Since roughly 1970, approximately 20-30% of children live in single parent homes. The number varies from study to study and country to country. More of those are female than male, but again the numbers vary substantially from one study to the next. Whatever the sex of the parent, parenting alone raises some unique challenges.
Since most single parents continue to work, many of the basic difficulties involved are practical ones: how to find and afford a sitter or day-care, what to do when having to work late or weekends, how to arrange shopping, etc.
Single parents find all manner of creative arrangements for meeting these difficulties. Many rely on older children to care for younger ones, while the younger ones often take on more responsibilities than other children in their age group. Many rely on friends and relatives. Some simply leave the child home alone for extended periods.
But beyond the practical arrangements, there are many parenting issues of a more value-oriented or psychological nature that can be equally or more daunting. Single parents will more often second guess their actions, not having a spouse to bounce ideas off of.
Many find dealing with children of the opposite sex a special challenge. Single parents will often find it difficult to know how to guide a child of the opposite sex, not having a spouse to consult with about his or her childhood experiences. Some of that gap can be filled by discussions with grown siblings, however.
But single parenthood can have advantages, even in the light of difficult circumstances. The absence of a partner means the absence of sometimes irrational and vehement arguments that the child would observe. Establishing parenting rules and guidelines is more straightforward for the single parent, since there is no partner to consult or with whom to debate.
Several recent studies point to other positive - or at least the absence of negative - aspects of single parenthood. For those single parents with adequate incomes, there is no observed ill-effect of the single parent home on a childs educational or personality development.
Indeed, being raised in a single parent home often makes children more mature and self-responsible at a younger age. Many benefit from the increased attention that a single parent will often bestow in the absence of a spouse.
Being raised in a single parent home may have been a social stigma in previous generations, but those attitudes are largely gone. Some now regard the situation as more contemporary or even hip.
Single parents can do much to ease their own minds by paying close attention to observable behaviors to monitor their children.
Pre-teens who become withdrawn may be suffering from the effects of parental divorce or death. Children will often be reluctant to discuss their feelings on these subjects and much patience may be required to draw them out.
Teens left alone at home for long periods may be unduly influenced by peers. That can often lead to unwanted behavior. While most parents will want to respect their teens privacy, watching for early tell-tale signs of drug use or other harmful behavior will save everyone much grief later on.
Single parents have a unique opportunity to influence their child for good or ill, without the counterbalance of another parent. Fortunately, many children raised in a single parent home will report with admiration the extra effort required and made by their single parent Mom or Dad. You can be one of them.
David A Richardson