Take a close look at your child's class picture. If there's 25 cute, smiling faces in that group, statistically about seven of those kids are being raised by single parents. Maybe more depending on where you live.
Of the 30-40 million homes in the United States with children under the age of 18, about 30 percent of them are led by single parents. Mostly moms. But the population of single dads raising kids alone is rising.
That makes for a lot of kids being raised by single parents.
And according to the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, those children born or raised outside of marriage are more likely to suffer from a range of emotional and social problems -- including drug use, depression, attempted suicide and dropping out of high school -- compared to children in intact, married families.
"We still find that happy marriage has some benefits," says UVa psychology professor Robert Emery in a recent article in The Daily Progress. "But the 'happy' part is important. Children raised in relatively happy, well-functioning single-parent families will do better than children with unhappily married parents."
As a single parent raising three kids myself, that's good to hear.
So how do us single parents make sure we're running a "relatively happy, well-functioning" family?
Dr. Wendy Rice of Rice Psychology in the Tampa Bay area offered these five tips:
1. Be aware that you are under a lot of stress and be careful to support yourself. Think of the analogy of putting on an oxygen mask on an airplane. You have to put on your own before you can help someone else, even your child. Taking care of yourself will help you to be a better single parent. Every method we use to combat our stress is technically a coping mechanism; however, some are adaptive or good while others are maladaptive or bad. Stress prevention strategies include having a regular daily routine for predictability, finding ways in your day to get up and move and be active, and simplifying necessary activities such as making lunches the night before a busy school morning.
2. Say what you mean and mean what you say. When you're a single parent, if you don't follow through on your word, your child will quickly learn to push for you to give in. And you can't afford that when you don't have someone to partner with you on a regular basis on parenting responsibilities. Set clear rules and expectations and be careful to enforce them.
3. Teach your children independence and responsibility. Your child should understand that your family is a team by designating age-appropriate responsibilities such as cleaning up their toys, pick out their own clothes, and clean their room.
4. Seek help! Maintain a social support network so that you have a few caring adults in you and your child's life that you can call on when you need help with childcare or unexpected situations. Offer to trade with neighbors or your child's friend's parents for babysitting and childcare.
5. Share information with teachers and caregivers. You need these people to be familiar with your family situation so that they can be ready to handle it in a sensitive manner. Make sure your children's teachers and coaches know important facts, particularly if a parent has passed.
Other off similar advice.
"Build on your parent-child relationship without worrying too much about what other parents may or may not be doing," suggests Family Life teacher Anastasia Gavalas. "The relationship is what makes the difference. Children thrive when they have those meaningful connections."
It's also important to not live in the past, reminds Rosalind Sedacca, founder of the Child-Centered Divorce Network. "Create new traditions in your family life. Rather than regretting what used to be when you were a two-parent family, start doing new activities with the kids to create new memories and fresh new traditions."
My own personal journey has taught me the importance of not trying to be both the mother and the father. No one person can be two, distinct people. What I can be, however, is available and engaged. Regardless of the circumstances.
And when I do that, I'm not just being a good dad. I'm being a loving, committed parent.
Listen to more of my interview with Dr. Rice on Bobblehead Dad on WebTalk Radio.
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