Whether parents are living in one household, or two separate households, they need to work together as much as possible to provide their children with consistency and stability, especially during their formative years. Looking at parenting in 3 different stages may make the road ahead less daunting, so I encourage my clients to consider adopting the following attitude:
1) Ages 0-7 will be very tough– these children are incredibly needy. The rely on their parents for almost everything– they need help eating, going to the bathroom, bathing, getting dressed, etc. It takes twice as long to do anything, and the stress can be overwhelming at times, depending on the personalities involved. For those of us that are very schedule-oriented to be paired with a child that has no concept of time, learning patience will be a key survival skill. These years are also very expensvie for a family, as you deal with diapers, formula, baby food and child care expenses. Pre-schools in the DC Area can run $20,000-$30,000 for one child alone.
2) Ages 7-14, often referred to as the “Golden Years” hopefully will offer a lot of parents a much needed reprieve, both financially and in terms of workload. During these years, children are much more self sufficient, but usually not yet questioning authority. Their personalities shine and the conversations become so much more interesting. For those parents that opt for public school, this phase should offer a nice break from expensive preschools and nannies, so hopefully parents can set aside that same amount of money for college.
3) Ages 14-21, probably the most complicated phase in parenting– children in high school and college are so eager to assert their independance, and yet they are completely economically dependant on their parents. These are incredibly expense years, and can be emotionally tense as well. Peer relations take on a far more important role than ever before, and many will start to experiment with sexual activity, drugs and/or alcohol. Being overly protective will drive kids away, but you also don’t want to completely neglect them during this critical phase of their lives. It is not an easy time for parents, but if you can maintain a good bond during this last phase, I believe a parent’s a hard work will be rewarded.
It is infinitely easier to get through these stages if you have a partner to tag-team with you along this challenging journey. For single parents, the best advice I can offer is to not try to do it all yourself. I used to pride myself on operating like a self-sufficient island, but as a single mother for over six years I have learned that I cannot do it all myself, and it is okay to be human and ask for help from family and friends. In fact, I actually think it is a great lesson to teach our kids at an early age– we are not meant to be alone in life, we are social beings after all. We all have different strengths, and working together we can accomplish so much more, and live happier, less stressful lives.
Being a parent is definitely the most challenging job I have ever had, but it also the most rewarding experience. Children can teach us so much about life– they challenge us to think about what really matters, what lessons we want to impart, which goals are worth pursuing, and which parts our lives we wish to change. In sharing stories of our past, we can learn much about ourselves and decide what we would like to do differently for our own children. In the end, as my favorite saying suggests, “good parents give their children roots and wings: Roots to know where home is, and wings to fly off and practice what has been taught to them.”