Many people discuss the psychological impact of single parenting, but often what they forget to take into account is the fact that those effects can be positive as well as negative for both single parents and their children. Being a single parent can result in a number of challenges, including:
- Financial Challenges
- Logistical Challenges
- Emotional Challenges
- Social and Academic Challenges
However, with the right attitude, these challenges can be overcome and turned into a positive learning experience.
Positive Effects On Parents
Better Relationship With Your Child
As opposed to popular belief, it is actually more likely for a bond between a parent and child to improve rather than deteriorate when a family suddenly becomes a single-parent family. Children are uprooted and forced to look at their parent in a new light, and, in the long-term, this new light tends to be positive. Parents are also often more able to focus an increased amount of attention on a child or on their children if there is no spouse involved who also needs to receive attention. In general the bond and relationship can improve significantly. The psychological impact of single parenting needn’t be negative or destructive to a relationship.
Negative Effects on Parents
Self Blame And Questioning
Parents who are suddenly made to become single parent providers often blame themselves and ask themselves a number of counterproductive and irrational questions, including:
- Could I have done something to prevent the separation or divorce?
- Is it my fault?
- What have I done to the development of my child or children?
As a single parent you need to clear your mind of negative thoughts and move forward with a positive attitude and outlook on life. This is turn will be passed on to your children and they too will be able to approach life and their family situation with an increased degree of positivity and general happy outlook on life. Dwelling on the past will prevent you from moving forward.
Parents who are raising children on their own often live in situations that come with an increased level of stress. This is because:
- Single parent families tend to live fairly close to the poverty line
- Single parent families may have trouble paying for basic bills such as rent, utilities, food and gas
- Older children may have to help out with family finances by getting a job
Consequently the situation can be stressful for children as well as for their parents. Discussions about the stress experienced as well as efforts to reduce stress felt due to the challenges of being a single parent family can go a long way to relieving the psychological impact of single parenting.
Positive Effects On Children
Greater Sense Of Responsibility
It has been noted on more than one occasion that children who grow up in single parent families develop a greater sense of responsibility. This is because:
- They often have to take on a number of tasks around the household to assist their parent.
- They are able to develop a deep understanding, even if they do not do so consciously, of the many sacrifices that a responsible parent must make to keep a family alive.
Children can be resentful about being made to ‘grow up too quickly’ so it is important that you, as the single parent in the situation, find ways to make their childhood as fun for them as possible given the circumstances.
Reduced Stress Resulting From Conflict
Often single parent homes become single parent homes because there was a high degree of conflict between the adults in the picture. When divorce or separation occurs, the long term emotional and academic success of a child living in this home can improve significantly as they are no longer living in an intense and constant stress situation on a regular basis. In fact it has been shown that children from two parent homes where there is a lot of conflict tend to do worse than children from single parent homes in which the source of the conflict has been resolved through parental separation in some form or another. In summary, certain events leading to the existence of a single parent home can reduce stress in children.
Single parent families often have stronger bonds which can lead to open communication patterns in the home as:
- The child feels comfortable discussing friendships
- The child feels comfortable discussing dating
- The child feels comfortable discussing drugs
- The child feels comfortable discussing school
You can develop a relationship with your child that two parent families may not have as your child will in many cases be required to function as your equal in terms of things such as responsibility around the home. This allows you to have a friendship with your child in addition to the usual parent-child relationship. Consequently your child may be more willing to come to you with questions and problems allowing you to actively participate in his or her life.
Strong Work Ethic
There are a number of aspects to living in a single parent home that may promote a strong work ethic:
- Children in these homes do more chores
- Children in these homes help out more around the house
- Children in these homes babysit younger siblings
- Children in these homes work part-time jobs to help contribute to the household
- Children in these homes have less time to play sports
- Children in these homes have less time to hang out with friends
- Children in these homes have less time to join school clubs
This increases their level of responsibility and causes them to appear more mature than their age-mates.
