Today, it's common to talk about single-parent family problems and their disadvantages to children. This can lead some single parents to think there is little they can do to have a successful family. That's not so.
Not all children growing up in single-parent families experience negative consequences, just as not all overweight people have heart attacks. More importantly, focusing on the weaknesses and problems doesn't help single parents and their children become strong.
The Family: A Proclamation to the World states that adaptations in family life become necessary when disability, death, or other circumstances (such as divorce) make such adaptations necessary. God loves us and will bless us in these circumstances. While it isn't easy, single parent families can adapt and be strong families.
Some researchers have asked successful single parents how they succeeded. Here's what these parents said.
Acceptance of Responsibility.Successful single parents accept the responsibilities and challenges of single parenting. They neither minimize nor exaggerate problems but seek solutions.They acknowledge the difficulties (such as a lack of personal time, a restricted social life, sole responsibility for meeting multiple needs, and financial stress) without self-pity or bitterness.
One woman lost her husband to an auto-pedestrian accident. She was left with five sons to raise and little education or skills. She was devastated. Ultimately she made a plan and carried it out. She decided to establish a home-based business, and it became very successful in a large metropolitan area. She was able to provide well for her family.
Commitment to Family.Successful single parents make the family their highest priority. They focus on being the best possible single parent, which often means putting the needs of the child first. They genuinely like and enjoy children, sacrificing time,money, and energy for the sake of the children. They try to be supportive and patient and help children cope. Like other effective parents, they are consistent and not highly punitive. This discipline style gives children choices, uses natural and logical consequences, and provides structure.
Open Communication. Successful single parents foster open communication. These parents encourage clear and open expression of thoughts and feelings in the family as a key to developing honest and trusting relationships. They foster individuality within a supportive family unit. These parents strive to accomplish this individuality and independence by each member having individual interests and building individual skills.
Successful Home Management.Successful single parents manage the family needs well. They strive to be well organized and dependable, and they work hard to coordinate schedules. They take pride in their ability to financially provide for the family, although finances still remain a struggle. One single mother effectively organized her children to help with chores. She typed out the jobs for the day on 3 x 5-inch cards and expected a report before dinner.
Care of Self. Successful single parents take care of themselves. Despite lack of time, these parents recognize that caring for themselves is important. They attempt to do so through physical, spiritual, emotional, and social means. They are connected to others on whom they can call on for practical and emotional support. One single mother who managed a home-based business found time to get away on a vacation occasionally or go dancing with friends.
Maintain Traditions and Relationships. Successful single-parent families maintain traditions, whether bedtime rituals, special family times together, or holiday celebrations. A tradition is any event with special meaning to a family. When a family has been disrupted, maintaining traditions becomes a stabilizing force,something that can be depended on.
If the other parent is living, successful single parents encourage the child's involvement with the nonresidential parent, as long as the other parent doesn't present some danger to the child. When possible, the other parent shares responsibility for the children. Regardless of where the children live, they receive economic and emotional support from both parents.
Have a Positive Outlook on Challenges. Successful single parents have a positive attitude toward parenting and life in general. They see positive aspects in stressful situation and feel that they have succeeded despite many doubts.
It's common for single parents to take a negative view of the challenges they face.However, if single-parent families are willing to work hard and get help when they need it, they can benefit from their situation in a number of ways.Researcher Stephen Atlas has identified these possible benefits:
First, if there was high conflict before a divorce in a two-parent family, a change to single-parent family living can bring about a reduction in tension, hostility, and discord and an increase in family solidarity and consistency.
When tension is high between parents on their way to divorcing, children's emotional needs are often ignored. The parents do not enforce rules consistently, and children feel less secure. When that tension is gone, single parents can focus more on children's needs and return to greater consistency in rule enforcement.
Second, a single parent may have greater flexibility in planning time with children. Single parents aren't distracted by the expectations or time demands of another adult. With fewer schedules to negotiate, there may be greater flexibility to spend time with each child.
Third, single-parent families may become more interdependent, working together approach to problem solving and daily living. Single parents depend more heavily on the voluntary cooperation of their children. Single parents can encourage cooperation by holding family councils where children are involved directly in making decisions and solving problems. When children are thus involved, they are more likely to help carry out the decisions.
Fourth, single parenting provides many challenges that are opportunities for growth and sharing. Single parents often need to develop new skills and obtain additional education. While it isn't easy, pursuing the task of balancing a full-time job with full responsibilities for housework and parenting can help make us stronger people.
Fifth, children have wider experiences because they may go between two differing spheres of influence.Each single-parent family will have its own unique influence. This can be a broadening experience for children.
Sixth, the extended single-parent community can provide support. Single-parent families are not necessarily isolated or cut off from the broader community. Nor do they necessarily lack support. Groups for single parents such as Parents Without Partners can be a valuable resource for activities, sharing, personal growth,and new relationships.
Seventh, young people may feel more needed and valued as contributing members of the household. One son of a single mother still remembers her "duty lists" she gave out each Saturday. He said, "All five of us were expected to fulfill our responsibilities. Failure to do so only placed increased burdens on Mom."In two-parent families, parents typically share the major responsibilities. In single-parent families, each child's help is needed and vital in day-to-day living. As a result, children may feel more valued.
Written by Stephen F. Duncan, Professor, School of Family Life, Brigham Young University.
Richards, L.N., & Schmiege, C. J. (1993). Problems and strengths of single-parentfamilies: Implications for practice and policy. Family Relations, 42,277-285.