Single Parents in Stepfamilies

While members of blended families are concerned with dancing to different tunes and not stepping on each other’s toes, there is another member of the stepfamily, who may appear, to some, as the wallflower (male or female) – the single parent who doesn’t have a Significant Other.  In fact, many single parents don’t even think of themselves as part of a stepfamily but they are.
The single parent may be hotly debated as an object of envy or derision by the stepparent and/or the former spouse.  On the other hand, s/he could also be considered a relief pitcher who can take the kids when things seem too unwieldy or an emergent problem arises.  That same single parent can be a wonderful source of information.  S/he may provide new historical perspectives to a stepparent about the children’s development and past experiences that the former spouse may have forgotten,  not noticed or not deemed important.  In good post-divorce situations, single parents can provide reinforcement for specialized study plans, behavioral guidelines, etc.  Lastly, but crucial, never doubt  that the single parent also has the love and allegiance of his/her offspring.   Both parents are role models.  Children should be able to feel good about both parents in order to develop and mature more fully and feel positive about themselves.
Single parents have their own perspectives about their position in the stepfamily.  Some feel woefully out of the loop, somewhat of a “lonely only”, especially when their children are at the other home.  Isolation or a sense of loss may occur when one’s former spouse has children with a new partner.  If your self-esteem is shaky, it may seem as if the other household has more to offer, teeming with life.  As a discouraged, newly single mother reflected, “There’s more joy around the holiday table in numbers.  Our  meal is so quiet.”  It doesn’t have to be that way. You could  invite friends and relatives but also keep in mind  that a smaller grouping can allow for more intimacy and sharing.
The single parent, not residing with family, has to do it all alone. There is no one else to share the household chores and parenting responsibilities at home. There may be no no one to fall back on at home, when s/he is not feeling well, has to bring work home from the office or is going to be late.  Be sure to develop reliable backups. When family is not close by, some people connect with others in the same situation and form a coop for such exigencies.   On the other hand, when you are the only parent at home, there is no compromise needed when making certain parental decisions.
Discomfort may arise from a number of sources for a single parent.  Some feel that s/he has less bearing in the community because that household is not a complete family with two adults. If a single parent is dating, s/he may be viewed by others as being less able to  provide a stable household.  There are the vagaries of reentering the world of dating, with children;  sometimes married friends drift away and/or maintain social contact with one’s former spouse (this occurs more frequently when former spouses are still battling and their friends don’t want to be in the middle).  Single mothers, in particular, find themselves dropped from couple-oriented social get-togethers and feel relegated to seeing their married friends, usually, the wives, at lunch.  Older, single mothers commiserate about being older, single women in a youth-oriented society.  Feelings about this social sitation may be intensified by having had a former spouse who left for or married a younger woman.  Remember. in today’s world, one is never too old.
Single parents  may have to deal with a “two against one” mentality when trying to settle parenting disagreements with a former spouse and their new partner. They  might feel that someone else, who is not even their child’s parent, can now ‘outvote’ them.  This predicament occurs more frequently when the children are in agreement, on some issues,  with the other household’s parents.  One can imagine when this sort of standoff might arise…”Daddy and Anne say I can stay out all night for the prom,”etc.  Maintaining a good, working co-parenting relationship with your former spouse cuts down on children’s manipulations, which is a natural phenomenon.
Being single and going alone can be uncomfortable at public events when both sides of the family are likely to attend.  Situations arise at school functions, such as  sports events, parent conferences, graduations and recitals. Family gatherings may be even more awkward because they are usually smaller and more intimate. Religious rites of passge, birthday parties, weddings, having grandchildren and celebrating other special moments can be a challenge to one’s resilience, maturity and dedication to one’s children.  Working things through with a former spouse is a relief to everyone, on these occasions, and a special gift to your children.  You, too, will likely feel more at ease.  Maintaining your own support system is invaluable.
After a second divorce, different issues may arise for divorced parents who are both single again. Each parent may have renewed feelings about the romantic life of the other, although this situation can also occur with two remarried spouses as well.  It is useful to understand the source of such feelings to get past them.  Sometimes it may seem more permissible to intervene in what goes on at a former spouse’s house when there is not a new partner. Sometimes the war continues to be waged on two battlefields….not a good situation.Having two single parents again, as a result of a second divorce, presents other problems.  It is especially difficult for only children and those whose parents go through multiple divorces. With no full-time partner to distract and absorb them, some parents seek emotional gratification from their children, instead of other adults.  ALL parents, married or divorced, need to adapt to a new level of ‘separation’ as children mature.
It’s important for single parents in stepfamilies to prepare for a new lifestyle.  Much of the fortitude needed comes from within; a healthy self-esteem goes a long way.  The more you value yourself and feel competent, the more you feel entitled to happiness.  Developing a good self-image which goes beyond one’s role in the family (such as friends, work, hobbies,)  can fill in some of the gaps left by a former spouse. In most healthy marriages, each spouse still enjoys a separate identity.  When we feel reasonably good within ourselves, we are in a better position to utilize outside supports wisely.  If this is not your profile, a therapist can often useful, particularly one who is experienced in working with stepfamilies. Family, friends and work can all be part of the healing process involved in feeling alone in a seemingly coupled world. Knowing or meeting others in a similar situation adds immeasurably to remembering that you are not alone. Support groups and workshops are an excellent solution to meeting others who”know what you are talking about”. There are many avenues to be single, but not alone.  It’s worth taking a stroll !