Negative Effects On Children
Children in single parent homes often have a lot to be resentful about, including:
- Resentment toward one or both parents for having to grow up in a single-parent home
- Resentment toward one or both parents for being the cause of a single-parent arrangement
- Resentment toward other kids who appear to have a happier, more secure home lives
- Resentment regarding the lack of attention he or she receives from a working parent
As a single parent your responsibility is to watch out for signs of resentment in your child, and then discuss the problems with your child. In this way he will have an outlet for his anger and between you a solution may be found for some of the problems mentioned.
Children who have been suddenly plunged into a single parent situation may start displaying signs of despondence at school as well as at home. It is essential that you work with your child’s teacher to try to create a school environment in which your child will still be able to function amidst his or her sadness. The more despondent a parent appears about the divorce, separation, or death, the more despondent the child is likely to be as well, so a positive attitude needs to be communicated. For serious depression single parents should seek professional help for both themselves as well as for their children in order to stop the problem becoming long-terms and increasing in severity.
This is something that can affect both parents and children in a single parent family. A child may feel that they have been abandoned by the absent parent and may, especially at a young age, blame themselves or wonder what they did wrong to make their parent leave. This can also be true in cases where one parent dies, especially of the child does not have a clear idea of what death really means. In addition they may be fearful that their remaining parent may abandon them too. Parents can also feel abandoned and resentful about being left to raise a child alone. It is very important that you create an atmosphere in your home in which these concerns about abandonment can be openly discussed and resolved.
Fear And Concerns
Some of the fears and concerns that children may face in single parent families are as follows:
- They may feel overly fearful for the well-being and safety of the absent parent and could spend a great deal of their time obsessing about this.
- They may be fearful about potential future circumstances regarding their living arrangements (after all, if their world can be turned upside down once, it can surely happen again) and about what will happen f their parent dies.
- Children may also be concerned that they will be in trouble if they express positive feelings about one parent to another, a situation that you must avoid creating for your child.
Although academic problems are from inevitable, a number of trends have been identified:
- Children in single parent homes tend to have higher dropout rates
- Children in single parent homes tend to have lower grades
- Children in single parent homes tend to have problems in school
To a certain degree this is because single parents have to work and are therefore often unable to assist with homework or ensure that their child does, in fact, go to school. Low achievement can also be due to stress generated by the divorce or separation resulting in the single parent family. This is not inevitable and through discussion with your child form an early age academic performance can often be preserved.
Lower Socioeconomic Status
In a two parent family there are two incomes that can be used to support a child. However, in a single parent family there is only one income, making it harder to provide things such as adequate housing, health care, nutritious food, shoes and clothing. In addition children may struggle to form lasting friendships as single parent families tend to move more frequently than two parent families. There are a number of governmental measures in place to assist low income families such as single parent families which you should take advantage of in order to adequately provide for the needs of your children. These measures include help with housing, rent, food, and education for yourself as well as for your children.
Although it is not inevitable, there are some indications that children of single parents are at a slightly increased risk for delinquent behavior:
- They may engage in drug and alcohol use
- They may engage in truancy
- They may engage in criminal activity
- They may engage in high-risk sexual behavior
As a result children of single parents are more likely:
- To become teen parents
- To drop out of school
- To join a gang
- To go to jail
- To become single parents themselves
However this stigma of delinquency often turns out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy if parents and teachers believe it to be inevitable. Consequently your attitude can make a significant difference in this regard. In fact, educating your child about the possibility of delinquency can help prevent it.
Mental And Emotional Problems
Children in single parent families can experience a number of emotional problems. For example they may begin to question their self-worth. Children tend to interpret being left by one of their parents as a bad reflection on their own character and worth. They may also find it difficult to trust others and form relationships as they tend to believe that everyone will leave them just as their parent did. Anxiety, nervousness, and depression are also all common symptoms that your child may experience. As the parent you must identify these symptoms and work through these problems with your child through discussion.
When investigating the psychological impact of single parenting you need to be aware that negative consequences are not inevitable and not even that common in most single parent families. It is, to a large degree, your personal responsibility to ensure that you approach the situation in such a way that will limit the negative effects.