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Handling Single Motherhood

QUESTION: I am a single mom of a 3-year-old daughter and 16-month-old twin boys who have medical conditions that require constant care. My soon to be ex-husband and I are not together because he threatened to kill me. My problem is that I have little time for my daughter. When I do find the time, I usually fall asleep in the middle of a project. Or she will do something wrong, and I yell at her. How can I make quality time for her? My husband wants nothing to do with his children.

ANSWER: You are doing the hardest work of all by separating from an abusive partner while your children are still young. Do not lose sight of the larger picture here: Your efforts to stem the tide of violence is not only responsible, but heroic.

You have already taken the first step by thinking of your daughter's needs. The next step is to replenish your own energy. Before you can expect to have more patience with your daughter, you must start thinking of yourself. And your patience will naturally grow as you recover from the stress of this past year.

Seek group support in your community from those who will understand. Your local county health department may put you in touch with free legal and support services for women who are in the process of separating (and staying separated) from abusive partners.

As for your daughter, consider simple ways to carve out special time without creating undue strain upon yourself. There are many ways to share that your thoughts are with her that won't require extra time in your day. A few ideas might include saving her the "special" seat next to you at the table, or a place beside you while watching a TV program, or reading her a nighttime story. Tell her about something during the day that reminded you of her. Offer her, and your boys, support instead of blame, understanding instead of criticism.

Keep projects as simple and relaxing as possible. Put on a song, for example, and sing a favorite tune together with your feet up. Comb each other's hair. For now, avoid activities that require too much energy. Accept your own limitations rather than pushing yourself past them.

These small things let her know that she holds a special place in your heart. Giving compliments are not time-intensive: share with her what you like about her personality, such as her ability to express herself well.

When you need to discipline your daughter, do not let it interfere with the special time you have set aside for her. Delay the consequences of her behavior if necessary. Let her know she will be going to bed fifteen minutes early because of a misbehavior, but do not let her conduct undermine the intent of your time together.

Be honest and share with your daughter when you are tired. Try not to over- compensate for your husband's failings. Doing so will only lead to exhaustion and feelings of inadequacy. You are a "good enough" mother to your children. Do not feel guilty because you are understandably exhausted these days!

Never forget that you are stemming the tide of violence that not only would have swept through your life, but the lives of your grandchildren, too. It is a lot of work to turn this around, but your children will have less on their shoulders because of it. Future generations will be rewarded because you handled your problems instead of running away from them.

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Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter..

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