Single-Parented to Single-Parenting

Kathy Kaler today

I first met Kathy Kaler after we had been chatting on Twitter for some time and she had suggested a book for me to read. Then, Kathy being Kathy, she contacted me to say she had a copy of the book if I’d like to collect it from her. I couldn’t resist and sped over to her offices.

Here’s the thing though; never had it occurred to me that ChaiFM was a Jewish radio station. I had always thought it was Chai as in the tea – I’m Chinese, go figure… When my GPS delivered me outside Trevor’s Kosher Butchery I was slightly confused and had to call Kath to confirm I was in the right locale. What a fail for the marketer that I am. I hang my head in shame.

Anyway, we chatted up a storm and then just out of the blue Kathy blurted “being a single parent isn’t easy Mel”.  What? Where did that come from? After our meeting I left to resume my normal life.  A couple of days later I was thinking about that moment with Kathy and called her up to tell her that her statement had made quite an impact on me and I asked her if she would be willing to share her story with me.

Kathy Kaler’s story

I was born in Klerksdorp, grew up in Joburg. Growing up I wanted to study law. I am an entrepreneur and 8 years ago I gave up work to start a radio station (101.9 ChaiFM). I find people fascinating (mostly), I’m an animal lover (always), I’m a closet domestic goddess (sometimes). I have two teenage children, a daughter (18) and a son (17) and I love my life.

How does anyone become a single parent? It’s always preceded by a crisis whichever way you look at it.

Sometimes it happens suddenly, sometimes after years. In the latter, the crisis arrives when you feel brave enough to escape a desperate situation. My turning point was when I realised I had the strength to go it alone. After years of giving up my identity and succumbing to someone else’s will I suddenly had choices. That was a crisis for me. My children gave me the reason I needed to escape a lonely and abusive relationship – something that I couldn’t do for myself. I left when my daughter was 14 months old and my son was 6 weeks.

Kathy with her firstborn

I came from a single parent household so in many ways single parenthood is what I knew. At times when my mom wasn’t a single parent, there were 4 step fathers – yes, at times it felt like I was living in a soap opera. I decided that for my own children I would do things differently – I would marry for love…I hadn’t considered being a single parent before I became one. As I write this, I have been a single parent for 17 years. Wow. That sounds like a long time now that I think about it, which I generally don’t. But it has been a conscious choice: I could subject my kids to the constantly changing dynamics that a step father would bring, step siblings, ex-wives, duplicate for them the soap operas of my own childhood or I could give it my best shot on my own.

I asked Kathy how she reacted to the realisation that she would be single again

The best way to explain how I reacted is to describe it for you. My first month as a single parent was a trial by fire for which I remain very grateful. I left at a time when I had no immediate support system. Both my parents and their respective spouses were away for a month. I got a job, enrolled my kids in daycare and lost about 10 kilos in the process! My day would start at 5am with a feed for both kids who were still taking bottles, changed nappies, got myself dressed, packed bags with fresh clothes for the kids, dropped them at daycare by 7am, worked until 5.30pm, fetched my babies from daycare at 5.45pm and headed home. I would bath them (alternating each one in the car seat while I bathed the other), cooked dinner for the 3 of us and then finally it was bed for the three of us. I dealt with the start of my journey as a single parent in the only way I knew how – minute by minute. After a month alone I proved to myself that I had strength and that I could do this…

Kathy shared the following ‘tips’ for family and friends of single parents:

  • Give Time Out: Single parents need time out just like any other parent, probably even more so because all the focus is on them. If you have kids the same age, or even if you don’t, why not offer to take the kids out for an afternoon? Offer to babysit once a month or even every 2 months. This is such important “down time” for the single parent.
  • Be Sensitive: Single parent households are also single income households. Be sensitive to the fact that your single friend may not have the finances to join you for that weekend away, the restaurant dinners and other luxuries. Find alternatives. Have a cook up rather than spending on expensive nights out – this also solves any babysitting issues.
  • Build a Relationship: One of the biggest challenges for single moms is when biological fathers don’t have a close relationship with their offspring. Unless there’s an uncle close to them, they will have no father figure. Getting involved in a “big brother” program can be very creepy so if you are able to step up to the plate and play a game of cricket, go fishing or do other “guy” things with the kids, you will be making a huge impact on the youngsters. It also gives the kids someone other than “mom” to turn to.
  • Be supportive: There are times when the single parent my be ill, have an urgent appointment, need kids picked up early, basically any time that the unexpected happens…If you are able to help with lifts and watching the kids (while mom has that emergency dentist appointment) then do it. It probably won’t be often and the blessings that will be sent your way will be well worth it.
  • Don’t Judge: As single parents, nobody is more critical of our parenting than ourselves. Single parents are doing a full time job that was designed for two people to share. We do the best that we know at the time. Be a listener, a sounding board, a co conspirator, a friend. And a safe place to land when the single parent needs to take a breather.

Lessons learned

The most profound thing I have learned is that it’s better to come from a “broken home” than to live in one.

Children are resilient and what they live becomes normal for them. As parents, married or single, we decide what that “normal” is.

I also learned a few other things:

  • Children need boundaries and the worst thing any parent can do is indulge our children. Children need to hear “no” because life doesn’t always say “yes”. Learning to hear “no” is a life skill.
  • Children thrive on structure. Have a set bed time for them and stick to it. You also need the time.
  • Be consistent with discipline. Contrary to popular belief, it makes children feel secure and they quickly learn the boundaries.
  • Take day trips to interesting places and explore the world around us. The trips will facilitate conversations and experiences that are priceless and will contribute to their development.
  • Children grow up fast. Write a journal recording the days so they are recorded for you later.

Kathy and her children today

I look at my children today, young adults actually, and they are engaged in the world, they have valid and realistic opinions, they are interested in life, they question, they contribute to humanity, they are honest, they have a moral compass, they have healthy relationships, they are ambitious, they are kind, they have empathy, they can cook and know how to load the washing machine and get washing done. And they are happy.

I would do it all again. With a housekeeper.

Kathy recommends the following for information and support:

  • I don’t use parenting sites so it would be a thumb suck but I did the Systematic Training for Educative Parenting course early on with a psychologist (Hazel Aremband). Let me know if you want her contact details. She’s excellent.
  • Also, an excellent book is “How to talk so kids will listen and listen so kids will talk“.  This helped especially during the formative years and when they were very young.

You can read more about Kathy and her ChaiFM story here.

Kathy may be contacted directly via her business website which is www.chaifm.com

Thank you Kathy for sharing your story with me and allowing me to post it here.

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6 replies

  1. Thank you for this – Kathy – you’re inspirational. My favourite part? Was this…

    “As single parents, nobody is more critical of our parenting than ourselves”.

    So. Very. True.

    • Thank you for the feedback.
      As parents we are so often giving credit, praise and acknowledgement to our kids, staff, co-workers, partners, parents etc that we forget to give ourselves a pat on the back. I Thank you for my pat on the back. In turn I give you one.