Finding enough hours in the day for work, family business, kids, and yourself is among the most serious dilemmas single parents face. Lack of time with children is a significant source of both guilt and stress, a recent survey of single parents
by TRUEs psychologists found.
During the holiday season, advertising and news media hammer home a clichéd and fantasy image of American home life where parents and children leisurely spend time playing board games or gather around the fire laughing and cuddling. The
pressure is on.
Yet, forcing time with your children so that the result is rushed or superficial may not be beneficial. Periods of solitude can be healthy for both you and your children because it affirms your identity and therefore builds psychological stability.
The last five years have seen a resurgence of interest and increased studies on the concept of solitude by personality and social psychologists.
There are good reasons to budget in the daily schedule private time for yourself and for your child, as well as the family as a whole. This approach may well help reduce - not add - stress to the entire family. Moreover, there is a strong scientific case that some forms of solitude promote identity development. In short, fostering the right kind of solitude in yourself, your children, and the family can be a means for becoming more grounded.
Its time to know yourself
A multitude of sources of stress impact single parents. However, stress can be both a positive (eustress) and a negative (distress) factor in our lives. Examples of positive stressors are vacations, weddings, child-births and promotions. Some negative stressors are death of a family member, personal injury, loss of job and divorce. Stress can work to our benefit by motivating us to meet our goals, but it can overwhelm us and eventually bring about emotional and physical harm.
Single-parent families are especially vulnerable to instability, because the life changes that accompany single-parenthood can be detrimental to a parents and childs sense of self. Previous research has suggested that individuals report a variety of life events to be precursors to identity changes. Kristine Anthis, Ph.D., recently published a study in which she examined the relationship between the extent to which people reported stressful life events to occur in their lives and subsequent changes in identity over an interval of approximately five months in a sample of 122 adult women. As expected, she found that stressful life events predicted increases in identity exploration over time, along with decreases in commitment to a particular identity.
You might think that people naturally have random fluctuations about how they feel about who they are over time. Actually, an in-depth study published in the Journal of Research in Personality suggests that our identities are more the products of active development. That is, people feel more grounded about their identities and attach more importance to their identities when they actively work on defining who they are and subsequently back up that definition with actions that affirm the individuals role and purpose. Unfortunately, the whirlwind schedules of single parents and their children seem to send conflicting messages about who the parent is:
9 a.m. to 5 p.m.: Im an employee
5:15 p.m.: Im a parent
8 p.m.: Im in the role of an ex-spouse as I deal with family business related to my ex
9 p.m.: Im a dutiful son or daughter as I talk to my own parents
10 p.m.: Im an exhausted single trying to organize tomorrows schedule
and maybe at some point on the weekend, I am a single whos on the lookout for that one, special person.
This is where solitude can help instill psychological stability. Instead of trying to be "all things to all people," research clearly shows that individuals should balance their interpersonal lives with time spent alone. Society might tell you that spending time alone is a sign of loneliness, or that it stems from a weak desire to socialize, but this view is inaccurate. Studies show that the frequency and enjoyment of solitary activities are more strongly related to a high desire for solitude than to a lack of desire to spend time with other people.
There is a difference between being alone and being by yourself.
Solitude is one of six types of privacy identified by psychologists: the others are isolation, anonymity, reserve, intimacy with friends and intimacy with family. Solitude, at least, encompasses two main functions: Inner-directed solitude (characterized by self-discovery and innerpeace) and outer-directed solitude (characterized by intimacy and spirituality). These psychological jargons basically mean that solitude promotes contemplation, autonomy, rejuvenation, creativity, recovery, and catharsis. In essence, solitude acts as a psychological and physiological reset button.
Teaching children to benefit from alone time
According to several studies, the benefits of solitude also extend to children. Recent research suggests that the capacity to play alone is an important development step. To be sure, solo play should be viewed as a capacity in its own right, not in contrast to social play. The ability to recognize the concept of beneficial aloneness, that is, solitude, seems to be extremely limited among those around the age of second-graders, but increases dramatically up to the beginning of adolescence. Single parents (in fact, all parents) should encourage periods of healthy solitude for their children, since it can promote identity exploration and development as well as a sense of accomplishment and autonomy.
Periods of healthy solitude are not equivalent to leaving your child alone with videogames or a TV. Alone time should help teach children to explore and express their inner world. In other words, solitude is healthy for a child when the time alone is perceived to be voluntary and when it encourages those outcomes of contemplation, autonomy, rejuvenation, creativity, recovery, and catharsis. Adults can model this in their own daily schedules. "Im taking some time alone to read this book, cook dinner, or take a bath" are solitary activities for an adult that might coincide with "Why not take some alone time to draw and color some pictures, finish your homework, or build something special with your Legos" to a child.
Solitude benefits individuals, but it is also crucial that parents and children have time alone as a family unit.
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