Children with single parents

Most single parents want the best for their children despite the circumstances. Although there are an increasing number of single parent homes in the U.S., the effects can often be long-term for kids who are in the care of a single mother or father. When you want to learn about how children are affected by living in a single parent home, there are a few important facts to understand.

Low Self-Esteem
Children get their sense of security in the home, which affects how they view themselves and the world around them. Due to the circumstances of their childhood, they may begin to have lower expectations of the world around them. They may not understand how to have a healthy marriage later in life if they never lived with both parents. Their lack of self-esteem can also come from a place of not getting enough attention from their only parent, which can make it difficult to thrive both at home and in school. It’s important to recognize the child’s achievements and post a report card on the refrigerator or reward them for doing chores around the house to show that you care.

It can be easy for kids to feel lonely if they spend more time alone, which can make it challenging for them to learn how to socialize with other children. They may suffer from feeling abandoned by one of their parents and can have difficulty with connecting with other individuals due to a lack of confidence. If they feel like one of their parents doesn’t love them, they may not understand why someone else would see their value.

Lack of Finances
Many parents who are raising children on their own may be limited on funds because they are living off of a single income. A lack of finances may mean that children are forced to miss out on participating in sports leagues or dance classes because the parent can’t afford the extra expense. Depending on the number of children who are in the home, it may be challenging to be able to afford new school clothes or tutoring lessons. The added stress of living paycheck to paycheck can put extra pressure on the parent, which can be easy to recognize for the children.

Lack of Discipline
In some cases, children may begin to act out or develop poor behavior due to a lack of discipline in the home. With single parenting, it can be challenging to reinforce as many rules due to a lack of support from your partner. Kids may begin to misbehave at school or can become rebellious during their teenage years.

Many kids can carry the pain of not having both parents in the home and can begin to ease their hurt with drugs or alcohol once they enter high school. For some, this can lead to other types of illegal activity as they develop into adults.

Poor Academic Performance
Most single parents spend more hours working to support their family, which can mean that children are often neglected. The lack of supervision can cause them to do poorly in school with the homework that they need to complete each day. They may also not receive as much guidance with their studies or recognize their academic strengths without the other parent in the home.

Negative Psychological Effects of a Single Parent Family on Children

Couples splitting up is never a pretty sight. Neither party leaves without emotional scars. However, the biggest victims and perhaps the most hurt by this split are the children. Stuck in a situation that they have no control over and suffering consequences for something that had no role in, kids are challenged at an emotional level that may even test the nerves and patience of a strong adult. Forced into a single parent family, kids become vulnerable to various psychological effects, each almost equally disastrous in nature.

Resentment and Sense of Inferiority

Kids want both their parents to be there with them to feel whole, but when the split happens, they are reduced to just one parent. Single parent can try their very best to not let their kids feel that the absence of the missing parent, but they just can’t fill the void. Kids hear their peers talking about how good their parents and get reminded of their own circumstances, which they resent. This resentment leads to feelings of inferiority, which in turn may affect their overall confidence. They stop believing in themselves and just want to be left alone. They have trouble making friends, talking to people, and setting goals for themselves. This feeling of inferiority increases overtime, and has negative psychosocial effects that can ruin them for life.

Emotional Issues

Kids who see their parents fight, get divorced, or die are at a higher risk of developing emotional issues than their nuclear family counterparts. These emotional problems can cause their lives to become a mess. To cope with these issues, they may turn to alcohol, drugs, or a life of crime. All three choices help them take their mind off the problems that are occurring in their domestic life, hence giving them a false perception of peace. It starts as a onetime thing, but soon it becomes a regular thing for them. They regularly use drugs, drink alcohol, and some of them even resort to small-time crimes. If not stopped at an early stage, all three of these problems can become bigger, and can cause numerous issues for them as well as the parent they are living with.

Feeling Insignificant

Single parents are rarely available for their kids because they have bills to pay, work to do, places to be at, etc. Already emotionally disturbed because of having to live with a single parent, kids begin to perceive their parent’s non-availability as a sign of their insignificance for the latter. They begin to think of themselves as unwanted and even more alone than before. This makes them even more depressed and fills up their head with all kinds of negative thoughts.

