In 1960, among all households in the U.S. with children under 18, 1 in 8 were not headed by a married couple. Today, the proportion is nearly 1 in 3. While most single parents are women, the number of single men with children has increased greatly int hat time, to 2.6 million.
Single-parent households face all of the financial issues experienced by married couples, but they may be heightened by the limitation of not being able to have two earners in the family, as well as the need for one person to combine work, household and child-rearing task.
Single-parent households are formed either by an unmarried adult, through divorce, or due to the passing of a spouse. In this article, I will use the example of a single father who has lost his wife to illness, which was my own situation several years ago. In this case, you are confronted with many challenges at once, ranging from the need to maintain or increase your income to navigating your period of grieving and assisting your children with theirs.
I would like to present the idea that, like any difficulty in your life, this is a challenge that you can face and overcome, both by finding inner strength and by finding the right help from others. I will summarize this view in the form of five choices you can make. Though the focus is on a particular group, many of the points will also be of great assistance to the general population in navigating your interwoven personal and financial issues.
Choice #1 – Restart your life with confidence
Stanley Kissel, a clinical psychologist who has written about the grieving process of widowers, points to the importance of not denying the loss and bottling up your feelings, suggesting that it may be helpful to join a bereavement group for this purpose. He also says, “Grieving is not a permanent process that follows one of life’s major stresses. Grieving is the body’s way of coping with an overwhelming shock after the loss of a loved one.” Sharing your feelings helps to ensure that the grieving period is finite and that you will move forward, not delaying actions that need to be taken. In terms of new relationships, Stanley Kissel emphasizes that you will be vulnerable to looking for someone quickly to share your family responsibilities, but you should instead focus on finding someone who is right for you. Then, it should also work out well for the children.
Choice #2 – Get control of your budget and financial goals
Keeping track of every expense and income item will put you in control of your finances, enabling you to accomplish your objectives. It is suggested that you make use of today’s technology and set up a Personal Financial Management (PFM) website.
This will enable you to centralize access to all of your accounts – bank, investment and retirement – and will save and categorize your expenses for review. The next step is to list your short-term and long-term financial goals and develop strategies to accomplish them.
Choice #3 – Understand, and help your children to understand, that happiness is available within the scope of your real financial circumstances
Once you have accomplished Choice #2, you will be more realistic about your lifestyle choices. It may make sense to downsize your residence, but you will be afraid to disappoint your children by doing so. Or, you may not be able to send your child to their first choice of college due to the cost. In all such cases, bear with the immediate pain, explain the reasons for your choices, and know that the whole family will be better off in the long-run.
Choice #4 – Develop a plan to increase your earning potential
Change is good! If you realize that your current career may fall short in helping you to accomplish your financial goals, identify a path towards a new career, then educate yourself for it, and make the move. Don’t worry if it doesn’t work out quickly, success comes most often from long-term efforts.
Choice #5 – Make every day count
Can you be a good father and have a successful career while also working towards your personal fulfillment? The only way to do it is one day at a time. With your children, communication is the key. It should start by talking to them about their own feelings of loss and continue as you devote your time on a daily basis to share in their experiences. If your schedule sometimes keeps you from being with them, they will know that they still have the most important thing – your love. In addition, try sharing your own experiences with your kids. Not just “wins,” but “losses” too. If you encounter financial stress, explain it to them so they can understand the situation with you. Honesty will help everyone.
Instead of thinking about what you might have done in the past or what you might do some time in the future, what matters is what you are doing today to accomplish your goals.