It is a universal truth that parenting is no easy task, even if you do it together as a team. From that perspective, single parent comes across a raw deal for everybody involved – the single parent as well as the child/children. I should know, having been brought up by a single mother who herself had to grow up with one parent. That does seem to cast the men in my family in a rather poor light, but this does not mean in any way that all the males out there are bad parents! But to get back to the point, single parenting can inflict significant stress and frustration on both the parent as well as the child, which often manifests itself in bouts of seemingly uncontrollable anger.
Like walking a tight rope
Single parenting is a daunting task. The responsibility of earning enough to meet all the expenses often falls squarely on your shoulders. Even in the cases where the absentee parent pays maintenance, single parents still have to earn their keep. Granted, it can be very stressful to you. But you also have to consider the fact that the absence of a father or mother is a very traumatic experience for any child. The feeling of neglect that the child experiences get compounded when the remaining parent has to divide his/her time between a job and taking care of the child. As a kid, with my father absent and my mother spending most of the day at work, I too experienced intense frustration and anger. But looking back on those years now, what strikes me most is the stress that my own mother went through, that feeling of helplessness, being caught between two things: supporting our family and spending time with me.
Understanding that you are also part of the problem
This is the first step on the way to addressing anger issues as a single parent. It is not about you finding a solution for your child’s issues. You are also a part of the problem, even if it is unwittingly so. There is no silver bullet or an easy way out. This is one problem for the long haul that has to be managed carefully over time. But with the right perspective, a lot of patience and some handy tricks, you and your child can make it through unscathed, just like my mother managed with me. The point is, it is no hopeless battle. You can fight your way through it. Just remember that you are not fighting the child, you are fighting along with them.
Channeling aggression positively
Really young children cannot properly comprehend the complexities of the world. There is not much point trying to explain things to them and hoping they will fully understand. But kids are capable of feeling intense frustration and stress due to perceived abandonment or neglect. And their ability to comprehend the reasons for this properly means that frustration and anger can build up, leading to aggressive outbursts. When that happens, it is always better to try and channelize that energy in positive ways which help to harmlessly dissipate those feelings. Try the following things for starters:
• Give them a space to vent their anger. Try letting the child go to a secluded spot (a bathroom maybe) to just shout his/her frustration out.
• Show them harmless ways to dissipate aggression: throwing dirt at a tree or wall. (be careful that the child does not start throwing rocks or solid objects though)
• Give them some kind of exercise. When an anger episode manifests, ask the child to run a specific number of laps in a room or outside in the lawn. The counting will distract him/her from the stress while the physical exertion will reduce the aggression.
• Give them things to rip or crush. Give your child a safe outlet for that aggression. Give them a waste paper to punch their fist through (or do a karate chop, both will work). But again, be mindful that this does not encourage the child to become generally destructive.
Taking care of yourself through it all
This is very important. Remember, your child depends on you for support and love. If you yourself are not in a stable state of mind, what hope does your child have? Remain strong. Whenever your child displays anger and aggression against you, remember, they do that because they love you and trust you enough to display their true feelings. Take time outs with your child as often as possible. If possible, arrange for the child to get some time to spend with the other parent. As unpleasant as this can be for you, it is crucial to the emotional well-being of the child. Even though it can seem like asking for too much of yourself (after all these tips), try to get some time to spend on yourself, some “me-time”. It will help you relax and destress your mind. Never hesitate to seek help if you need it. You can count on your family and friends for that. And if you need expert help and guidance, that can be arranged easily. For example, OnePlusOne is a UK charity organization that provides assistance in family and parenting related issues. Their website, oneplusone.org.uk could be a useful starting point, with a lot of help and support available online.
Neil Bartlett comes from a single parent family and has experienced first hand the difficulties. He is passionate about helping others through the potentially tough time with a single parent.