Tips for Minimizing the Negative Psychological Effects

It’s never easy to keep a child completely protected from the effects of having to live without a parent. However, there are certain measures that can help reduce the impact. This may put additional responsibility on the parent, but it something they need to do if they wish for their kids to stay mentally strong and healthy.

  • A single parent should try to talk with their kids every day at least once about their day, their problems, their school, their daily life, etc.;
  • If kids are suffering emotionally, then the single parent should go out of their way to give them the confidence that they so badly need;
  • Kids look up to their parents, so the latter should try to be a role model that kids can look up to;
  • Making ends meet is necessary, but that shouldn’t be allowed to get in the way of giving time to kids and reminding them of their importance.

Kids are always hungry for love and attention. Depriving them of something as basic as that can disrupt their psychological development, put their entire future at stake. The importance of shielding them from the potential effects of missing a parent simply cannot be emphasized enough.

Single parenting and today’s family

Today single parent families have become even more common than the so-called “nuclear family” consisting of a mother, father and children. Today we see all sorts of single parent families: headed by mothers, fathers, and even by a grandparent raising their grandchildren.

Life in a single parent household — though common — can be quite stressful for the adult and the children. The single parent may feel overwhelmed by the responsibilities of juggling caring for the children, maintaining a job and keeping up with the bills and household chores. And typically, the family’s finances and resources are drastically reduced following the parents’ breakup.

Single parent families deal with many other pressures and potential problem areas that other families may not face.

Stressors faced by single parent families

  • Visitation and custody problems.
  • The effects of continuing conflict between the parents.
  • Less opportunity for parents and children to spend time together.
  • Effects of the breakup on children’s school performance and peer relations.
  • Disruptions of extended family relationships.
  • Problems caused by the parents’ dating and entering new relationships.

The single parent can help family members face these difficulties by talking with each other about their feelings and working together to tackle problems. Support from friends, other family members and places of worship can help too. But if family members are still overwhelmed and having problems, it may be time to consult an expert or a licensed mental health professional.

Revised October 2019

Single-Parent Families

In the United States, the effects of single-parent family life on children fall into two categories: (1) those attributed to the lower socioeconomic status of single parents and (2) the short-term consequences of divorce that moderate over time. Four factors are predictive of U.S. children’s adjustment to the divorce of their parents: the passage of time, the quality of the children’s relationship with their residential parent, the level of conflict between parents, and the economic standing of the children’s residential family. In the first few years after a divorce, the children have higher rates of antisocial behavior, aggression, anxiety, and school problems than children in two parent families. However, some of these problems may be attributed to a decrease in available resources and adult super-vision; many of the negative effects disappear when there is adequate supervision, income, and continuity in social networks (McLanahan and Sandefur 1994).

In mother-only families, children tend to experience short-and long-term economic and psychological disadvantages; higher absentee rates at school, lower levels of education, and higher dropout rates (with boys more negatively affected than girls); and more delinquent activity, including alcohol and drug addiction. Adolescents, on the other hand, are more negatively affected by parental discord prior to divorce than by living in single-parent families and actually gain in responsibility as a result of altered family routines (Demo and Acock 1991). Children in single-mother homes are also more likely to experience health-related problems as a result of the decline in their living standard, including the lack of health insurance (Mauldin 1990). Later, as children from single-parent families become adults, they are more likely to marry early, have children early, and divorce. Girls are at greater risk of becoming single mothers as a result of nonmarital childbearing or divorce (McLanahan and Booth 1989). Although the research findings are mixed on long-term effects, the majority of children adjust and recover and do not experience severe problems over time (Coontz 1997).

A common explanation for the problems found among the children of single parents has been the absence of a male adult in the family (Gongla 1982). The relationship between children and non-custodial fathers can be difficult and strained. Fathers often become disinterested and detached from their children; in one study more than 60 percent of fathers either did not visit their children or had no contact with them for over a year. The loss of a father in the family can have implications beyond childhood (Wallerstein and Blakeslee 1989). However, the lack of a male presence may not be as critical as the lack of a male income to the family. The economic deprivation of single-parent family life, in combination with other sources of strain and stress, is a major source of the problems experienced by both parents and children.

