Dr. Saji K. P. Ph.D
Pastor, Teacher, counselor
We use the term “single parenting” to mean the aspect of parenting where one of the parents take care of child /children either alone or as part of a large family but without a spouse or partner. Single parenting can be the result of various circumstances such as the death of a spouse, departure of a spouse due to job in a distant place, divorce etc. Single parenting is one of the major issues in parenting today in our context and it results in scores of emotional and psychological imbalances in children. Unless special attention and guidance provided to the family, they may end up in building up unwanted pressures. It is daunting and fearsome when all in a sudden one of the spouse is left alone to take care of the child/children. The emotional pressures of the parent due to the separation will directly reflect on the emotional bonding between the parent and child/children.
Raising a happy child is the most important responsibility in the modern world. We can think of nothing more critical to a child’s happiness than to have two happy parents. Parenting is the most difficult, most demanding, and most responsible job anyone will ever undertake. It is not a job for the insecure, unstable, or unhappy. Every parent has psychological, emotional social and spiritual needs.They also have the need to feel:Acknowledged, Accepted, Admired, Appreciated, Approved of, Competent, Encouraged, Heard, Liked, Listened to, Important, In Control, Loved, Powerful, Recognized, Respected, Safe, Significant, Supported, Trusted, Understood, Valued. These needs may not be sufficiently met by any one especially when someone is left alone from the life partner.
Parenting is very significant starting from the child’s early years. Very young children are like emotional sponges. They will soak up the collective emotions in the family. If there is apprehension, agonizing, defensiveness, suffering, insecurity, anger, bitterness, and animosity, the child’s sense of security and self esteem will suffer. Likewise if there is joy, calm, satisfaction, affection, positive reception, and love in the family, the child’s self esteem will blossom.The parent who already suffers these needs naturally feels inadequate to give sufficient confidence to the child/children and at the end, the child develops feelings of inadequacy and low self confidence.
The scene is more illustrated when the father is employed outside India and the mother is left alone to take care of the children. Father never involves in any aspect of parenting but hold her responsible to all misbehaviours of the children. Then she naturally becomes nervous about her parenting responsibility. She tends to be fearful of the failure to raise children in good behaviour. So she is afraid of being perceived as a “bad” parent.Following are some fears she may possess:
1. Fear of the child’s disobedience.
2. Fear of losing control over the child.
3. Fear of losing respect.
4. Fear of not being appreciated.
5. Fear of the child’s disapproval.
6. Fear of disapproval from the society.
The result is that she express her fears indirectly, such as through her tone of voice or by shouting commands. Then the child ends up feeling anxious, insecure, and responsible for the parents’ emotions. The need is for her as parent to realise that these fears are the product of her own beliefs, needs and desires and that she must learn to understand them and manage them. Some times in situations like these, the child perceives the emotional burdens of the mother and then takes himself/herself responsible to keep the mother happy. So in the attempt to make the mother happy, she or he never express real emotions. All the time when there is sadness, some other made up feelings are being expressed. This later creates problem in interactions to others. Someone who is never trained to express anger or sadness will go deep to depression later.
God expect every parent to bring up their children in the fear of the Lord and in the grace of those around. Children are far more perceptive in spiritual matters than adults sometimes realize. They do not respond merely the words and formal beliefs of their parents. They sense the inner spirit of the faith, and that is what they react to. Therefore if the parent is not spiritually strong, the children also will be very weak in spirituality.Some of the children are under the care of single parent because of divorce of the parents. The divorced spouse will take so much of time to balance spiritually. There may be resentments and bitterness to the cruelty of the spouse. This situation kills spirituality. Parent is supposed to build in foundations of God’s word in the children. God instructed the children of God:“You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up” Deut. 6:7 (NASB).The deep truths of God often go beyond the limits of human language. A symbol can express the truth more simply and more profoundly than mere words. “You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write the doorposts of your house and on your gates” Deut. 6:8-9 (NASB). These verses tell us how serious the concern of God is towards the growth of children in the knowledge of God.
One of the results of single parenting is the child dominated parenting. The single parent gives in to all the temper tantrums, crying, and other pleas. Submissive parents surrender all rights to the demanding child.As the result, the child become demanding, impulsive,self centred, unwilling to work hard, feels unloved if not “obeyed,” overlooks rights of others. When challenged, feels I’m OK, you’re not OK.Separation or divorce may involve many traumas: hearing fights, seeing abuse, being abused, losing daily contact with one parent, having to move or live at a lower standard, being exposed to hateful criticism of one or both parents, being blamed or feeling to blame for the divorce or separation, and having to choose which parent to live with. It can result in the problems in school, and they may become fearful of love. Low self esteem, academic difficulties, anxiety, and feeling great guilt (often without any justification at all) also will follow. Men become afraid women will not love him and women become afraid men will be unfaithful to her.
