for difficult situations.
- Stay positive and do not feel guilty or blame yourself about the divorce.
- Ask for help from friends and family when you feel you need support.
- Be prepared and plan in advance for emergency situations for child care, for example if you may have to stay at work late, who can pick up your child and take care of him or her until you’re back?
Maryam has a Masters Degree in Counseling Psychology from The American University in Cairo. Maryam works with individuals, couples and families who are having relationship struggles; provides parental guidance and couples therapy to parents of children with behavioral problems as well as group therapy. Her experience is in helping stressed or anxious individuals and couples gain a better understanding of themselves, and learn skills that will further enhance their personal and professional development. Maryam has developed workshops on various mental and emotional health and also co-led a group for social anxiety. Maryam practices in her private office in Zamalek, and also at Nūn Center and can be reached through her Facebook page Reflections by Maryam maafa