Tips for single parents on raising their kids alone, from potty training to dating

Single mom Ashley MacInnis, 28, with her five-year-old son, Finley. (Contributed)

As the saying goes, kids don’t come with an instruction manual. 

 That rings especially true for single parents, as most of the advice literature and depictions of parenting in mainstream culture is aimed at the nuclear family, consisting of a wife, a husband, their two kids and a dog. 

But, as we know in 2015, when it comes to families the new norm is fast becoming there is no norm. Close to a whopping one in five children under the age of 14 are raised in lone-parent households, according to the latest Statistics Canada data. 

So, in lieu of a magical instruction manual, Yahoo Canada got some realistic advice from those in the know about how single parents can guide their children through important life stages. 

Potty training 

“I figure if I can teach him to pee standing up, then I’ll be OK when it comes to other stuff later,” says Ashley MacInnis, laughing while on the phone from her home in Halifax. The 28-year-old mother of Finley, 5, is game for all the challenges of raising a boy alone, including teaching him how to go bathroom. But, the part-time mommy blogger and full-time communications specialist makes sure to have “many wonderful male friends,” as well as Finley’s dad, around for advice, as well. 

First day of school 

A one-parent household often means a one-income household, too, which can be a significant challenge for many lone parents, said Anne-Marie Ambert, a retired sociology professor at York University, by phone from Toronto. During expensive times of the year, like the start of school in the fall, or the upcoming holiday season, single parents need to plan way ahead. In MacInnis’ case, in order to ensure Finley would head off to his first day of school with the same supplies as all the other kids in his class she started picking up school supplies last fall after they went on clearance. 

First shaves 

When you first hold your little smooth-skinned baby in your arms for the first time it’s hard to believe they will ever want or need to shave, but they will. If you’re a single mother of a young son, like MacInnis, when the day comes to teach Finley how to shave she can ask someone who has experience shaving their face to come over for a tutorial, or if all comes to all there’s always YouTube tutorials. Likewise, for single dads dealing with girls who want to start shaving their legs, they can ask female friends to assist. As Ambert notes: “It takes a village.” 

First dates 

While parents may like to think their children will remain virginal angels forever, that’s just not the case. Lone parents should model the behaviour they expect from their teen children, said the retired sociology prof. That means single mothers and fathers should “keep their sexual lives separate” and only introduce their children to a serious, long-term partner, said Ambert. “If you are bringing home different people all the time, what are you going to tell them?” she asks. “They’ll say: ‘Mom, you do it, so why can’t I?” 

Striking out on their own 

When children finally fly the nest (hopefully well before their 30th birthday), single parents can feel proud of the job they’ve done and how they’ve prepared them for the world. “Many people think the children of single parents are doomed and that’s just not the case,” said Bella DePaulo, the author several books, including How We Live Now: Redifining Home and Family in the 21st Century, in a phone interview. In fact, studies show when children have educated, employed and engaged single parents, like MacInnis, in their lives they do just as well as their peers later in life, said the author and psychology professor.