Single parenting affects children more adversely at their teenage. Teenagers are people who left the shore of childhood and have not reached the harbour of adulthood. So they have so many fears and worries of their own age. They become very emotional at this age due to the side effect of the growth hormonal productions. They bring in a lot of frustration to a single parent as they demand more respect and freedom. Single parent is very apprehensive because of the fear that the child may go beyond the controls. During this turbulent period it is essential that the parent take responsibility for meeting its own needs, as indicated by the feedback from their feelings. In this way the parent doesn’t lay the burden for meeting its needs onto the child. In fact, besides meeting its own needs, the parent must continue to act responsibly in meeting the child’s needs for emotional support. This is an awesome responsibility. Because it is so awesome, and there is precious little intelligent preparation for it, most parents fail in it to one degree or another.
There are single parents around us who struggle with the big challenge of being a good parent. They require special attention and care from the church as a whole and pastors as individual. There must be emotional support from the elders and spiritual mentors provided to each single parent. Following are some of the measures they can keep in mind:
1. Pray earnestly for your children and give energy into the provision of parenting which allows your children to accept personal responsibility for their own lives and to develop healthy self esteem.
2. If you are a single parent due to an unavoidable situation, take extra care and reflection to yourself and develop your emotional strength and most of all, develop spiritual balancing so that it will not be negatively reflected in your parenting.
3. Let go of control of the need to insure that your children become the fulfilment of your fantasies of what is healthy and successful. You must give dreams to your children. But you must not be controlled by an instinct to make up your children into something they never can achieve. The dreams given to every child must be achievable dreams. Allow the children freedom to define who and what they want to be in life without the burden of guilt for not pleasing their parents by becoming something other than what their parents expected.
4. Give to your children unconditional love and strive not to give the wrong messages like “the world is full of dangerous people”, “No one can be trusted” “Every relationship will become abusive at the end” etc. It will make them fearful to relate to anyone.
5. Open your children to the possibilities in life and do not hold onto the pessimistic belief that your children will be losers all the time.
6. It is important that you discipline in a way that teaches responsibility by motivating your children internally, to build their self esteem and make them feel loved. If your children are disciplined in this respect, they will not have a need to turn to gangs, drugs, or sex to feel powerful or belong.
7. You need to avoid being overprotective and afraid to expose your children to the realities of the real world. The real world is not always nice to people and good parents teach their children early on. They encourage their children to go out and face the world for what it is and do not paint unrealistic rose colour pictures which will prepare them to face hard times. Parents encourage their children to experience life in and outside of the house without the protective parental blanket under which they can hide if they do not like what they see or experience.
8. Good parent utilize the win win conflict resolution model with the children. Listen for the feelings of your children which are behind the conflict. Try to assertively let your children know their feelings about the conflicted issues. Propose a variety of alternatives to resolve the conflict. Good parent role model the use of compromise to come to win win resolutions of conflict. In family conflicts must be openly discussed and resolved with all the members brainstorming suggestions for alternative solutions. All parties involved in the conflict come out of it unscarred emotionally, physically and spiritually when it is handled in a healthy way.
You need to promote a spirituality in your children to insure that they have an awareness of God in their lives to whom they can turn over their burdens which are out of personal control to change or fix. Good parents clarify their values about what is important in their lives. They choose the emotionally based values of relationships with self, others, and God as more important than relationship with things, money, and material possession. Good parents show their children by example the need for a relationship with God.The need of the hour is to ensure that the children are focussed to genuine spirituality. Where there is a broken home, there is also a broken child. The terrible situation our families face in churches today directly influences children. Many of the teenagers who fall in love affairs and pervert their mind tell that the reason they are into these sins of life basically because there is no one to love them at home and no one to understand them. They say when some stranger pretends to give care and affection, they are prone to fall because they are somehow in search of love and care in their life.
When we see the NRI family situation in Kerala, which separates several families due to the search of money and better job, we are also aware of the perverted new generation. A new generation is coming up in our churches and they never bother spirituality.They have no guilt feelings and they are never obedient to anyone. Their heroism is adventure and their life is defined by friends and facebook. Single parent struggles to bring them back to God and fail miserably. It is a high time for the churches to come up with an action plan to guide and help single parents around us and also guide their children in genuine spirituality and in the fear of the Lord. Time has come for the churches to realise and act for the broken families.
If a child lives with criticism . . . s/he learns to condemn.
If a child lives with hostility . . . s/he learns to fight.
If a child lives with fear . . . s/he learns to be apprehensive.
If a child lives with jealousy. . . .s/he learns to feel guilt.
If a child lives with encouragement… s/he learns to be confident.
If a child lives with praise . . . s/he learns to be appreciative.
If a child lives with approval . . . s/he learns to like her/himself.
If a child lives with security . . . s/he learns to trust in her/himself and others.
If a child lives with friendliness . . . s/he learns the world is a nice place in which to live.