Single parents face discipline hurdles - Catholic Courier

Single parents face discipline hurdles

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the final story in a series about single-parenting issues.

When Brian Fry passed away last summer after a car accident, his wife, Linda, was suddenly faced with the responsibility of raising their two sons, James and Mark, by herself.

“You never think that you could be a single parent, because it takes two, but you find all sorts of strength from the Lord,” Fry said.

Fry has needed this heaven-sent strength to deal with her newfound role as a single parent and the accompanying challenges. Successfully disciplining children can be one of the biggest challenges single parents face, according to several local parents and professionals who work with them.

Michelle Morris coordinates Catholic Charities of Livingston County’s Community of Caring, and through this program she helps single mothers develop their parenting skills.

“The single largest difficulty the women I work with seek help with is discipline,” Morris said. “Sometimes all that is lacking is a structured home environment. Having a structured home environment means having a routine that is as consistent as possible.”

If parents establish consistent routines and rules, their children will know what to expect, how they should behave and what the consequences for misbehavior are. If parents fail to stick to the established routines and rules, the children will test their limits every chance they get, Morris said.

Tracy Barrett, a caseworker with Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes’ Maternity and Single Parent Program, said many single parents feel guilty about the absence of the second parent and are reluctant to discipline their children.

“I have also noticed that if they are consistent and don’t back down, then discipline is not as hard,” she said.

Consistency has been important to her family, Fry said. Shortly after her husband died, one of Fry’s children misbehaved in a way that was out of character for him. Fry knew her family’s new situation was responsible for her son’s misbehavior, but she addressed it anyway.

“You can’t just let it go, because they had to know we’re still here, everything is going to be OK and we’re still going to live by the same rules,” Fry said.

Consistency can be especially difficult to achieve if the children spend time in two different houses with two different sets of rules, Morris said. Rosanne Warner, judicial assistant and case monitor for the diocesan Tribunal, has been a single mother of three for the past three years. She likened a child’s visit to a separated parent’s house to a child’s visit to a grandparent’s house.

“While the children know they may be able to get away with a little more at Grandma’s, they in turn know that it may not be acceptable at Mommy’s or Daddy’s. Children can usually adapt well to different rules for different places,” Warner said.

Communication has been just as important for her family as consistency, said Jeanette Housecamp, faith-formation coordinator at St. Michael’s Parish in Newark. Housecamp, a single mother of two teenage daughters, said she tells her children up front what she expects from them. As a result, her children usually know how to behave and try to meet her expectations, she said.

Being a single parent can at times even be easier, since there may only be one parent and one set of expectations in the mix, said Tammy Rector, who works for Catholic Charities of Steuben County through AmeriCorps. On the other hand, being the only parent can be exhausting, said Marci Paine, who works for Catholic Charities Community Services in Rochester.

“I eat, sleep and breathe my child,” Paine said.

Not only is being the sole parent exhausting, it can also make it difficult to form a balanced relationship with your child, said Marc Bigsby, whose wife, Cindi, passed away nine years ago. In two-parent families, one parent sometimes takes on the role of comforter while the other parent may be the one more likely to discipline the child.

“I need to be the disciplinarian and the comforter at the same time. It’s hard to find a balance to strike at sometimes,” Bigsby said.

There are times when Bigsby feels like all he’s doing is correcting his 12-year-old son, Elijah. At these times Bigsby, who knows he tends to be on the strict side, tries to back off a little bit and “just let Elijah be a kid.”

In that vein, Fry said it’s important for parents to “pick their battles” carefully when disciplining their children.

“You’re one person, and if it’s not going to hurt somebody and they can work through it themselves, let them do it, because (otherwise) you’ll go crazy,” she said. “Just believe in the Lord, and the Lord will show you the way.”

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