5 Things That Growing Up in A Single Parent Household Taught Me

Ethan DeAbreuFollow May 8, 2017 · 7 min read Original Photo: Ethan DeAbreu

I understand that many children in my generation grew up with divorced parents, and by no means am I trying to be melodramatic with my story. Although divorce has become unfortunately common in the United States, with as many as 50% of marriages ending in divorce, this experience was the harbinger of a period of dramatic change in my life. It is part of my identity.

When my parents divorced, it changed my entire world. I will never forget that night, it is forever burned into the archives of my mind. My mother called upon my brother and I. Her eyes were filled with tears that she refused to let flow; her voice was soft, but not in a motherly way. Her voice was gentle because if she spoke above a whisper, the sound would shatter her facade of strength.

I watched her lips move, but I couldn’t understand the words coming out. I slipped away from my reality, none of it felt real. My heart shattered, each shard cut through me indiscriminately.

This was the beginning of a time when I lost myself. The life I had grown accustomed to came to an abrupt end.

When you are broken down, you can either rebuild yourself, or stay broken.

  1. It Taught Me How To Be Strong:

Children can be cruel, relentlessly so. They would push me until the verge of tears with their insults, and jabs. They would remind me how the whole situation was my fault, and that my parents didn’t love me. What they could never understand was the abuse I experienced; I saw things no child should see. I endured harsh words no child should ever hear. What others may see on the surface is utterly superficial when compared to what happens behind closed doors. My heart ache was mine, and mine alone; I refused to shed a single tear in front of any of them. I refused to give them the satisfaction.

Every day after school, I would go to my backyard, and cry. I cried every day for about two weeks, until one day, the tears just wouldn’t come anymore. It was as if my tears froze over the shattered pieces of my broken heart, and trapped all the pain inside. My heart was no longer fragile, yet it lost its warmth. All I could feel was an icy numbness in the center of my chest. I decided that I was done crying, that I needed to become the person my father wouldn’t be for my little brother, and my mother. I decided to become their strength, I decided to pick myself up, and fight back.

2. It Allowed Me to Determine Who I Wanted To Be

My brother, and I grew up as latch key kids. My mother worked herself until exhaustion to put a roof over our heads, food on the table, and clothes on our backs. She would always say, “I don’t care if I have to work three jobs, you boys will always have a home.” Although we moved around quite a bit, every house we lived in was filled with love, and love is what makes a house a home.

As a result of changing schools so frequently, and my mother not being home; I had a lot of freedom. I had the freedom to choose what was important to me, and who I wanted to be. I decided to pour all of my frustration, and youthful angst into my studies. Every drop of my willpower went into becoming better than what I was. I have always believed in the power of choice, although the world around me was in chaos; I could control the world within.

My resolve was unyielding, I was determined to be the first in my family to go to college. Anything that distracted me from my goal would not be tolerated.

I never cared about being accepted by my peers, I always said, “As long as I can respect myself at the end of the day, I don’t care what anyone else thinks.”

3. It Pushed Me to Grow

In my youth what drove me was the burning desire to prove everyone who had ever spoken down to me wrong. There has always been a fire inside of me, when someone tried to put me out, I would burn even more intensely.

The biggest obstacle in my life was my father. Not only did he succeed at breaking my mother’s heart, he broke mine. Although I specifically refer to “that night” as the night my heart broke, my heart ache began long before that. The first time he insulted me, I was so confused, “why would someone I love say that to me?” The insults existed before the divorce, and persisted far after. The word “insult” is a vast understatement in regards to what he would say to me. His words were sharp, but my will was that of flame. While he swung his words blindly trying to cut me down, he was merely fanning my fire.

Since he was so convinced that I was stupid, I lived to prove him wrong. The bullies at school were just kindling compared to him. If the words of my father could not defeat me, the words of a child certainly would not do the trick.

Rather than accepting defeat, I struggled defiantly. Every challenge I faced, and how I faced it, molded me into someone determined enough to take on the world.

