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Single Mom Raising Boys: Finding Male Role Models

Single Mom Raising Boys: Finding Male Role Models

Most days, if the phrase, “moms raising boys” hits the news there either is a school shooting, reviews of gang violence or other youth violence. Troubled boys without a father-figure in their lives is often a primary topic of concern. Some call it an epidemic resulting from boys not having a dad or positive male role model in the picture. As a single mom of a son, my concerns are the same as any parent.

How do I raise a good child who becomes a healthy man capable of contributing to this world, being compassionate and at the same time strong in his own character with good manners and independence?

No matter whether you have a boy or girl and are a single mom or single dad, single-parent homes pose challenges.

The Role of Dads in Boys Upbringing

man and boy

Fathers play an important role in the development of both boys and girls. When it comes to sons, fathers don’t just teach them about using tools, shaving or asking that first girl out on a date. Fathers set the tone for how men interact with other men, how they treat women and deal with adversity. The monkey see monkey do theory applies very strongly.

Most of what a boy learns from his father is unsaid. He observes traits, actions and thought patterns that either leads him to want to be just like his dad or nothing like his father. In recent decades, parental roles have shifted. Where female roles were primarily nurturing caregivers and male duties were providers and disciplinarians, parents today often seem to blend tasks and parental duties. Yet, boys still get something from fathers that they don’t get from the women in their live.

When Dad Isn’t Around or Isn’t a Positive Role Model

Just because we are moms and dads doesn’t make us great or even good parents. Raising children is hard. Having the strength and wisdom to be better every day, spending time with our children requires constant self-reflection. As it was once expressed to me, “the fact that someone cares enough to question whether they are doing right or wrong for their child elevates them as a parent.”

This happened to resonate with me (and make me feel better for all the mistakes I feel I constantly make as a single parent and as a mom in general). There was a point after my divorce that my son refused to go to his dad’s. School and police didn’t force the issue feeling my son had a compelling enough story he could articulate that was his reason for not going. I suggested to his father to go to family therapy to fix the rift between them.

Then it all started; weekly therapy sessions with my son and my ex-husband.

I have been accused by my ex over the years of trying to poison my son’s mind about his father. My relationship with my son is strong and it is none existent with his dad. My ex’s argument is out son has a mother and a father and that’s simply the way it is. He (my ex-husband) for years was intent on defending his rights but never once stopped to reflect on his actions.

One lesson I happen to recall from physics is that for every action there is a reaction.

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Not Every Dad Should Be the Primary Male Role Model

There! I said it. Just being a dad doesn’t make you a great role model. I don’t deny biological fathers’ rights. Nor do I think this is exclusively a dad issues. There are lots of moms not well-suited to rear and raise children.

Anyone who knows me knows the value I place on family. At the same time, we need to recognize the people in our lives who might be toxic to our mental health. When it comes to my son and his father, I’ll always recognize my ex as my son’s father. At the same time, I don’t think every father (or parent) is good for their children.

Being Able to Teach Ourselves As We Go

Don’t read into that statement the bling I feel parents need to be perfect. I am far from perfect. With that said, I spend a lot of time reflecting on my actions, apologizing if I jumped the gun on something and consulting other parents and experts when I am uncertain about something. Refusing to recognize your impact to your child’s long-term mental health is a big problem.

That doesn’t mean being a single mom is the best answer but for me was a better one. The question becomes: how to give my son the male role models he craves in a healthy way?

Moms can’t be that masculine figure. Heck, I’m as tom-boy as they get but realize I cannot cultivate the masculine essence of a young man by myself. Single moms face serious challenges in this area. Male role models and mentors fill the gaps of what a home without a dad.

New Men in Mom’s Life

single mom raising boys beginning dating

When single moms start dating, the male role model isn’t an automatic given. Boys if single moms become fiercely protective of their moms. They can resent a new man even if he is a great person. While they want Mom to be happy, they seem to always proceed with caution.

When my son was in elementary school. We started spending a lot of time at the municipal airport. He loved being in the hangar with the guys and was welcomed into the club. They robbed him, taught him about rebuilding and maintaining old warbirds. He talked story with WWII vets and occasionally had the chance to take a backseat.

He loved all the guys there and I moved that he had great role models. When one of the guys asked us out for Sunday brunch, my son was pretty savvy to what was going on. Even though he knew and really liked the guy, he became a human barrier between me and the proposed suitor. Did I say he knew and liked the guy? He just didn’t want anyone putting their mitts on his mom.

The Revolving Door

The other issue that arises when mom gets a new man in her life is the potential for that to be a revolving door. Let’s face it, we don’t always make the best decisions in love – there’s a reason we aren’t with our son’s father. Constantly exposing your son to the new guy leads to a host of issues. The instability often results in behavioral issues, emotional well-being and anxiety issues, as well as negatively effects cognitive achievement and function.

