The anticipation is over. “Kate Plus 8” airs tonight and America gets to eavesdrop on its favorite newly single mother as she tries to manage her twins and sextuplets on her own. Hopefully soon-to-be-ex-husband Jon will be available to support and share in every facet of his young brood’s lives. But the lion’s share of the day-to-day burden will inevitably fall to Kate, the primary custodial parent, making her the unwitting poster mom for all women raising youngsters on their own.
While the sheer magnitude of Team Gosselin makes her situation unique, Kate is certainly not alone. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 13.6 million single people were raising 21.2 million children in 2007. Eighty-four percent of those adults were single mothers.
Raising kids is tough enough. But going solo adds layers of stress and frustration that catch many single parents off guard. For example, the physical demands of caring for youngsters, especially young ones, are exhausting.
Kids never take holidays. They’re raring to go at sunrise. They get earaches at midnight, stomach flu in the car. They bicker, whine and tease their siblings. With no one available to serve as backup, it means Mom’s on duty 24/7.
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Adolescence brings its own set of problems. Concerns revolving around life-and-death matters like alcohol, driving or dating make for long, sleepless nights with no one to share the worry. Teens rack up cell phone bills that make adults gasp and beg for shoes that cost more than some second-hand cars, even as single parents’ incomes may be down due to furloughs, layoffs or decreased sales.
Ongoing conflicts with the ex can keep emotions in a state of upheaval. Disapproval of the other parent’s morality, friends, religious beliefs or lack of parental supervision means tensions run high and interactions are fraught with bitterness and angst. Frequent trips back to court take their financial and emotional toll.
The end result is fatigue.
The single mother suffers from burnout and exhaustion as she tries to play Mom and Dad all at once. She may be required to work long hours in order to pay for rent and day care. Evenings are jam packed with dinner, baths and homework. Her only break comes as she collapses into bed before starting all over in the morning.
Children suffer when single moms are overworked. They receive less time and individual attention. They’re more likely to spend time alone without adequate adult protection. Stressed mothers are quick to anger and be impatient.
It must be pointed out that many divorced and single dads are providing more than their fair share of parental and financial support. They have nothing but their kids’ interests at heart and do a yeoman’s job of providing for their offspring. These exemplary fathers spend loads of time with their youngsters, giving Mom much-needed respite from her child-rearing chores.
Still, the role of single mother carries a diaper bag full of hassles and requires constant vigilance and effort to ensure that every member of the family is taken care of.
Tips for single moms
Whether you’re parenting eight kids or one, there are steps you can take to protect your sanity and promote your youngsters’ physical and emotional well-being:
• Keep kids out of the divorce drama. They have a right to maintain a loving relationship with their father. Never bad-mouth him in front of them regardless of what he has done. Be pleasant in your custodial transitions. Discuss difficult topics only when you are out of range of little ears.
• Create structure at home. Daily routine creates stability for the entire household and minimizes stress for you and the kids. It’s especially important if children are living in two households; no matter what happens when they’re with their father, they have permanence and constancy with you. Serve meals at regular hours. Enforce consistent television, computer and cell phone policies. Be available to help with homework in the evening. Your steadfastness will decrease discipline issues and help youngsters develop self-control.
• Discipline with authority. You’re the only adult in the home, so you’re the mayor, sheriff and judge rolled into one. Establish policies you can live with and enforce. Avoid making snap decisions under pressure; your reactions are apt to be illogical and erratic. Instead, say, “Let me think about this issue,” then report back when you’ve had time to ponder.
• Get organized. Chaos wastes time and mental energy. Schedule a weekend to clean out closets.
Get rid of everything you don’t need or aren’t using. Put every-thing back where it belongs.
A few moments making your environment tidy can save countless hours of stress.
• Be realistic about kids’ activities. You can’t do it all if you’re single. So don’t strain yourself trying. Limit children to one activity per season. If money’s tight they can take turns: your son gets to play soccer in the fall, your daughter does volleyball in the winter.
• Find a good male role model for your sons. Boys need men in their lives, especially if Dad is out of the picture. Enlist responsible male family members, neighbors, scout leaders or coaches to teach your son how to be a man.
• Indulge yourself. You’re going full tilt from dawn to way after dark. So treat yourself to some much deserved pampering. A cup of mint tea, a pedicure, lunch with good friends or a hike on the beach are ways of taking good care of yourself and enabling you to carry on.
Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her visit lindalewisgriffith.com.