by the Rev. Peter K. Stimpson
QUESTION: I recently became a single parent. The divorce was bad enough, but being alone while trying to raise the kids is even harder. I feel overwhelmed and I'm having a rough time. What are some pitfalls I should watch out for?
ANSWER: As the divorce rate for first marriages is high and for second marriages even higher, there are a number of parents who raise children largely alone. Co-parenting is no piece of cake, but single parenting is truly difficult. Here are some pitfalls for single parents to avoid.
1. GUILT: Many people feel guilty for their marriage "failing." Even if you made mistakes, forgive yourself and see your new life as just that –– new. After the death of your marriage comes an opportunity to be reborn, to take a long hard look at who you are and where you are going. See it as a challenge, not a curse.
2. GRIEF: Work through the loss of your spouse. Let go of the desire to have your pound of flesh, face the fact that it took two to make a divorce, and try to remember that while you no longer share a marriage, you still share children and will have to work together for the rest of your life.
3. CHILD AS SPOUSE: If you do not work through your loss, then you may make one of two mistakes. Either you may displace anger from spouse to child, especially if the child resembles your former spouse, or you may turn your child into your spouse, wanting the emotional closeness of which divorce "robbed" you.
4. NO COUNSELING: Why work through it alone? See your priest, minister, rabbi, or a counselor to help you both for a re-evaluation of what went wrong in your marriage, and also for a values clarification of what you are looking for when you begin to date. If you remarry, pre-marital counseling will also help you relax in your choice and get things off on the right foot.
5. COUPLE FRIENDS: The death of your marriage often means the death of some friendships that both of you shared, as they often feel the need to choose. Try not to take it personally, realize that you are about to discover who is "true blue," and see the pursuit of new friends as a new step in your new life.
6. PUSHING FAMILY AWAY: Let your family love you. If you need to move back home for a brief period or need to accept financial aid, accept the love your parents and relatives want to give you. Ministering to you is growth for them.
7. HERMITITIS: Avoid becoming a hermit. Go to church or synagogue. Join a support group. Go out for an evening with a friend. And, while dating will probably feel like being an awkward teenager all over again, realize that Prince Charming or Cinderella is not going to come knocking on your door. You may groan at going to a singles dance, but your goal is not to be a party animal, just to gradually discover someone with whom you can share your new life.
Trinity Counseling Service, 22 Stockton Street, Princeton. 609-924-0060.