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5 Best Lessons Learned As A Primary Parent

Updated: Feb 20, 2021

Growing up, I always believed that as an adult I was going to break cycles. First it was going to be graduating from high school in the top of my class. Next it would be escaping the small town I never felt I fit in by being the first in my family to go to a university. Then I was going to be the first in my family to get a degree and ultimately be the first wealthy person in my family. One thing I never planned on the list of achievements was being a parent, especially a parent that would be doing 90% of the care-taking and providing.

I often hesitate to use the term "single-parent" even though it technically applies because I consider myself a single lady and I am certainly a parent. However, I am far from single in the sense of support I have raising, teaching, and protecting my child. True single parents, dads included, I feel often have a non-existent or bad influence parent in their child's life and are likely more limited on resources than I have been-- and probably haven't had a lot of options when it comes to working and childcare. Primary parents may be the primary because their partner is always away to earn income or perhaps significantly less involved in their child's needs even if they are home.

For the most part, I have never had to miss work or worry about losing my job because my child got sick or my schedule changed. Yes I've had to find someone last minute or switch a shift or two, but I have had a great network of friends and a flexible childcare provider if my daughter's dad wasn't capable. I have been able to be the primary source for my daughter financially without government assistance or reliance on child support, not saying I never had to borrow gas money here and there until pay day! I have been blessed and I am very aware that millions of others that ended up like me, without a partner, have not had the same fate.

As a primary parent though, I never saw my daughter as a burden. I never felt like my life was over. I never felt like my dreams now had to take a back seat. I don't feel like I am missing out on things, because honestly I'm not really a drinker or a party girl. I enjoy a dinner, a drink, and fun activities. I still hang out with a selective group of friends. I only see myself as a lucky woman who is trusted with the responsibility of guiding a little person into a compassionate, strong, and smart adult who will be a much-needed breath of fresh air to the world.

In the beginning, it was a little traumatizing to think that I would be all she has on a daily basis... but it turns out that's only at home. This journey has shown me much about the necessity of adapting, the release of the idea of being in control, the motivation to be the best version of self, and the art of collaborating with a village. Read on...

1) Adult issues are not the responsibility of children. All too often single or primary parents put burdens on their children that belong to the non-custodial parent. These aren't always physical burdens like chores or grocery shopping, or making them work when they are the right age... they are often emotional.

I believe that keeping my little one confident in her identity is critical to how she develops and processes her emotions as she walks through life. When I am upset by a choice her father made or something that didn't work out, I do not discuss it in front of her or talk to her like any of it is her fault. I do not make statements such as "you are just like your dad" or "like your no-good daddy" or ever call her names. I do not talk about any negative traits I perceive that he has. That isn't mature and it most certainly isn't healthy.

I have seen parents do this to their children, often in crowds or the presence of other kids, and I don't think they realize how damaging they are being when they speak negativity upon them. It automatically sets the tone that you despise them or have low expectations of them. They may develop low self-esteem or feel afraid to make mistakes. It is not their job to make up for or correct the faults of their mother or father who isn't in the home. It is not their job to make the parent feel better.

2) Allow her to make as many choices as possible and experiment. It doesn't matter whether it's which shoes she wants to wear with the clothes I picked out, which color bath bombs she wants for her bath time, or which family member she wants to put on our call list on my days off, I constantly develop my daughter's ability to think for herself without my input.

The only real veto power I use is in regards to health and wellness. Doing this has allowed me to truly realize that I have a child that is more developed than I anticipated a three year old to be. I know several parents who are extremely flexible with their children and feel the exact same way.

I noticed that my kid especially enjoys attempting things that she believes are helpful. She enjoys loading and unloading the dishwasher by herself. She enjoys cleaning up on her spills by herself (though I often help her with the proper materials to do so). She enjoys helping to make the bed. She enjoys helping to make the grocery list. She likes to put our devices on their chargers. She has recently learned to tie her own bathrobe and work a dvd player to pick movies to watch on her own. I hear my daughter saying things like "I can do it" or "I'm proud of myself". I hear her saying "I'm a great kid" and she tells me every day that I am "the best mom ever". Who wouldn't love that?!

It is natural as parents to make sure our kids are doing things "right" or to want to prevent them from making "the wrong choice". In some areas this is very important. However, on the non-trivial stuff, it is also our responsibility, especially if they may not have regular time in a 2 parent household, to ensure that they do not feel inferior or disadvantaged in any way. Primary parents should take great effort as not to smother their kids due to the weight of providing most of their care.

3) Let her know she is loved even through discipline or lack of attention. Primary parents, even those who may have a partner, must have boundaries on their time, even with their kids. No doubt it is rough when you are working 8+ hours a day, 40+ hours a week, and then you may have a child at home that cannot fully care for themselves or perhaps require more attention than the next kid. Adults like me, who are constantly mentally stimulated outside of their primary form of income, must take steps to maintain interests that keep us grounded and hopeful for the future.

We cannot spend our entire time at home catering to our kids or not being progressive every time they cry or want something. Eventually (usually) children will grow up and leave the home and do their own thing. What are we going to do. One way I do this is by keeping a planner and charting the days I have work obligations. Around those work obligations I look for community or local events I can do with my kid at least twice a month. For the other off days that I plan to be home, I make sure I set aside a certain number of hours that I can "play" with her or do activities like painting, playing monster, or playing pretend with her stuffed animals.

Other times I am at home, there has to be paying bills online, cleaning the carpet, checking in on the parents, and so forth-- things which I also put on the planner with how much anticipated time I plan to use. Then there are my fun endeavors such as reading, writing, social media, spirituality hour, etc., that I put down. Sometimes my daughter wants to play or constantly wants my help because she can't find her favorite toy or wants a snack or wants to play her piano too loud in the same room. I often need to remind her "I love you, but right now Mommy is busy", "I love you but you need to find another toy", "I'm sorry but I need you to play in another room".

Does she get upset, yes at first, but a few minutes later I have the peace I need to finish what I'm doing and she has distracted herself enough to be content again. There are so many educational toys and games available that I don't even worry if she is "learning anything" because you can determine what your kid is learning simply by engaging them in conversation.