Single parenting occurs when there is only one parent in the household raising the children. This can occur due to bereavement, separation, or never having married in the first place. Some may choose to become a single parent, while others may become a single parent by circumstance. Traditionally, single parenting was frowned upon because it implied that the family was “broken” or that the child was illegitimate. Single parenting has long been assumed to have negative implications for a child, particularly because they are growing up with an absent parental figure. There can also be a lot of stress placed on the parent, who has to take on two people’s duties alone: earning enough income to support the household, caring for the children, and looking after the house.
Fortunately, single parenting has become a more common phenomenon these days, and more often by choice, not by circumstance. The number of single-parent families in the United States has increased from nearly 20 percent in 1980 to 30 percent today. Children who were raised by single parents have grown up to become valued contributors to society, slightly scraping off the negative connotations associated with single parenting.
The short answer to how single parenting affects a child is: it depends. A single parent with excellent management could provide a better home than two parents living in conflict and poverty. However, the facts remain that children of single parents are statistically at a higher risk for certain conditions and behaviors.
Without the full care and attention from two parents, there may be repercussions on a child’s development. For one, children could fare worse than their peers in academics, because their parent may have less time or energy to teach them and help with homework. While children in dual-parent families can leverage on the time and expertise of both their parents, those in single-parent families may hardly even get a chance to talk to their parent, much less find the chance to ask for academic help.
The children could also find it more difficult to relate to others because they have a different family and are missing a parental figure in their lives. Single-parent families are also at a greater risk of suffering from poverty because it is typically more difficult for the parent to make ends meet. As a result, the children may suffer from negative feelings, such as low self-esteem, frustration, loneliness and feelings of abandonment. A Swedish study found that children from single-parent families were more likely to suffer from psychiatric illnesses, suicidal intent and alcohol abuse, compared to their peers in dual-parent households.
Additionally, children of single-parent relationships could have difficulty maintaining their own relationships in the future. A child’s first exposure to romantic love is usually when they observe their parents, but that is absent in a single-parent household, more so if the parent moved away from their previous partner to escape abuse or neglect. The children could feel that romantic relationships are unreliable and an opportunity for more trouble, thus choosing to remain single themselves.
Sometimes, it can be difficult to extricate the effects of single parenting from the effects of the circumstances surrounding it. Single parenting still commonly occurs due to divorce, which itself has many similar negative effects on a child. A child that has suffered through divorce or loss may be at a higher risk of negative consequences than a child who has always been raised by a single parent.
Single parenting can also result in many lifestyle changes, which can be stressful to the child. The parent may move frequently, see other people, or remarry, all of which can imbalance a child’s life and throw them into disarray. It is especially important to maintain stability in routine, especially for young children.
In many cases, it is not the single parenting itself but the circumstances surrounding it that cause children to be at risk for these negative effects. Fortunately, the effects can be mitigated with proper care and love, which will carry less of the burden over to single parenting.
On the other hand, single parenting is not an all-negative experience. With plenty of breakthroughs and success stories, there is evidence that children from single-parent households can perform just as well as those from dual-parent households.
In fact, children from single-parent families often grow up to be more resilient and responsible than their peers. From an early age, they probably have to help their parent out with household chores and errands. These are more than token responsibilities, but are essential to running the household smoothly, allowing the children to see the contributions of their labor. They may also adopt a self-studying method to do well in school without requiring their parent’s help. Additionally, they may have to take care of themselves when their parent is out, such as cooking their own meals or doing their own laundry. Some may be extra motivated to work hard and do well in school, in a way to give back to the parent who has been taking care of them.
Not all children from single-parent families experience bad relationships. Growing up in a single-parent household may inspire them to build a loving, dual-parent family for their children in the future. In addition, single parents are hardly alone. They often receive support from their extended family and community, including support groups for single parents, religious communities and friends. These can show a child the importance of helping one another in society, allowing them to form their own meaningful relationships when they are older.
Children and their single parents also tend to form a very close bond, often tighter than that in dual-parent households. Since they only have each other to rely on, each person plays an important role in the other’s life. They tend to recognize each other’s needs and consider how they can help. The bond is strengthened by spending quality time with the child whenever it can be afforded, such as reading to them, having a meal out, going for a walk or engaging in recreational activities together. Even if there is not much time to spare, every little bit counts. The rarer these pockets of time are, the more the child will appreciate them.
On the whole, single parenting is on its way out of the negative stereotypes. While single parenting, just like any other family structure, has its drawbacks, it also has unique advantages that can really benefit the growth of a child. An increasing number of people are choosing to become single parents these days, a testament to the success of single parenting. The most important part of single parenting is to ensure that the relationship between parent and child is a healthy one. As with all other family types, there is a lot of give and take involved, but the end result is definitely worth it.
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