It’s better for a single mom to date discreetly until she is confident she has found someone worth pursuing with a long-term relationship. This can be hard when a single mom wants to balance everything with limited time and perhaps limited resources for child care.

Finding Male Role Models for Kids of Single Moms

A big question for society becomes where do boys of single moms get the proper guidance and comradery with adult male role models? I don’t know a single mom of a boy who doesn’t actively think about and seek out ways to get positive male influencers in his life. Finding male role models for kids of single moms often starts within your own network.

Family and Friends

Many single women can find great role models for their sons close to home. If your son is able to spend time with Grandpa or an uncle or adult cousin, these are often great ways to not just have your son spend time with someone as he develops his manhood, it also keeps the concept of family unity in place.

This isn’t always possible. In my case, my closest family was 2,300 miles away across the Pacific Ocean. Moving wasn’t an option at the time. I always felt great when spending time at a friends house with the kids and her husband would take my son to show him projects in the garage or offer to help with a school project. Not only did my son get to spend time with a great man, he also got to see how great dads interact with their children that is critical.

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Church and Youth Groups

Churches and youth groups including The Big Brother programs are great ways to not just meet more people and expand your single parenting network, the help kids find mentors and positive role models. Talk to the pastor or youth coordinator about finding a program your child will enjoy and be exposed to great male leaders.

Sports and Recreation Activities

Sports and recreation activities are probably the primary way single moms help their boys find positive role models. Coaches often push kids, help them establish discipline and keep them in check with manners. Coaches positively change the lives of kids every single day and it’s a great way to get some time to get dinner ready uninterrupted.

My son wasn’t really into sports. His aviation interest was his recreation and we were lucky to find a group that adopted us as their own. I had no aviation experience. People would ask why I spent entire weekends getting greasy and doing grunt work in a small hangar. It was to help earn my keep, really my son’s place in the crowd. Sure, he did his part and that was the deal. His interest was aviation and I was going to foster it any way I could.

The Lesson I Learned Because I Didn’t Over-Mother

He was 8-years-old when he started helping around the hangar. I’d actually dismiss myself when possible to not be the “mom” hanging around. I’d stay close in case there was a problem. After about an hour, my son came in totally ecstatic, “Mom, Stu gave me a job and I did the whole thing.” The job was to use a razor blade to scrape off old labels on a parts drawer and my son’s hands had more than one oops cut, though nothing major.

With a deep breath, I smiled, checked his hands and said, “Wow, what’s the next job?” I knew I would have never let my son fiddle with a razor at age 8. But, I also knew Stu had an eye on him. My son was as proud of himself as I had ever seen. It was a gut check for me. Men challenge young men to do masculine things, to step into manhood. I would have mothered him and found a safer task.

All I can recommend to other single moms is spend time with your sons and daughters. Learn what makes them tick and be open to knowing you can’t be everything for them. Find them mentors in things they love and they will find their role models naturally.

It’s still scary. I have a teenage son and am watching him get ready to leave the nest. But no one needs to feel like they are part of the epidemic. Our boys can thrive. We will make certain of that.

Being a single mom does mean you are parenting solo, but it doesn’t mean you need to be alone. Join the Tribe for support, resources and fun.

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Disciplining Your Child: Co-Parenting Rules

“I can’t make you do anything.”

I can still remember the first day I said it to my son. He got in trouble for not being nice to his friend who was over. When the playdate was over, he was sent to his room to sit on his bed without toys. It wasn’t the harshest punishment in the world but enough for a four-year-old to throw a fit over.

“When you do something, there is a consequence. That means something else happens. It can be good or bad.”

In my head, thoughts of physics laws tossed around along with the very real fact that I was in the midst of a custody battle with a full-blown custody evaluation. You know, the type of investigation into your parenting style that makes you wonder if giving your child a Happy Meal is grounds for losing custody.

I was a bit stressed to say the least. In my head, conflict thoughts bounced around like a ping pong ball smacked by an Olympic ponger. Pap pap pap pap pap.

Disciplining Your Child and Conflicts in Co-Parenting

There are so many schools of thought on disciplining your child, disciplining a toddler to be exact. They are a tough crowd to say the least. From gentle parenting to corporal punishment, the parenting styles vary. It’s hard enough to stay the course in discipline.

The one time my son got a “hand spanking” from me left him crying and me sobbing in my bedroom. I’m not a spanker. It truly did hurt me more than it hurt him. A kids time out would be much easier on me.

It’s harder when parents don’t agree. Co-parenting rules vary from case to case and those who co-parent with a narcissist can have bigger conflicts that result. The courts will ask you to agree to basic things but the reality is you can’t control how the other parent disciplines your child when they aren’t with you.

