Beyond the Textbook
Almost one-third of U.S. children are being raised in a single-parent household; over half of African-American children are products of unmarried families; and due to heavy drug activity in many Chicago communities, grandparents, aunts, and neighbors show up at school on report card pick-up instead of children’s biological parents.

Growing up, kids go through so many physical and emotional changes that can make life difficult to bear, but it can be even harder for children to enjoy life while dealing with an absent parent. Knowing this, it is important for those raising children alone to help their child not only cope with one parent in the home, but thrive.

Below are some of the most essential pieces of advice that single-parents can implement in order to help their child deal with an absent parent.

Know that families are different

Families are just as diverse as classrooms and corporate building. Make your child aware of this by exposing them to families of all kinds. Read them books with characters raised by single parents, extended family members, and foster parents. Read them books that not only show children in many different types of families, but also show how well children are loved in these families.

Books that are excellent examples of this are “All Families Are Different,” by Sol Gordon, “The Family Book,” by Todd Parr and “Robert Lives with His Grandparents,” by Martha Whitmore Hickman. Allowing your child to see diverse families will help them to understand that they can still get the same amount of love, even if they have one less parent around.

Have honest and age-appropriate conversations

If your child is in preschool, keep the discussion about an absent parent brief but direct. For example, you may state something like, “Your father and I don’t live together, but we still love you just the same.” As children get older and ask more specific questions, answer the questions honestly, but use discretion. Convey the information that is required to satisfy your child’s curiosity, but always end the statement on a positive note.

For example, if your child’s dad has remarried and rarely visits, and your son asks, “Why does my dad take care of another family but not ours?” You may respond, “Your father is working on being a good dad with another family. I’m sorry that he can’t be the best dad to you. But remember that you have many people in your life who take care of you better than your dad can right now.” Then, remind your child of those people.

Value the absent parent

Don’t degrade or berate your child’s absent parent just because they are not around. Although you may be extremely upset with the other parent for leaving, remember to tame your feelings when you speak to your child about him or her. Try taking your kindness a step further and speak about all the good things that the absent parent provided before they went away. For example, if your daughter’s mom had a flair for fashion, mention it to your child often so that your child can see her own potential.

Valuing the absent parent also makes it easier for your daughter to have a healthy relationship with the absent parent further along the road. So, allow your child to base his or her opinions of the absent parent on the parent’s actions, not through the negativity that they get from you.

Provide positive role models

Children of single parent families need good role models. If your child lacks a father, surround him or her with men who are responsible, upstanding and loving. Whether it is an uncle, cousin, or a professional from a mentoring program, show your child that men are capable of being decent and kind human beings. If the child you are raising is missing a mom, ask responsible and loving aunts, friends, and teachers to educate your child on certain things they may feel more comfortable learning from a mom, such as dating.

There are lots of organizations that pair children up with good role models in their area, such as Big Brother Big Sisters of Metropolitan Chicago and the Boys and Girls Club of Chicago Mentor Program.

Most importantly, tell and show your child that they are still loved. By focusing on the love that you can provide, and not the love that your child may not be receiving at the moment, is the best way to make sure all of the above tips are carried out.

China Hill is a teacher at KIPP Ascend Charter School in Austin.