4. It Taught Me How to Empathize With Others

I could always spot a kindred spirit. You can tell a lot about a person by the look in their eyes. The pain in my heart taught me how to recognize when others were in pain too. I saw right through the mask of a trained smile; I could understand the pain in their silence. When I would see others that had the same look in their eyes as me, it made me want to approach them. I have always been shy, so when I didn’t have the courage to say something encouraging directly; I would leave an anonymous note. I also had zero tolerance for bullies, I would often get myself into trouble standing up for others. I would do it all again if I had to, in a matter of fact, that is how I met my best friend. Doing the right thing one time has paid me back countless times with 16 years of friendship.

My heart could always see what my eyes could not; I learned to see the beauty in all things, in all people. Every person is a product of their environment. We were all born blank slates, and the person we ultimately became was a result of our experiences. When I think of a person, even if I don’t like them, I can understand that they are the sum of their experiences. I often wonder what I would have been like if I chose to walk a different path, so I try to extend the same courtesy to others. When I meet someone I don’t like, I try to imagine a world where we are friends.

Everyone has faced their own hardships, and there is beauty in that.

5. It Taught Me How To Let Go

For a long time, I lived my life trying to prove others wrong. I was so afraid of being inadequate. I was so angry that people pushed me into this mental space. I felt rejected by blood, and my peers, so I decided to reject them too. I decided that choosing to be alone, was better than being with people that made you feel alone.

However, as I matured I met some people that changed my life, although I am not friends with all of them today, I am eternally grateful to them. My friends taught me how to let go of my anger, and let love back into my heart.

If you live your life for the sole purpose of proving someone else wrong, you are not living for yourself. You are living for the ghost of a memory; the future should never be dictated by the past. If we dwell in the past, we cannot see the present, and the limitless future ahead.

I learned to accept myself, and my feelings. I learned that peace was a choice, a choice that only I had the power to make. When I chose to accept myself, I set myself free from the expectations of others. I learned to love the process, and how to appreciate the changes I have made. Most importantly, I learned how to love the person that I am.

Photo Credit: Dr. Mike Russo. I am wearing the aviators.

We are all in control of our lives, we can either create meaning in our suffering, or suffer. For whatever burden we may carry, there is always another who is carrying more. We should learn to see with our hearts, and give the kindness we once craved freely to others. The greatest fulfillment we can experience is in giving.

Growing Up In A Single Parent Household

For me, growing up in a single parent household was not as bad as it may sound. Of course, I had my sad, frustrating moments but I also had great, happy times. Growing up with only one parent has it’s good and bad side, just as anything else does.

I grew up with one older and three younger brothers, raised by my mom in Germany. We moved around a lot and never had a really consistent place of living. That’s probably one of the things that made it a little hard for me. I was never truly able to build long-lasting friendships. On top of having only one parent present, moving so much made my life feel unstable.

Advice I have for single parents: Try to give your children as much stability and security as possible.

My mother is undeniably the strongest person I know. She has been through so much in her life and did an incredible job raising five children by herself. She did it all. When we bought furniture, she assembled it herself until we were old enough to help. When we had questions about our homework, we came to her. Any concerns or questions went to that one person. I can’t even imagine how much pressure that must have been for her trying to play both roles and trying to give each child everything, so that we didn’t feel like we were missing something.

I know for a fact that my mother had her times of total frustration. Children don’t really understand the dynamics going on at a young age, but that makes it even more important for the single parent to communicate. Tell the kids, gently, how you feel and what the situation is (keep it simple). Don’t be so tough on yourself or them.

My mother always answered my questions. That made living life easier on me. I stopped thinking it may have been mine, hers or his fault. Sometimes whomever you’re with at the moment just isn’t meant to be with you for life, and that is fine. I’m very glad we were always able to talk about everything. She never tried to keep the facts from me. That being said, she also never spoke negatively about my father. That is important. Please don’t let your frustration about the other parent out on your children. It’s still their father or mother. Give them the opportunity to build their own relationship with them. Negative feelings toward anyone aren’t good for the mind. Especially not when it’s someone so important.

Since my father and I never really had a close relationship, it was even more frustrating for me growing up without him as a father figure. I think that if I at least would’ve had him to lean on at times, it would’ve been easier for me. Growing up without the other half of your parents makes you wonder whose fault it may be, and by default most children start by blaming themselves. For both, single parent and child, the situation is challenging but it’s crucial to talk to your children.

