Raising teens is a challenge no matter how many parents are living in the home. Particularly challenging are the ages between 12 and 16, which are marked by mood swings, defiant attitudes and attempts to push limits set by parents. During this time, teenagers try their hardest to gain independence and self-autonomy. In addition, teenagers are often masters at pitting married parents against one another, so when parents are divorced and living in different households, it can be extra difficult to co-parent with effectiveness.
So, what can a single mom do to make the adolescent years sail as smoothly as possible? Here are 20 important tips:
1. Ask others for help when necessary. The single mother frequently feels overwhelmed by the responsibility, tasks, and emotional overload associated with raising kids alone. It is extremely important to manage time wisely and to ask for help when necessary. Assign kids appropriate chores and tasks. Arrange car pools when possible, and ask other moms and dads for help when needed. My kids would not have been able to continue in club soccer were it not for the kindness of other moms and dads providing rides to practices and games.
2. Create an inviting environment. Make your home a safe haven for not only your own youngster, but for your youngster's friends as well. This means being approachable and available, even if the adolescents don't have much to say. Talk about your favorite TV show or other non-threatening topics. Have sit-down dinners whenever possible and encourage your children' friends to eat with you, even if it's pizza or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Declare your home a peace zone, keeping arguments at a minimum and humor at a maximum. Adolescents love to laugh, and they love to tease. Learn to laugh at yourself and with them. If you handle setting boundaries, you will spend a lot less time revisiting familiar battles and will have more opportunities to enjoy living together. This inviting attitude will keep your children and their friends closer to home and out of trouble -- and will mean less stress for you!
3. Don't treat your youngster like a peer. Do not confide in your youngster as though he/she is your peer, regardless of how mature the youngster appears to be. This is a common mistake made unintentionally by many single moms who turn to their youngster for emotional support and don't realize they are hurting the youngster until after the tact. Allow kids to be kids, and find other grown-ups for companionship and support.
4. Establish firm, clear boundaries that leave no doubt that you are the boss in the home. Single moms often make the mistake of allowing kids to become equal partners or peers, and too many kids are running the show. This loads to serious individual and family problems. Kids need limits. Use consistent discipline that provides clear expectations and guidelines for behavior, and rely on natural and logical consequences. Learn to say, "I love you enough to say 'NO' to you."
5. Establish schedules and predictable routines. Part of creating stability and security in the home involves establishing predictable schedules and routines for your kids. Of course, we must not be rigid and inflexible, because kids need to learn that life is not always predictable. Find a healthy balance.
6. Give yourself credit for a job well done. No matter how loving and competent you are, you are still only one person and you are doing a job most agree is meant for two people. Do not allow your kids to manipulate you by making you feel guilty about the situation. Remind kids that you are a team and have to work together. You may have to wait until your children are grown before you get any credit from them. This is where a sense of humor comes in handy!
7. Have a support system. Develop a wide network of people who can provide you with emotional support, companionship, help in emergencies, child-care, reality checks, etc. Be selective and choose caring, reliable, trustworthy people who will be there for you In times of need. Single moms with healthy support systems usually feel better mentally and physically and demonstrate to their kids that it is OK to ask for help. Support groups for single moms offer an excellent opportunity to socialize and share with others in similar circumstances.
8. Have realistic expectations. Focus on success and not on failure. Set realistic goals as a family and work together to accomplish these goals. Decide what is important and prioritize accordingly. Have family meetings on a regular basis and allow kids to have input. Learn to effectively communicate and solve family problems together while still demonstrating that you are the boss. Give your children credit and give yourself credit.
9. Have some non-negotiable house rules. When it comes to alcohol, drugs, smoking and other obvious health risks, there should be no negotiation, and your adolescent needs to know this every time you sit down to have your six-month meeting. Let her know she is responsible for her own behavior and should take herself out of situations that could lead to trouble. Other items you can discuss are your rules about body piercing, tattoos, driving with a seatbelt, etc. When your adolescent sees that you are serious about health and safety issues, and you have a set of firm consequences to address violations, she may whine and moan -- but she'll get the message that you care and will most likely 'walk the line.'
