How to Be a Strong Single Parent

single parent reading to his young son

Hero Images/Getty Images

Strong single parents consistently sacrifice their own needs and want to put their children first. But there's more to being a successful solo parent than taking a back seat to higher priorities. Here's a look at how you can develop some essential habits and thinking patterns in your own life.

Set Clear Goals

It's important to have a clear picture in your mind of what you want for yourself and your kids. This is where the conviction, determination, and commitment you need to be a strong single parent come from.

So, what are these goals you should be setting for yourself and your family? Depending on where you're at right now, they run the gamut from simple goals like creating a morning routine to make getting out the door on time easier to creating long-term goals—like going back to school, relocating to be near family, managing your money more effectively, or improving your co-parenting relationship with your ex. 

Be Well-Organized

No one juggles more than working single parents who share physical custody. You've got your own schedule to manage, plus your kids' regular routines, homework, and then all the packing and transportation that goes along with managing joint custody schedules.

To get organized, try using an online calendaring system like Google Calendar or Cozi. Both of these tools allow you to create calendars, manage repeating events, and share calendars with family members—like your parents and your ex. Once you get comfortable using them, get into the habit of adding new items to the calendar as soon as they come in, like school events and your kids' sports schedules.

One of the key benefits for co-parents is that a shared online calendar means that it's your ex's responsibility to check the calendar and stay up to date, versus your responsibility to call, text, or email when another flyer comes home from school.

And for the kids, a huge benefit is that you'll both be at more of their events, because sharing the details about what is happening, and when, becomes so much easier.

Be Flexible

No matter how organized you are, there will still be things that go wrong or turn out differently than you had planned. When this happens, be creative and look for alternative solutions. Can't get to school to pick your child up from aftercare on time because of a meeting? Call a backup child care provider you trust, like a neighbor, to fill in. Is your ex on the line, asking to swap weekends with you next month?

As long as it's feasible for you and the kids, try to be flexible and allow changes—with the expectation that he or she will extend to you the same courtesy and flexibility when an unexpected work trip forces you to request a favor on the fly. (Sometimes the simple act of responding to a request with grace is all you need to start a new pattern of mutual flexibility between you.)

Yet Firm

Strong single parents also know that they need to demonstrate to their kids that they absolutely say what they mean and mean what they say. That doesn't mean that you can't ever change your mind! But when you discipline your kids or issue age-appropriate consequences for misbehavior, you need to do so confidently.

It's far easier to back off of a consequence than it is to let misbehavior or a bad attitude pass by 'unnoticed' and later expect your kids to make amends.

And in those moments when you're just not sure what to do in response to something your kids have done, check out the next tip and phone a friend.

Know When to Be Independent and When to Rely on Others

This is a biggie. As a single parent, you're probably used to being independent, whether out of necessity or preference. But strong single parents know that there are times when you need to go it alone, and there are times when you need to surround yourself with others just to get through the day.

Take this advice: tap into your network. You may be tempted to think there's no one around to provide support and encouragement when you need it. But chances are, you're not as alone as you feel. Take a good look around and uncover new opportunities to invest in relationships. From co-workers to neighbors and old friends, there's a network of support there for you to tap into.

Believe in Yourself

This is one of the most important things you can do as a single parent. Your situation may not be perfect, but you are enough. Look back over the previous months and years (or days and weeks, if you're a newly single parent). Give yourself 'props' for all you've accomplished and successfully endured thus far.

Acknowledge what you've come through and how much stronger you are today than you were on the day you started this journey.

And if you're not convinced, grab a journal and start writing, even if it's in a beat-up spiral notebook! Just start jotting down what's happening, how you're dealing with it, and what you've noticed about yourself along the way. Think of it as documentation for your own personal growth. The next time you wonder how far you've come, you'll be able to look back and see it there in your notebook.

Know That Hardships Are Temporary

Strong single parents have perspective. They're able to see that whatever is hardest right now isn't necessarily the biggest thing you'll be dealing with a month from now—or even a week from now.

To put some context around what you're going through, add the phrase "for now" to your self-talk vocabulary. Embroiled in conflict with your ex over child custody? For now—because a resolution is coming. Frustrated that your four-year-old has been clingy and whiny? For now.

Keep sharing your abundant love, and his confidence will grow. When you recognize that your current struggles are temporary, you allow yourself to see the long term. And that's where you'll begin to glimpse all the hope and joy your future holds.

Give Back

Finally, strong single parents know they've earned every morsel of strength and confidence they've built up over the years, and they're generous about sharing their journey so that others can benefit.

Consider starting a single parent support group in your area so that other single parents can more readily find support, encouragement, and camaraderie. Whether you host it at your kids' school or meet up at a local coffee shop once a month, you'll be surprised how many single moms and dads in your town have been looking for a group to join!

Strong single parents know that this job isn't an easy one, by any means. But they also recognize the deep value and privilege inherent in raising your children as a single mom or dad.

You'll have days ahead—we promise you—when you catch yourself off-guard, surprised by how sure of yourself you felt in a moment that previously might have left you feeling anxious and unsure.

No matter where you are on this journey, know that the work you're doing matters, and with each passing year, you'll gain another measure of confidence and strength. Before long, you'll see what others have been seeing in you for quite a while now: you rock!

By Jennifer Wolf
Jennifer Wolf is a PCI Certified Parent Coach and a strong advocate for single moms and dads.