The issue of single parenting is pre-destined by fate and one that an individual may not necessarily have complete control over. There are typically three scenarios which form the basis of single-parent families - the death of a spouse, divorce, and when both parents are present in a household but one parent is not physically or emotionally capable of parenting. Regardless of which category the single parent falls under, the challenges tied to single-parent families are unique, and hence deserve attention.
Under normal circumstances, a healthy family thrives on adequate social, emotional, financial, and physical support from each parent. And these responsibilities are typically shared by a father and mother. In case of the absence of either of them, the harmonious make-up of the family is interrupted and poses a multitude of challenges for the parent in charge.
When children are younger the challenges borne by the single-parent are contrastingly different to the ones they encounter if the children have matured and entered adulthood. There are some common issues tied to the upbringing of adult children by a single parent.
Tarbiyah or Islamic Upbringing
As children cross the age of 18 and enter adulthood, they develop a greater sense of independence owing to their self-perceived notion of maturity. As a result, they are considerably difficult to mould, if they lead astray. One can also not ignore the environment that these children have grown up in. That is, if they have witnessed domestic violence or emotional abuse between the parents, then there is a high probability that these individuals will also act out in a similar fashion as spouses and parents themselves.
Monitoring of children in such cases becomes extremely stressful for the parent, particularly single mothers for the fear of distancing the children, otherwise. Especially, when they enter into their own married lives or move out.
Although this may not apply as such to parents with children who have entered into their professional lives, it remains one of the most significant challenges for single parents who are not entirely supported by their children or whose financial standing is not as stable owing to a lack of savings for a secure future. Generally speaking, it is single mothers who are most likely to face financial constraints because they are either unemployed or have limited financial resources to manage their lives comfortably and support their own children if they are still continuing education.
For the single parent, it becomes extremely overwhelming to just think about all of the financial challenges that they will have to bear, such as tuition fees to support children through college and university, housing expenses, and foreseeable marriage expenses. And, these are just some of the major ones.
Single parents are prone to experience higher levels of mental health problems. These are triggered by the day-to-day stress of balancing work and family life, and other responsibilities such as the rightful upbringing of the children in a conducive environment. Having a limited amount of social support can also increase stress levels for the single parent.
Unless the single parent is able to exclusively devote time toward self-care, the day-to-day grind can make it extremely tiring for the single parent and trigger health-related issues. These can include, hypertension, anxiety-related disorders, hormonal imbalances, heart diseases, high blood sugar, tension headaches/migraines, sleep dysfunction, depression, or even Alzheimer's. Moreover, fatigue associated with working and raising children independently contributes to parenting stress.
There is undue societal pressure on single parents. They may find themselves the brunt of criticism, blame, or disdain. This can hinder the individual's confidence in terms of parenting their children or for gathering motivation and courage to create a positive outlook on life.
Additionally, since single parents are more likely to be occupied with personal commitments, they are less likely to socialize, which can intensify their feelings of isolation and impact their emotional well-being.
Significant Events and Decisions
In comparison to having younger children, supporting older ones as a single parent means preparing one’s self for the added challenges such as when your children will need guidance and support with pursuing further education or making career choices, which could mean they also move further away from the family home.
Matters concerning their marriage will also need attention. Such as finding a suitable spouse for them, approving of someone whom they intend to marry, and helping decide how best to make arrangements for them to begin a family life of their own.
Confronting the Challenges
Here are nine strategies that can assist a single parent who has adult children.
1. Accept the new reality.
The sooner one accepts their situation/circumstances, the quicker they are able to bring themselves out of a vicious thought process of self-pity. Hence, the first thing that requires attention is accepting that you are a single parent and solely responsible for leading your family and guiding your children. This will help you remain focused on what needs to be done, instead of sinking deeper into despair.
For this, you will need to take care of your children's mental, emotional, and physical well-being. In order to do so, however, you must first be in good health and well-being yourself. As when you take off on a flight, the pilot heeds you to put on your oxygen mask first before you can help others, that is essentially what you need to do.
2. Work on your relationship with Allah.
Tawakkal means confiding in Allah for all matters can bring inner peace and strength. Whether it is in relation to your own physical or emotional needs or that of your children, remember to call upon Him, for He is sure to answer your prayers. Dua is a miraculous way of seeking Allah's infinite mercy, blessings and guidance.
Engaging constantly in dhikr or the remembrance of Allah and doing Tazkiyat al-Nafs or purification of the self, can also help your mind steer clear of being misguided and falling into a state of depression.
Moreover, when it comes to dealing with challenges (big or small) and making important life decisions, make sure to make Istikhara or ask Allah for help in making a choice, which is also a trusted Sunnah way of seeking help from Allah.
