My daughter, Sam, and I were on our own for 12 years. During that time, my girl grew from a little girl to a teenager, and with each passing year, one thing remained consistent: back-to-school chaos. The first day of school would frazzle us both. Sam worried about her hair; I worried about her homework. She fretted about friends; I was anxious about potential latchkey drama. I'd lie awake at night envisioning Sam home alone with the microwave sparking, the toilet overflowing or kids descending on our place to hang from the faux chandeliers.
It never turned out quite as bad as I imagined, but it wasn't easy, either. How I longed for a mate to help navigate fifth-grade math and bullies on the playground! I would have appreciated help so I could be home after school or attend Sam's activities. But there was no mate, and if Sam was going to make it through her school years with good memories and a coveted diploma in hand, I had to come up with a plan.
My strategy began with talking to other single parents. What did they do when homework reminded them of past school failures? How did they handle after-school care? How did they manage to attend sporting events and choir concerts?
From there, I tapped into the wisdom and kindness of my circle of friends. I invited them to help cheer for Sam at her choir concerts — she loved seeing their smiling faces in the audience. I asked one friend to help Sam with computer issues. As an IT guy, he wasn't as prone as I was to kicking the computer in hopes that physical violence would hiccup it back to life.
I also leaned on my brother's family. They were an intact family, and spending time in their home gave Sam the opportunity to experience their interaction.
And how did I deal with those bullies on the playground? I learned to embrace my "mama bear" instincts, and with God's strength was able to confront those issues myself. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I handled them with more ability and grace than I thought I possessed.
Which brings me to my final strategy. I trusted God — and He came to my rescue. As a Father to the fatherless, He walked with Sam. He sustained me in my weariness and brought people to support me. He even gave me insight into math.
My daughter graduated this past spring. Sam received her diploma with a smile on her face and a contingent of cheerleaders in the stands. It's not been an easy journey, but with a few good strategies, a multitude of friends and the wisdom of counselors, we made it through.
Single Parent Tool Kit
Consider these stress-reducing tactics as you head into the new school year:
Toss pride. Don't be afraid to ask for help when homework hassles weigh you down. Ask friends or family members to lend a hand with assignments you don't understand. If a subject is particularly challenging, talk to the teacher about additional tutoring that might be available.
Join forces. Work with other single parents. Trade baby-sitting to cover for parent-teacher conferences or other school functions.
Find a good before- or after-school program. If you don't feel comfortable leaving your child at home alone, check with the school about quality programs. If finances are an issue, ask about scholarships.
Build relationships. Get involved with the men's or women's ministry at your local church. As you build friendships there, involve those friends in your child's life. Invite them to events and ask them to share their wisdom when your child needs it.
Lean on God. Bring your concerns to God and watch how He answers your prayers. Celebrate Him as He meets your needs.
This article first appeared in the September/October, 2010 issue of Thriving Family magazine and was originally titled "Back-to-School Together." Copyright © 2010 by Elsa Kok Colopy. Used by permission. ThrivingFamily.com.
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