Your toddler’s family is a big part of how they develop. Families come in all shapes and sizes – always have, always will. Recent research shows that it is not a set family structure that matters the most, it’s responsible, committed and stable parenting by people who care about the child which helps children get the best start in life.

One on one

It can be tiring when there's no one else to share the responsibility, especially when there's a big decision involved. If you're a single parent, it's important to make time for yourself. Make sure that you get as much emotional support as you can and the full practical, financial support that you may be entitled to.

For practical advice on financial and family support matters, visit One Parent Families Scotland. Alternatively, you can contact the Lone Parent Helpline on 0808 801 0323.

Smart tips for lone parents

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it.
  • Try to get out of the house regularly.
  • Get your child used to being looked after by other people so they don’t become overly dependent on you alone.
  • If you’re near to the end of your tether, put your child somewhere safe and take a short breather. The Steps for Stress website provides practical ways to support you to take small steps to deal with stress.

"Meet other grown-ups, maybe people with children so they can play while you natter. Use mother and toddler clubs, the library and anything else that gets you out of the house for a short time." Christine Puckering, Department of Adolescent Psychiatry, Glasgow University.

Give and take

For all the bright moments they bring, children can put a strain on your relationship with your partner. Arguments, especially over big decisions, are a natural occurrence, and nothing to be too worried about.

But if you and your partner are constantly at loggerheads, you might consider counseling from an organisation like Scottish Marriage Care. Don’t be fooled by the name: you don’t need to be married to receive counseling.

Smart tips for couples

  • A stitch in time: Discuss important issues at the right time – when you’re not tired, hungry or in a rush. It might be best to talk while your toddler's entertained by a game or DVD...
  • Another place: Better yet, let Grandparents look after your tot for a little while and get out of the house. A talk in a different space might be helpful.
  • Don't talk in circles: Try to cover off the issues that you want to discuss in an hour. Then take some time to consider what has been said and how you want to respond.
  • Take turns to talk: Say how you feel about what is going on, but then give your partner a chance to voice his or her opinion.
  • Listen up: It's important to listen to what your partner is saying during serious discussions – but listen at other times as well. For instance, when your partner says: 'I'm tired' is she or he really saying 'I'm tired – I need a hand'?
  • Take care of each other: Even stopping to say ‘Hello, how are you?’ in a busy house can help to show you care. It sets a good example for your tot as well.

Parting ways

No matter what age kids are if you divorce or separate, the change will have an impact. But your tot will cope if you handle the break up sensitively and don’t include him or her in adult battles.

It’s vital to talk to kids about the separation in words they will easily understand and give them the time to deal with their upset. They need to know that both of you still love them and will continue to be involved in their lives.

Smart tips for separating parents

  • Before you part, make plans for sharing parenting in the future. It’s important the parent who is leaving has a defined role.
  • If you and your partner can’t talk to each other, it’s a good idea to get outside help with solving practical problems.
  • Keep in touch with both sets of grandparents.
  • Make sure that you inform your tot’s nursery and other groups.
  • Try to keep your kid’s daily life as familiar and stable as possible. Stick to routines and have a consistent and clear approach to discipline and treats.
  • Be prepared for your tot to revert to more babyish behaviour for a time.

A step in time

Being a step-parent can be a bit of a balancing act, and any two homes will have different expectations and rules. Building relationships takes time: if you’re a step-parent, find things you can do with the child so you can get to know each other.

Parents should spend time alone with their tot and talk about what’s going on and how they feel about it.

If you want to talk to someone about your role as a step-parent, call the Stepfamily Scotland Helpline on 0845 122 8655. The helpline is open Monday - Thursday 12pm- 4pm

“If you’re a step-mum, try to be a friend, not their mum.” Nicola, mum and step-mum.

Last updated: 6 March 2013
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