Parenting is a tough job, but single parenting is an even tougher challenge, as one parent tries to fulfill the roles of both a mother and a father to their child. Single parenting is highly demanding physically, emotionally and financially. There can be numerous reasons and circumstances for single parenting, such as divorce, a spouse working abroad, a child born out of wedlock, or even the illness or death of a parent. Sadly, the Muslim community often alienates and ostracizes single parents and is often selective regarding which single parent “deserves” compassion, based on the reasons they are single. A judgmental attitude does not help encourage single parents to be the best parents possible to their child(ren). Compassion and support from the community is necessary to help single parents on their challenging journey. This article seeks to offer constructive support to single parents as they seek to raise their children, insha’Allah.
Numerous examples exist in the Islamic tradition of single parents who successfully raised children to become strong individuals. These individuals then left a legacy for humanity which shines more brightly, specifically because of being raised by single parents. Hajar, the mother of Prophet Ismail (pbuh), Maryam, the mother of Prophet Isa (pbuh), and Amina, the mother of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), all raised their sons alone due to different circumstances. They all put their trust in Allah and worked hard to be the best parents they could be to their children. Also, the mothers of Imam al-Shafi’, Imam Ahmed and Imam Bukhari raised their sons alone, all of whom later became renowned figures that left a major impact on the world. The reality is that single Muslim parents do exist today. They need support as they strive to raise resilient Muslim children for the future.
Children raised by single parents thrive in homes where there is stability, safety, love, and consistency. A single parent that is committed to providing loving discipline will create an environment for the child to truly flourish. Raising secure and successful children requires single parents to confidently implement the following parenting skills.
Sometimes single parents may feel guilty or overwhelmed by their parenting duties, so they resort to weak enforcement or bending of “rules” in order to make their child happy and reduce potential conflict. Some parents may compensate for the absence of the other parent by being permissive in their parenting style. Single parents must be careful to not allow children to dismiss rules set by the parent or to become their “friends.” Setting boundaries for children creates much needed structure in all households (single and dual) because children want to know that their parent has rules and has set limits and expectations. Boundaries also create a sense of safety for a child because the roles of the parent and child have been clearly established. Parental limits teach the child to respect the parent and solidify their role in the family.
Children dealing with a divorce or a death will crave stability as they adjust to their new life with one parent. Establishing routines, schedules and traditions are important for children when adjusting to a new family dynamic. A child wants to know what to expect and look forward to on a daily basis. Consistency in everyday routines gives the child(ren) a feeling of security and stability. Focusing on creating morning routines, weekly schedules and dinners together are small ways that single parents can create constancy for their child. Availability by the parent in terms of attention and physical presence will assure the child(ren) a sense of belonging. Also, creating new traditions and memories during holidays and special occasions reaffirms the new family identity.
Single parents and their children may struggle with various feelings and emotions surrounding their new family structure. The parent and child may struggle with changes and upheavals in their life, and may share with one another the challenges of the new family structure. Parents need to listen and truly hear their child(ren) when they share their thoughts and feelings. Parents must not make disparaging comments about the other parent as a means to gain the sympathy of the child(ren). Despite common stress, parents must not turn to their child for emotional support nor burden them with the personal struggles they encounter. Parents must turn to their social circles and confide in other adults and friends only. Confiding worries or complaining to a child is inappropriate, regardless of the level of maturity of the child. It is extremely detrimental to children to absorb the thoughts and feelings of their parents. Children need to remain children and should not become a “friend” or “therapist” to the parent. Parents who feel stressed, depressed, anxious or lonely, should seek professional guidance or support from other adults as they adjust to single parenthood.
It takes a Village
Single parents will need help and support with the endless tasks and responsibilities of raising the child(ren) . This requires being comfortable asking for help from family and friends. Seeking support with childcare, such as carpooling, help in case of emergencies, or schedule conflicts at work, will benefit single parents when they are stretched in multiple directions. Creating a teamwork environment at home where the child(ren) have chores and responsibilities is also important so that the child(ren) understand their role in the family and feel like capable contributors.
Take Care of Yourself
Single parents work hard to care and provide for their children; many times, they neglect themselves or may feel guilty taking time away from their children. However, it is necessary for parents to take care of themselves physically, emotionally and spiritually. Giving without replenishing will limit a parent’s ability to be their best. Scheduling time for hobbies and enjoyable activities like reading, watching a movie, having coffee with a friend, etc. are ways parents can find personal fulfillment. Creating time to exercise, eat properly and focusing on prayer and reconnection to Allah will help with managing stress and living a more balanced life. Developing a social network of close friends or other single parents will also empower parents so they do not feel alone in their journey. Strong support systems can enable single parents to share and feel accepted by other adults who understand their context. Ultimately the child(ren)’s emotional well-being hinges on the parent’s healthy and balanced lifestyle.
Single Muslim parents who have a positive attitude and express resiliency will model strong character to their children. Single parents must be kind to themselves and focus on doing their best. They will not be “perfect” nor will they be able to fill the shoes of the second parent. Being the best parent is being present and connected with your child(ren) in a manner that is loving and encouraging every day. These are the most important things you can do as a parent, single or otherwise.