The safety and happiness of your children comes first. Don’t stay with someone who mistreats you or physically abuses you, just so you don’t have to raise your children by yourself. At the end of the day, they’d be better off in a safe, happy home with someone who truly cares for them. There will be hard times but there will also be rewarding sunshine.

There are many organizations out there that may be able to assist you in times of concern, including: Extended Family and Single Parent Advocate.

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New research breaks down the impact of growing up with a single parent

The children of many single-parent families have the same success as those with married parents.

For children born to young mothers with little education and older mothers with a lot of education, growing up in a married household doesn’t make much of a difference in terms of the likelihood that they’ll graduate from high school and earn more than poverty-level wages by the time they’re 25, according to working paper distributed this week by the National Bureau of Economic Research, a Washington, D.C.-based research group. Children born to mothers in the middle of the education and age spectrum, on the other hand, benefit from growing up in married households.

Earlier research that looks at averages across the education and age spectrum of mothers typically finds that children benefit from growing up in married households. “We’re trying to get a little bit past that,” said Phillip Levine, an economics professor at Wellesley College and one of the authors of the study, “just to recognize that the impact might not be the same for everyone.”

The study, which is based on longitudinal data housed at the University of Michigan and focuses on adult outcomes of children born in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, only covers outcomes for children raised by heterosexual couples. The findings are premised on the notion of “assortative mating” — essentially the idea that people tend to couple with partners of similar levels of education and wealth.

Levine points to two pop culture references to help illustrate why this dynamic makes a difference in evaluating the outcomes of kids from married and non-married parents of varying ages and education levels. On the one hand, there are the stars of a now-canceled MTV reality show “16 and Pregnant” — a show which Levine and his co-author, University of Maryland economist Melissa Kearney have studied. In that show, young women, typically in high school prepared to have a baby and in some cases weighed marrying the father. Watching the show, “it’s not obvious how beneficial that marriage would be for the well-being of that child,” Levine said.

On the other hand, you have Murphy Brown, the title character of the 1980s and 1990s-era CBS sitcom, who had a child as a single, successful, educated, 30-something. Given Brown’s resources, “her kids we’re going to be okay,” regardless of if she married, Levine said. “In some sense there’s a margin on what you need to get over the line, it’s in the middle where having the father around can help put you over that line,” Levine said.

Don’t miss: America’s two-parent families reach lowest point in 50 years

Indeed, the share of children born to mothers in the middle of the education spectrum who graduated high school, didn’t differ much depending whether they grew up in a married household or not. Children born to mothers with a high-school diploma who earned a high-school diploma ranged from 78.5% for those who were raised by unmarried parents to 87.7% for those raised by married parents, the study found. Children born to mothers with some college had a similar range in high-school diploma attainment.

For children born to mothers with less than a high school education, growing up in a married household doesn’t make as much of a difference: 67.9% of children growing up in unmarried households in that group graduate with a high-school diploma compared with 73.6% growing up in married households.

But the chances of graduating high school jumps for children born to mothers with a college education: It ranges between 88% and 93%, regardless of whether the parents are married.

For outcomes beyond a high-school diploma, however, it does help to grow up in a married household, regardless of the age or education status of the mother, the researchers found. “Getting a kid to college requires a lot of resources both in terms of time and money,” Levine said.

Still, given the varying outcomes of children who grow up in unmarried households, it’s likely that the demographic changes in family structure that have taken place over the past several years may only widen the gaps between the haves and the have-nots, Levine said.

The rates of non-marital childbearing have risen dramatically in recent decades, beginning first with teen and younger mothers, but now edging into a population of women in the middle of the pack, so to speak, when it comes to education and age. “That’s moving into the range where growing up in an unmarried household is more likely to have to have an impact, Levine said.

Educated parents on the other hand, are still largely waiting to marry before having kids. “All of the forces that are moving toward greater income inequality in the first place are being compounded by these changes in family structure,” Levine said. “If the high-end is already doing better and they’re the ones who are still marrying before giving birth, their children will do even better than that.”

Jillian Berman

Jillian Berman covers student debt and millennial finance. You can follow her on Twitter @JillianBerman.

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