8 steps to see yourself as a family – not a broken one
It was an often repeated event. It could be a ‘meet the teacher’ event for school parents, watching a concert or the basketball final. I was there to support my kids and sitting alone. Through rose coloured glasses I saw everyone else sitting grouped in families – two parents chatting, grandparents and the odd aunt or uncle in the cheer squad and I sat by myself in a cloud of dark thoughts and self-pity. I felt that others were looking at me, mocking me for being by myself. To overcome this I reminded myself that we are a family, we are not a broken family, we might be a small family unit but we are a family nonetheless. It stopped me feeding the paranoid, self-absorbed thoughts.
What about you? As a single parent do you see yourself as incomplete? Do you use the label ‘broken family’? My family lived interstate which may have exacerbated my feelings of feeling alone, but in speaking with other single parents, it’s a common experience feeling isolated at events where you perceive every other family has two parents and is perfect. It’s not true but feelings misread the context. It can bring up feelings of failure and shame. How do you overcome this?
You are a complete family
See yourself as a family. Remind yourself you are a complete family, just as you are. This can take some persistent changing of your thoughts to engage with this mental picture. Encourage your children to embrace it also. It is important to see yourself like that and not be paranoid about what others think of you. You might be thinking it’s easy to say ‘just change your mindset’, but it’s hard to do. Here’s 8 ways to help the process.
8 steps to help you see yourself as a family
- Don’t describe yourself as a broken family. You are whole and complete.
- Develop family time with specific activities that everyone enjoys and can participate in.1
- Support each other, going to concerts and sporting matches. Be each other’s cheer squad.1
- Keep family traditions and start new ones. 1
- Have fun. Create enjoyable snippets of time that will be the children’s memories of their childhood.
- Do things as a family (leaving the paranoia of judgment at home).
- Encourage contact with extended family to help create a sense of larger family. 1
- Find a surrogate family for your children if you don’t have family close by or willing to be involved. Remember be safe!
What can this look like?
After attending a concert (of which there were many – dance, drama and music) we would stop and get a special ice-cream on the way home, combining steps 2, 3, & 4. I went to the concert feeling proud of my kids, and to combat the aloneness I would start a conversation with the person next to me usually asking who they were there to see (step 6). We also had our pyjama day tradition where no-one had to do anything – we relaxed at home in our PJ’s watching videos, playing games, reading and ate whatever we could find (steps 2, 4, 5)
Encourage contact with extended family to help create a sense of larger family
Children need to have a sense of belonging and knowing where they fit in their wider family, including your parenting partner’s family. Encourage contact with extended family to help create a sense of larger family.
I hadn’t appreciated this until my children were having some professional counselling and the counsellor mentioned the children ranked wanting to know certain people in both their father’s family and mine as a top-three priority. If they placed such importance on it, how could I ignore it? As my ex lived overseas it was up to me to ensure that the children met and had special time with his family, even though it wasn’t comfortable for me initially. I invited his family to the children’s birthdays and concerts and we celebrated together. Later, I took them to his family funerals which didn’t feel strange, though others outside thought it was. This reinforced to me the importance of not buying into the thoughts and judgements of others, but to define and celebrate our family as we saw it.
Some parenting partners are able to amicably attend their children’s special events together giving their children a bigger cheer squad.
Draw your family
To know how your kids see your family ask them to draw it.
I have precious pictures from my children at different times showing our family. One I proudly brought from an art show fundraiser at school in which my child had drawn the three of us and called the picture ‘my family’ (picture in this post). Later for a German project, learning to use German words for family, my daughter drew herself and her brother in the middle with her dad, his wife and step brother on one side, and me and the dog on the other. It took a while for the German teacher to find the words for step-brother.
To help explain the concept of step and half siblings to children see ‘My Family Bush’ in the resources below (contains Christian content).
Putting legs on it
Ask your children to draw their family. Use this as a discussion starter.
What steps can you incorporate into your life?
Blended Not Shaken Ministries offers children’s resources and workshops to Christian schools, churches, counsellors and chaplains. Karina Hudson desires to minster to step families and single parents by providing support, encouragement and discipleship. She runs monthly single step mum support groups in 5 locations around Adelaide. In her books she, her husband and children openly share their experiences. Her books are available through her Facebook page and she has a website coming soon
- My Family Bush – helps bring meaning to the concepts of ‘step’, ‘half’ and ‘full’ as they apply in blended families. My young adult daughter loved the statement that step-parents ‘step-in’. I like the bit where she points out that Jesus experienced a blended family. He had a step-dad in Joseph and had half brothers and sisters.
- My Two Houses – tells the story of a child from a blended family and how he is helped by prayer, scripture and the knowledge that God is near and can be your friend.
- Caught in the Middle – is the story of a child whose relationship with God through the Bible and prayer, helps with the difficulties faced and feelings experienced as a result of having divorced parents
- Hart, A. (1996) Helping your children survive divorce, Word Publishing, USAp181-182