There’s a part of being a single parent that I just couldn’t get my head around in the beginning. Sending my kids to school, nursing them when sick, teaching a set of values I believe in—and letting them discover some on their own—all the while trying to build a career to sustain us did bring a sense of gratification and accomplishment. However, although I was carrying out the role of a single parent, I felt there was a missing piece: “Is it the routine? Is it the physical and emotional toll? Is it the urgency to provide for my kids’ growing needs? Is it the anxiety over what my kids’ view of family and the world would be? Is it guilt?” So many questions yet too few answers. Or maybe, too little sense in the answers.
It wasn’t until almost three years ago that I came to realize that the missing piece had to do with acceptance. Though I was immersed in my role as a single parent, I realized that I hadn’t fully embraced it. I was “single parenting” from the perspective of a two-parent setup. When I finally did come to terms with my circumstances, I started to find meaning in everything, every day. I became aware of how I allotted my time, spent my resources, and established my boundaries. The time I spent with my kids became more precious and nonnegotiable; I accounted for everything that I spent and earned; and I stuck with those who stood by me through it all. I found that for a single parent, acceptance begins the necessary process of pruning to experience growth—both as a parent and as your own person. It really does begin with oneself.
In this continuing process of pruning and growth, other single parent friends and I came together to put up a support group called MASIPAG (Married Individuals & Single Parents Care Group) that became a ministry under the Makati Feast Community. Here, we meet others who are in the same state but have different stories—and all are in a journey to find meaning in their solo-parent lives.
In our collective journey, with each one sharing a unique story, many have found solace in the different but somewhat common circumstances, while others are getting there. It’s not always easy, as each has to learn how to accept that the past is part of who we are—which disrupts the acceptable and comfortable present each of us has settled into. It’s a process that can be unsettling, since it calls for actions that make you feel exposed and left with little for yourself—like forgiving (yourself or another), healing (which takes time), and changing (which takes effort). Again, the pruning.
Along the way, we single parents found that the things that give meaning are as different as the circumstances that we find ourselves in.
For those in the circumstance of solo parenting, what helps give meaning is self-care. Since the situation entails being both father and mother to the child, a certain degree of nurturing oneself is needed to continue nurturing another. As they say, you can’t give what you don’t have. For single parents whose circumstance is one of involvement, what gives meaning is having harmony with the co-parent. Since the situation allows one to still freely exercise his rights and privileges as a parent, having a good relationship with the co-parent helps ensure that the child’s needs for love and affirmation are fulfilled.
For single parents whose circumstance is partial involvement, because of emotional distance or another family, what can give meaning is honesty. If financial support—or another kind of support—is all that could be offered consistently, it is best to disclose it (“Hanggang dito lang talaga ako…”) as it helps the co-parent and the child know the kind of involvement they can expect. Likewise, knowing that while time, affection, or presence cannot be fully given, there is the consolation that the other parent still “contributes” to the child’s well-being.
For single parents whose circumstance is exclusion, what can give meaning is resolve. Because involvement in the child’s life and/or visitation rights are denied, meaning comes as an after-effect of the effort continuously exerted by a parent to make his or her presence felt to the child—especially if the reason for exclusion is spite, hardened feelings, or lack of discernment of the co-parent who has custody. An imprint is made that the child has a parent who is willing and capable of loving him. It may be painstaking, but when the child reaches an age of comprehension and decision-making and starts to ask about or seek the excluded parent, the resolve can deliver a big payoff.
For single parents struggling between single life and parent life, what can give meaning is guidance. If a single parent prioritizes superficial goals and pursuits over his or her presence in a child’s life or has had difficulty transitioning to parenthood, receiving guidance—if not seeking it—can tilt the imbalance by way of learning new attitudes and life skills.
What begins with awareness leads to acceptance; this then leads to action and will find its way to meaning, eventually. Why is it so important? I realize that it’s for two reasons: The first is that it makes sense of a situation that everyone else is still learning to look at with compassion. The second is that it validates you, a single parent, in the midst of it.
For me, it crystallized on separate occasions with my kids: There was the time when I was distraught over losing an ad pitch for an account that I was hopeful for. Perhaps sensing my disappointment, my then five-year-old daughter asked me what was wrong. Caught off-guard, I told her that I felt sad I didn’t get something I worked hard for. She replied, “It’s okay, Dad. We still love you.” Then, more recently, just as my seven-year-old son was falling asleep, he snuggled his head next to mine and whispered, “You’re such a good dad to me. Good night.”
In those moments I knew that not only had I found meaning, they found it in me, too.
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This article was originally published in the September 2013 issue of Smart Parenting magazine. Minor edits were done by Smartparenting.com.ph editors.