7 Single Parenting Skills That Actually Make Kids' Lives Better (And 2 Mistakes To Avoid)

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two kids play outdoors with their dad

Single parents have a lot of tasks to juggle, and all of those things are not of equal importance. Part of keeping all of the important balls in the air is to focus on mastering a few critical parenting skills that are essential for your success — and forgetting about the things that aren’t important.

Your first step in having a successful life as a single parent — or someone who is co-parenting with their ex — is having a clear vision of the life you want to have together.

Once you have a clear idea of how you want your life to be, honing these critical parenting skills will make it possible for you to get from where you are now to having the life you dream of living.

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Here are 7 critical parenting skills that all single parents need to master:

1. Having a "can do” attitude.

By far the most important skill a single parent needs is a positive attitude. You can either focus on what is going well and what you have control over, or you can focus on the negatives in life.

Some negative thoughts to avoid are: “Life is not fair because …” “So-and-so has it easier/better than I do,” or “I will never be able to do ...” These negative thoughts drain your emotional and physical energy.

Instead, develop the critical skill of focusing on what you can do, what is going well, and how far you have come. When you develop a positive “can do" attitude, it will give you energy. A positive attitude will give you hope to keep trying.

Your small, consistent efforts will make it possible for you to build a fantastic life.

2. Earning money

You probably just went from two incomes to one. Or worse yet, you went from being a stay-at-home parent who has been out of the workforce for several years to a single parent responsible for financially supporting yourself and your family.

You might be getting child support for now. That will help short term, but it is unwise to count on child support or spousal maintenance long term.

When someone else is financially supporting you, it makes you too vulnerable to that person’s whims. When that person doesn’t like you or may even wish you harm, it makes you even more vulnerable. This kind of vulnerability adds too much stress to your life. Don't count on someone else to provide financially.

Even when child support is court-ordered, sometimes the other parent doesn’t pay it. That parent could change jobs, get laid off, or be fired. All of these things will affect the money they provide you. Most likely it will mean less money for you.

You need to earn enough money to meet your basic needs. The money and resources you may initially get from your ex-partner or government assistance can fill in the gaps for a short time, but eventually, your children will leave home and you will be on your own financially.

The sooner you are able to support yourself, the less stress you will have.

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3. Managing your finances

Earning money is essential, but choosing where that money goes is just as important. Sometimes as a single parent, you will find that even though you have less money coming in when you make wise choices about where your money goes you may have more money for what's important to you.

Make a budget so you have a plan for where your money is going. Start with the income you earn. Subtract your basic needs which are housing including utilities, food, and transportation from your earned income.

Do you have enough? If so, congratulate yourself. If not, look at where you can cut your expenses or increase your income.

Now add any other income sources and make out the rest of your budget subtracting those expenses including medical care, clothing, debts, and anything else you need or want. Be sure to include some fun money in your budget and a plan to save for retirement.

4. How to prioritize needs for you and your kids

As a single parent, everything is on you: Cooking, house cleaning, laundry, childcare, kid transportation, decision making, and money earning. You will need to make some changes from a two-parent household.

Just like you need to make a budget for your money, you need to be intentional about how you use your time. Be intentional about what is most important and put those things in your schedule first. If you do not do this, the important but unessential tasks of life will crowd out what's most important to you and your kids.

Besides prioritizing earning a living to keep your financial boat afloat, there are other things that are priorities that can easily get crowded out in the busyness of life. Connecting with your kids and self-care are priorities that are often crowded out in meeting the needs of your family.

Put these things in your schedule and give them the priority they deserve.

5. Teaching your kids respect and good decision making

Making it a priority to teach your children respect and good decision-making will make parenting much easier. These are essential skills for your kids to learn to be the successful adults you want them to be. When they have these skills, you will be able to spend your time connecting and having fun with them instead of dealing with misbehavior and problems.

When your parenting focus is on teaching respect and good decision-making, you need minimal rules for your kids to keep your family running smoothly. Respectful kids understand that doing chores at home is part of living in a family. You will have minimal behavior problems at home and in school when kids are respectful and focused on making good decisions.

Have conversations with them about what it means to be respectful. Help them see that when they face a problem there is always more than one option. Talk with them about the positive and negative consequences of different decisions.

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6. How to manage stress

Everyone has stress in their life. How you manage your stress makes all the difference.

Choose stress management activities that reduce stress long-term like meditation and exercise. Don’t choose stress management activities like overeating, gambling, over-consumption of alcohol, or drug use that may help for a few minutes, but in the long run, make your life more difficult.

7. Develop a support system

One of the things that happen when you separate from a partner is you lose some of your friends or greatly reduce your connections with your ex-partner’s family. This is particularly painful because as a single parent, you really need the support more than ever.

You can develop a support system by reaching out to people you come in contact with at your kids’ activities or at work. This is a time to strengthen relationships with your family if they are a healthy influence.

You can also make a point to meet new people by trying new activities or joining new groups.

As you keep honing these critical skills, here are 2 single parenting mistakes to avoid:

1. Keeping up with the Joneses

There are an almost endless number of ways to live your life. When you compare your circumstances to someone else's, you will always be able to find someone who seems to have more stuff or a better, easier life in some way. Remember, you're comparing the inside of your life to what their life looks like on the outside.

They may have more stuff, but they probably also have more debt or less in their retirement account. Stop comparing your life to someone else’s life and live your own life on your terms.

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2. Acting out of revenge

You are hurt and angered by some of the things your partner did — either while you were together or during the process of the relationship ending. Let these things go and forgive your ex-partner, not because he deserves it, but because you deserve to let go of the burden of being negatively connected to him.

Revenge and revenge fantasies are a waste of precious time and energy. Living well is truly the best revenge. Focus on making your life the life you want to live.

As a single parent, you have limited time and energy. Be intentional about how you invest your time and financial resources. Develop a vision of the life you want to have and it will help you stay focused on what is important to you and your family.

All of these critical parenting skills flow from a place of knowing what you want and intentionally moving toward the life you want to create. Keep taking small steps in the direction you want to go, and you will reach your destination of a happy, positive life as a single mom or dad.

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Tamara Mason, MSW, LICSW has over 30 years of experience as a psychotherapist and life coach. She is the founder of Empowered Single Moms and the author of Thriving: A Single Mom’s Guide to a Happy, Positive Life.