With all going on, I questioned my own actions.Disciplining your child

Styles of Disciplining Your Child

Parenting experts say to pick your battles and do what you can to prevent situations where you child will be tempted to misbehave. At the end of the day, parenting experts agree that disciplining your child, regardless of the style you choose to discipline your child, gets the best results with clear and simple communication.

Child discipline methods must have a foundation that includes:

  1. Set rules and be willing to follow through with them.
  2. Keep rules simple.
  3. Define consequences clearly
  4. Be consistent and don’t back down.

It can be hard to discipline your child in front of his friends at the part with all the other mother’s watching, often judging your parenting skills.

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Not Disciplining Your Child: Raising Kids as Co-Parents

My direction in raising my son and disciplining him was founded in not creating more conflict. There was plenty of conflict running around the family as it was. You see, my son had a choice to not be nice to his friend. I had a choice to punish him. He had every opportunity to ignore my punishment which could lead to another punishment.

Essentially the kid learned very early from me that he had choices to do the right thing and learn what the consequences of his actions would be. Someone once told me that the best way to instill respect when raising kids is to instill the fear of God in them. That’s the idea behind, “Wait ‘til your father gets home and grabs his belt,” right?

As I explained to my son that I can set rules and he will have to live with the result of his choices, I could hear the disagreements from his father. I was being easy on the kid and encouraging bad behavior. I had no rules.

Not Disciplining Your Child or Offering Choices

To be clear, there were consequences in my house. And things would escalate if punishments weren’t “adhered” to. What the heck does that mean? I have a certain level of control when my son is small. I can literally pick him up and place him in his room and then tell him to stay there. Kids’ time outs are nice but there needs to be some agreement for it to work. Star wars figures parent throwing child

I can’t make him. I can go back and re-do the pick-up, place and tell but I can’t make him. But instead of forcing the issue, my choice was to not force discipline on my son. It was to find his motivating factors. If he didn’t adhere to the punishment, a bigger one would happen, one that I could control like not taking him to his friend’s birthday party or a movie he wanted to see.

See, I knew that at some point the kid would be too big to man-handle. At some point you just can’t pick them up and put them where you want them. Ideally, in raising kids, the child gets to the point of wanting to do the right thing. They understand the value of being nice, kind and good. They also see the motivation for both good and bad behavior.

Co-Parenting Rules About Discipline

After a long court battle over the course of three years, the co-parenting agreement was something like 50 pages. Boiling down the punishment aspect, there is really just one line, “no corporal punishment.”

That leaves a lot of interpretation to what can and can’t be done. Over the years, I stuck with my choices method of discipline. Dad’s house was a bit harsher. Punishments were excessive from the moment a bad behavior was done. Say a mean thing and lose your toy forever type of stuff. It was dad’s choice and nothing I could do about it even though I didn’t agree.

The thing with co-parenting is you find liberation – freedom – when you accept that you don’t have control. That being said, my son absorbed what mom was doing and what dad was doing. It got to the point that at my house he would self-punish.

He knew the rules and if he broke it, I’d ask what the consequence was or should be (if it was a new type of incident). I can’t count the times my son walked up to me and handed me his most prized possessions to relinquish them forever.disciplining your child hourglass

My advice to those in the midst of creating those co-parenting rules:

  • Understand your parenting style and your ex’s
  • Think about it from your child’s perspective
  • Be specific on the most important aspects
  • Keep the rest general – it might get ignored anyway
  • Be very aware of the differences
  • Accept you can’t control what happens at the other house
  • Don’t judge what happens at the other house, stick to your style.

You’ll find that you can put just about anything you want into a court order. You’ll also find that enforcing parenting styles is nearly impossible. The courts just don’t have time for the bickering (and that is how they see it).

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Taking Ownership and Learning About Consequences

While it made me proud to think that my son learned to take responsibility for his actions, it broke my heart to think that he held every little rule to such a high standard that breaking one meant the harshest standards.

This is the danger in co-parenting, the toxic nature of kids starting to absorb all bad things and their responsibility. It shouldn’t be that way. I’d let him set the punishment theme but usually would adjust the time. Sometimes you just need to keep talking through things.

I feel lucky because my son is an extremely respectful young man. I get complimented on his behavior at other’s homes often. It makes me feel good that he chooses to make the right decisions and treat others with respect.Teen boy

I don’t know that my parenting style and discipline choices are the perfect way to raise a child. When I look back, I certainly see how he is a product of both households. His relationship with me is strong and he hasn’t fallen into the teenager mode with disobedience (at least not yet). We have mutual respect. His relationship with his father isn’t the same; it’s actually the opposite.

Parenting is hard. It really does take a tribe and we really are always experimenting with ways to be better parents. Being a single mom does mean you are parenting solo, but it doesn’t mean you need to be alone. Join the Tribe for support, resources and fun.