3. Embrace perseverance.
We all experience pitfalls, bumps and bruises along the journey of life. Being brave does not mean that we do not feel grief at any point in our lives. In fact, there are weak moments when we fall prey to negative thoughts and maybe even regrets. This could occasionally be due to the increased burden of single parenting and having to juggle across several domains.
In order to overcome these weak moments, parents must seek to educate themselves from the teachings of the Quran and Sunnah. This will help instill positive thinking, revive self-confidence and nurture the ability to become more resilient.
As the Quran mentions in Surah Baqarah,
“Surely We will test you with a bit of fear and hunger, and loss in wealth and lives and fruits, and give good tidings to the patient.”
(Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:155)
4. Establish a support system.
As important as it is to learn to say no, it is equally important to try and identify those who really care for you, so you may ask for help when you need it. These will be the people who you really confide in and can lean on for any kind of support.
It may also be helpful to try and identify someone who can play a positive role in influencing your kids too, when need be. However, we must remember that having an influence on the children here should not be for personal gains, but rather for any kind of assistance that might be required if the children are getting involved in unusual activities and not respecting the parent in charge.
5. Be a good role model.
Children young or old, can sense the aura around you. Part of being a good role model also means not shying away from expressing what you’re feeling and being honest with your children and others. Teach them that feeling vulnerable is not a weakness and leaning on those whom you trust for support is also not something to be ashamed of or feel embarrassed about. This can help pave the way for open communication within the family and they too will learn where and how to seek help when in need. If children are left to be on their own and fight through these challenging times themselves, they may become more distant, and resentful toward family. and ultimately adopt a stubborn approach toward life.
Again, looking to the Quran and Sunnah for guidance and support can be helpful in terms of developing positive attitudes. As mentioned in the Quran,
“Verily, with hardship comes ease.”
(Surah Ash-Sharh, 94:5)
6. Rebuild trust.
Trust issues become a major concern for every individual in the family, especially in the advent of divorce. Hence, it is imperative to mend your relationship with your children by reassuring them that they were never the cause of the outbreak.
Parents who are emotionally connected with their children, find it easier to identify signs and symptoms which may seem off. Identifying what kind of activities they are engaging in is important, too. To help them regain their trust in you and vice versa, you might have to let them have their way sometimes (of course make sure you are kept in the loop). If you impose too many conditions, you will distance them. Be their friend, and take care of their likes and dislikes, especially during sensitive periods. This could be simple things like their favorite meal or a treat or letting them hang out with their friends.
7. Make time for one another.
Family values and healthy boundaries go hand in hand. As a single parent, you have to reinforce the idea that spending quality time as a family is absolutely vital and so is being aware of the challenges that each member of the family is facing. For instance, if a child is unable to cope with work pressure or get along with peers at university, they should take someone within the family (ideally the parent) into confidence and share their worries.
Spending a certain hour in the day, as a family can prove to be meaningful. With older children, chances are that they may have less time due to work or other engagements or if they are not living with the parent. In such cases, family meetings can be arranged virtually. Sharing meals together is also an important bonding activity. The idea should be to develop mutual love and respect.
8. Reach out for help when you need it.
Do your research and join a support group. This can help you in terms of letting out negative thoughts and concerns, without having to fear being judged. Engaging a family counselor can also prove to be beneficial, although when dealing with adult kids, you might have to see whether they are comfortable with the idea or if they would prefer consulting someone one-on-one. Some older kids may tend to not be as expressive and hide away their emotions.
It is also important to remember not to isolate yourself or be ashamed of these changes. Make an effort to attend local gatherings and encourage the same for your children. There are also plenty of resources available online, in the form of audio lectures and online academies which run short courses for mental health transformation.
9. Find a Hobby.
Engaging in healthy activities like regular exercise, or pursuing a hobby such as reading, journaling, painting, or gardening are great ways to keep your stress level balanced and find inner peace.
Every parent, be it the mother or father, wants to see their children well settled; financially and emotionally. And although typically, children belonging to single-parent families tend to develop resilience out of necessity and find the motivation to succeed in life, single parents continue to strongly feel the need to raise them in a conducive environment and stress over it. Above all, they want them not to repeat the same mistakes that their parents made, but rather use them as valuable lessons learned from life.
And, this is essentially why there needs to be a greater emphasis on their Tarbiyah or upbringing through positive role modeling from the single-parent, as that will help nurture the future generations too.
Umm Ahmed is an early childhood educator and mother of three boys. Always on the quest to learn, she is passionate about seeking knowledge and passing it on to others. A writer in the making, she draws inspiration through deep conversations, laws of nature, and her own children. She and her family are currently living in Abu Dhabi, UAE.