Whether you are a single parent due to the death of a spouse, divorce, abandonment, or choice, you can provide a happy, healthy childhood for your children. Your road as a single parent may be different than those who share this task with another, but your mission is the same—to provide a loving and nurturing environment for your children, helping them become strong, independent adults.
The road of a single parent may consist of obstacles such as loneliness, grief, hurt, sadness, rejection, guilt, insecurity, and depression. When accompanied by financial pressures, hectic schedules, and the stress of everyday activities, these feelings can easily become overwhelming.
Your children may experience many of the same feelings, while challenged with the normal issues of growing up. It takes time and the support of family and friends to work through many of the emotions resulting from a spouse's or parent's death, or losing a spouse or parent through divorce.
In spite of the obstacles, the experiences of a single parent family don't have to lead to a dead end. Instead, many single parents discover new strength and independence. Children, too, can learn and grow from a single parent home. They have a great opportunity to contribute to their families and learn more about their own worth and abilities.
Bob had been married to Susan for 5 years when a tragic and sudden illness took her life. At the time he couldn't imagine how he was going to raise Katie, their 18-month-old daughter, by himself. Three years later, he is admired by all who know him (most importantly, by Katie) as the best dad in the world. From potty training to Mother Goose story time to coloring at the kitchen table, he has learned how to turn everyday tasks into special memories with his daughter.
"There isn't anything I don't enjoy doing with her. I guess if you're willing to learn, anything can be fun." Bob never imagined he would find himself in the position of being a single parent, but is determined to provide a happy and healthy childhood for his daughter Katie.
A single parent has a choice to view their situation as a tragedy that warrants bitterness, anger, and resentment, or a situation that provides opportunities for new experiences and growth. Children will usually follow their parent's lead. If the parent develops a victim attitude, the children will most likely feel victimized. However, if the parent demonstrates an optimistic attitude, the children will be more likely to have a more hopeful outlook. Attitude can make the difference between happiness and misery.
Children's lives change as a result of their parents' divorce or the loss of a parent. Therefore, they often need special attention in coping with these changes. However, parents are often so consumed with their own feelings and changing lifestyle, that they feel they have little left to offer support to their children.
"The first few months following Susan's death, I was totally spent," says Bob. "I was only getting about 3 hours of sleep a night and literally experienced withdrawal. I would break out in a sweat and just shake. My family would take Katie when I needed time alone."
Sometimes one parent will move into a smaller place to save money, or the child will need to travel to visit a parent and will only see them on weekends or holidays. Some children will live with one parent one week and the other parent the next week.
When the child's place of residency changes, they are faced with the adjustment of a new neighborhood, new friends, and a different school. In these situations, children often worry about the other parent. It is common for younger children to regress to earlier behaviors such as thumb sucking, throwing temper tantrums, or clinging to blankets and other security objects. Older children are more likely to respond with feelings of insecurity and anger.
Change is difficult, and children will need time, patience, and special attention as they make the necessary adjustments. Give them the freedom to speak openly and honestly about how they feel. You may need to seek the assistance of family, friends, or support groups for awhile if you are unable to give them the support they need.
Communication takes time and energy, but is no doubt, worth the investment. The communication between single parents and their children can easily break down as the parent tries to protect the children from additional hurt or worry. However, the lack of communication often results in confusion, misunderstandings, and the beginning of poor communication patterns within the family.
A single parent needs to communicate to the children that they are not responsible for the parent's single status. Many children feel responsible for their parent's pain, as well as feeling responsible to fix the problem. Based on the child's age, the parent can explain the facts more honestly, instead of leaving the child vulnerable to speculation.
The best way to promote open and honest communication in your children is to model good communication skills. Be available to listen, ask questions, be honest with your feelings, and initiate opportunities to talk.
It is possible to raise independent, respectful, confident children in a single-parent home. Continue to be open and willing to learn, and you will experience the joy of raising happy, healthy children.
American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry
Mental Health America
Canadian Mental Health Association
Canadian Psychological Association
Being a single parent. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: https://familydoctor.org/being-a-single-parent/. Updated November 2010. Accessed September 27, 2017.
Children and divorce. American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry website. Available at: http://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/Facts_for_Families_Pages/Children_and_Divorce_01.aspx. Updated December 2013. Accessed September 27, 2017.
Children and grief. American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry website. Available at: http://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/Facts_for_Families_Pages/Children_And_Grief_08.aspx. Updated July 2013. Accessed September 27, 2017.
Surviving your new role as a single parent. Single Parent Center website. Available at: http://www.singleparentcenter.net/newly-single-parent. Updated July 2013. Accessed September 27, 2017.
Last reviewed September 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD, FAAP Last Updated: 12/10/2013