10. Have some rules regarding dress codes and hairstyles. This is a good place for negotiating. The job of the adolescent is to shock her mom or dad! Most of the time, her desires to wear extreme clothing or hairstyles is directly correlated to the parent's vulnerability to the shock value. If you are horrified that your son wants to wear 36-inch wide bell bottom jeans, you might want to compromise and allow 24-inch wide. If your daughter wants to dye her hair purple, don't freak out. Encourage her to buy non-permanent dye and allow her to do it for a weekend. Compromise a little, and don't let your shock show. The motivation for the extreme will probably wane.
11. Have the right attitude about single-parenting. Grown-ups and kids do better when single parenthood is perceived as a viable option and not as a pathological situation. Start with a positive attitude and focus on the benefits of single parenting (e.g., less conflict and tension in the home). Many single moms treasure their newfound autonomy and independence and feel hopeful about the future.
12. If you are feeling overwhelmed, depressed, anxious or stressed, get professional help. A competent therapist can help you find the light at the end of the tunnel. A great support system will contribute to your ability to be a good parent and raise good children!
13. Let your adolescents know that they are always welcome to talk to you anytime no matter what time day or night. Adolescents needs their moms and dads during the difficult years despite the bad attitudes.
14. Make sure that you keep communication with your adolescents. Be concerned when they stop talking to you for long periods of time. You want them to be open with you and able to talk to you about boys or even girls and any other issues going on.
15. Set tough consequences for dishonesty and lateness without a phone call. Setting blanket curfews based on age can be pointless because if there is no reason for a adolescent to be out until 11 p.m., then the curfew for that night should be earlier. "Cruising" and hanging out until curfew provides more time to look for trouble. Find out where your adolescent is going, who she will be with, and what she will be doing. Base curfew times on what she has planned. If she's going to a 7:30 p.m. movie, then set the curfew for 10 p.m. Let her know you expect a phone call 30 minutes before she expects to be late, not five minutes.
16. Show respect for the other parent (assuming you are divorced). A week before your six-month meeting with your adolescent, call the other parent and talk about how things have been going in each household. Find out about any new rules and issues that have come up. Talk about how you might help reinforce the rules in the other household. Even though you may have different rules, respect the other parent's opinion and explain to your adolescent that you are each entitled to make different rules for your separate homes. Don't try to change the rules in the other home, but do show support if you can for the other parenting style. If you think a style is extreme or hurtful, consult with an adolescent counselor to make sure the other parent isn't engaging in harmful discipline. Most of the time, though, there is a wide range of healthy variations in parenting styles that will not adversely affect your adolescent's emotional welfare. Explain to your adolescent that when she enters the workforce, she will be forced to work within varying guidelines in different companies and with different supervisors, so operating under moderately different household guidelines should be respected and will be good training for her future.
17. Take care of yourself. It is critical for your kid's well being for you to take care of yourself. There are times when you feel like you need a break. Ask other single moms and dads to trade babysitting or hire a mother's helper. Pay special attention to diet, exercise, stress management, and getting a good night's sleep. Learn relaxation, yoga, meditation, visualization, or whatever healthy coping skill allows you to relieve stress and tension. Take a walk, read a book, call a friend, take a nap (my personal favorite). A stressed out parent results in stressed out children.
18. Talk to your adolescents about sex, divorce, and drugs. You can even talk to them about birth control if they are willing to listen. This is important that your adolescents are informed about important issues regarding sex and drugs.
19. They need encouragement to do well in school. Adolescents usually want the approval of their moms and dads. They want to know that you are very happy when they get good grades in school.
20. Create realistic and enforceable boundaries. The earlier this is done the better. Let your adolescent know that you will negotiate boundaries every six months, in January and June, for instance. This means that twice a year, you will sit down with her and discuss important rules and appropriate consequences for her age. Let her come up with ideas so that she will be more apt to comply. Topics to discuss should include:
- Appropriate places for hanging out with friends. If R-rated movies are against your rules, make that clear. If your adolescent is driving, make specific rules about when and how often she can use the car and who will pay for expenses.
- Household chores, job expectations and church and/or social responsibilities.
- How time is spent after school and on school nights.
- How time is spent at home during summer break and on weekends.
- What your expectations are for completing homework and chores before talking on the phone or visiting with friends, and when she should be in bed with the lights out.
My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents of Defiant Teens