Lessons from a single mom

All Woman

We cannot always build a future for our youth
But we can build youth for the future
— Franklin D Roosevelt

I was eight months pregnant and finding it harder to sleep between the oversized tummy and indigestion. My mother recommended warm milk with cinnamon and it worked like a charm.

It was in one of those comatose states of sweet warm milk and my comfort pillow that my deceased grandmother came to me in a dream. I was sitting in the middle of the driveway at home in the country and she beckoned for me to sit with her. I sat between her legs with my baby girl and she rocked me and laughed that my baby would be bright and feisty like me. I knew then I was having a girl and I knew then I would be okay. All my anxieties disappeared. My grandmother's ancestral presence in my dream woke me up. Or so I thought.

I was totally unprepared for a child.

I did not expect the excruciating near death labour pains, nor did I expect not to feel immediate love for my baby. I was “winging it” and made some mistakes along the way. One of the biggest mistakes was overindulgence — I was buying up everything, the unnecessary things I saw on TV like walkers, swings, play pens; you name it, she had it. I was spoiling her, but luckily, I recognised it early. (Un)spoiling her took so much more effort and is still a work-in-progress.

This is my manual of light for parents doing it alone and even for those who are doing it with help.

I used to take my daughter to the store and supermarket while I ran my errands, thinking that she would benefit from the exposure/experience and frankly because sometimes I had no babysitter. She would reach for toys, sweets and little things that I did not budget for, but to make my trip hassle-free and pleasant, I would indulge. That was my first mistake — the child would not stop. She couldn't have enough, and when I refused she would throw a tantrum — not a whiney one, but a drop-herself-on-the-floor-and-scream one. At first I blamed the proverbial “terrible twos”, but when she turned four and was still at it I knew I had to take some action. I learnt how to say no with a tone that stopped her screams immediately. I learnt that reinforcing good behaviour was better than focusing on the bad. When she started a tantrum, I simply made sure that she was not hurting herself and left her alone, and after a few minutes of being ignored she simply stopped. I started giving high fives or applauding her when she did something right. Soon, I learnt that reinforcing good behaviour was better than focusing on the bad.

I was raising a child who felt she was entitled to immediately have everything she wanted. I started my own reward programme — she could have something if she worked for it. Working it for it was simple — doing well in school, no tantrums and picking up after herself. It took me quite a while to get accustomed to saying, “You cannot have that now” or “We cannot afford that”, but I mastered it so much, she started asking instead, “Mommy, can we afford that?”

I used that as an opportunity to teach her about wants versus needs. Over time, she learnt to be better and is today a thoughtful teenager who understands the value of patience, hard work and discipline.

As parents, we want our children to be happy and may be tempted to overindulge, but we must resist the urge and consciously raise our children to be adults who are grateful, appreciative and thoughtful. We will not necessarily get it right all the time, but it is never too early to start doing it right for our children's sake.

Coleen Antoinette is a single mother of two and a lover of culture and people. She is a communications specialist and arts educator. You may share your thoughts or own experiences with her at coleenantoinette@gmail.com.

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