Help for single parents and stepparents

Q: I am a single mother with a five-year-old son. How can I raise him to be a healthy man who has a good masculine image?

A: As I think you recognize from your question; your son has needs that you're not properly equipped to meet. Your best option, then, is to recruit a man who can act as a mention to him – one who can serve as a masculine role model.

In her book Mothers and Sons, the late Jean Lush talked about the challenges single mothers face in raising sons. She says the ages four to six are especially important and difficult.

I agree. A boy at that age still loves his mother, but he feels the need to separate from her and gravitate towards a masculine model. If he has a father in the home, he'll usually want to spend more time with his dad apart from his mother and sisters. If his dad is not accessible to him, a substitute must be found.

Admittedly, good mentors can be difficult to recruit. Consider your friends, relatives, or neighbors who can offer as little as an hour or two a month. In a pinch, a mature high-schooler who likes children could even be "rented" to play ball or go fishing with a boy in need.

Certainly single mothers have many demands on their time and energy, but the effort to find a mentor for their sons might be the most worthwhile contribution they can make.

Q: I am a single mom who is struggling to survive. Of all the things that frustrate me, I am bothered most by having to send my children to visit their dad for three weeks each year. That will happen next month, and I'm already uptight about putting them on the plane. Can you help me accept what I'm about to go through?

A: Maybe it will help to know that many other single parents have similar feelings. One of these mothers expressed her frustration this way:

I stand in the terminal, and I watch the children's airplane disappear into the clouds. I feel an incredible sense of loss. The loneliness immediately starts to set in.

I worry constantly about their safety, but I resist the urge to call every hour to see how they're doing. And when they do call me to tell me how much fun they're having, I grieve over the fact that they're living a life completely separate from my own.

My only consolation is knowing that they're returning soon. But I'm haunted by the fear that they won't want to come home with me.

If the anxieties of that mother represent your own feelings, let me offer some suggestions for how you might make the most of your days alone. Instead of seeing the next three weeks as a period of isolation, view them as an opportunity to recharge your batteries and reinvigorate the spirit.

Single parenting is an exhausting responsibility that can cause burnout if it knows no relief. Take this time to enjoy some relaxed evenings with your friends. Read an inspirational book, or return to a hobby you've sent aside.

Fill your day with things that are impossible amidst the pressures of child care, recognizing that your children will benefit from your rehabilitation. They'll return to a re-energized parent, instead of one coming off three weeks of depression.

This article was published with permission from Focus on the Family Malaysia.

If you liked this article and would like to go deeper, we have some helpful resources at family.org.my.

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