Dec. 9, 2011 at 5:11 AM ET
Along with letting your child seek his own heroes and role models, there are things you can do to allow him to be male. Whether or not you have a man around to show him the ropes, your son can grow up to be an emotionally healthy male just as many boys of single moms have already done. Did you know that Tom Cruise, Ed Bradley, Alexander Haig, Bill Clinton, Alan Greenspan, Bill Cosby, Dr. Benjamin Carson and Les Brown were raised by single moms?
The following tips have been compiled from my own experience, the expertise of "current or retired" single mothers and single parent advisors.
1. Accept your son's differences.
2. Never make him the man around the house. True, you want to teach him to grow to be man, but there is a distinction between being the "little man" and being responsible for things that adults are supposed to do. Your child is not your confidant, your knight in shining armor or your rescuer. Especially important for the newly widowed or divorced, correct people if they suggest that now your son "is the man around the house," or that he should "take care of Mommy."
3. When you look at your child and see his father's face, it's okay to get a little emotional. After all, if your ex gave you anything of value, you're looking at it. Let your son know how important he is to you.
4. Point out the positive qualities in men you see on a day to day basis. This means that even if you're buying your son baseball shoes, and the salesman is especially attentive or friendly, point this trait out by mentioning what a helpful person he is, or "Isn't this man very nice?"
5. Be a little creative in helping your child learn guy stuff. For instance, many single mothers report concern over their son's using the potty while sitting, or playing with their makeup. Chances are, your child won't spend the rest of his life peeing sitting down while wearing mascara. Homosexuality doesn't exist because you didn't monitor the morning makeup sessions! But if you want to get a head start on defining the differences between secondary sex characteristics between males and females, try this: Set out a little basket just for him. Fill it with a mock razor, gentle shaving cream, watered-down cologne, his toothbrush, toothpaste and a comb. Let him know this is what most guys do every morning to their faces.
6. As your child matures, investigate local boys groups or clubs that he could join such as Cub Scouts. Don't be intimidated by such sponsored events as Father/son boat races or picnics. Let the troop leader know that with the number of single parent families, you would be comfortable if the den would acknowledge parent-child events. But the biggest benefit of scouting that should be experienced by all boys is that initiation ritual that welcomes them into the pack. The especial handshakes might remind you of reruns of the Honeymooners when Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton demonstrated their Racoon Lodge handshake. But this is an essential boost to the self esteem of little boys, that feeling of belonging to a group with whom they can closely identify.
7. Teach him your values, but let him express them uniquely. He's a male and will respond to emotional situations somewhat differently than you might.
8. If your boy is really active, get a chinning bar for his room for rainy days. Exercise is critical for all children, but in cases where boys can't seem to center themselves as comfortably as girls, they might need other means of releasing excessive energy. Check out your local Target store for an expandable closet bar, the kind that has suction cups on the ends. Install between the door jambs of his room, and when he gets rowdy, have him "do ten." Make sure you tighten the bar so it safely stays in place and show your son the correct way to grip so he doesn't loosen it from the doorway. Start low, but raise the bar as your son grows.
9. Role models are important and will be found in every aspect of your son's life. Boys need men, but not necessarily fathers. Just because a father lives at home does not mean a boy is being "fathered."
10. Enjoy your time with your baby or toddler by not worrying about whether they are missing out on anything by not having "dad" around. At the same time, try not to avoid "daddy stuff" totally. Even though many children's books feature animal families raised only by mom, it's okay to read stories about all kinds of families to your child. Place a high value on male and female relationships in order to give your child a realistic perspective.
And remember, try not to have negative attitudes toward men, even if you became a single mother out of the most excruciating circumstances.
This article was reprinted with permission from Single Mother, , Issue #19 Copyright 1995 by Single Mother. All rights reserved. This article may be printed out for personal use but may not be reproduced in any other manner, including electronic, without prior written consent from Single Mother.
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.