It is a fact that, not so long ago, children from single parent households were discriminated against purely on the basis of their family structure. Socially, culturally, financially and even in relation to their health care needs, there was not the same level of support provided as for children who were from nuclear families. Fortunately, we have become more understanding and tolerant of the unique nature of families and the importance of equity across the whole of society.
Although ideal, not every relationship breakdown is amicable. Despite most parents knowing they should place the children’s needs very high on their priority scale, this is not always possible. Kids can be pushed aside, particularly in cases of conflict and disagreement between separating parents. This means they may need to compete for attention amongst a multitude of other issues. Housing, money, household goods and the division of mutually acquired objects can all vie for attention in the early days of separation. But it is not all negative; through diversity can come growth for all of the individual family members.
How did this happen to us?
Although separation may not have even been contemplated when children were very young, circumstances and people change. The assumption that children are always better off with two parents, no matter how functional their relationship, holds no validity. Research has demonstrated that kids fare better in terms of their happiness, education, social and emotional stability, as well as their general health, when they are raised by at least one loving, sole parent rather than two conflicting ones.
Having two parents in the household does not negate any toxicity that may be present. Parental conflict during a separation is extremely damaging to a young child. Studies have shown that when children are raised in loving, supportive homes with at least one parent who is firmly attached, there is no increase in the likelihood of them having problems.
Mom or Dad?
Despite our changing times, by far the majority of sole custodial parents are mothers. This raises different issues for male and female children, some positive and others not as favourable. Children benefit from observing same gender parenting. They learn what it means to be an adult man or woman by the behaviours of these adults in their lives. Where possible, it is recommended that single parent children have some access to loving, attentive adults of the opposite gender. Whether this is through grandparents, aunts, uncles and extended family members, caregivers, teachers, sports coaches or family friends does not really matter. It is the quality of the relationships that matters.
Children from single parent families often display different characteristics to kids from dual parent families. Of course, this depends on the individual characteristics of each child and their own circumstances but they often share similar traits.
There can also be some positive gains for children who are raised in single parent households.
Characteristics of single parent children
They tend to be more independent and take the initiative when they see household jobs that need doing.
They are often more mature and responsible, probably as a result of being entrusted to do more tasks and “pull their weight” by their sole parents.
They tend to have more free time where they are not as closely supervised and monitored compared to two parent families. This can lead to greater trust being built between the child and their parent. Conversely, it can also lead to problems.
Single parents can have very close, emotionally connected relationships with their children. The increased one-on-one time and open communication have a positive effect on the parent-child/ children relationship.
There is less of a gender specific nature to the jobs, which are attended by family members. What needs to be done tends to be shared more equally across all members of the family without too much subscription to traditional gender roles.
Can misbehave more with the parent who cares for them full-time. Often the disciplinarian is the parent with full-time care. It is important that one parent is not favoured over the other. This is a delicate balance to get right.
May feel confused about how they should feel towards the absent parent. Some kids feel a sense of betrayal to their other biological parent if they form a loving relationship with a new step-parent.
Can feel they are more involved in decision-making as their parent discusses household issues with them, rather than the other parent. Single parent children can show insight beyond their years in terms of budgeting, food preparation, housework and yard skills.
Single parent characteristics
Tend to be more independent and less reliant on others for problem solving.
Can be looked on by their peers as being a capable role model, someone whose characteristics they wish they had, especially during their own stressful parenting events.
They are often very good at organising and seeing what needs to be done and getting on with it. For this reason, they can seem a little detached from what else is going on around them, but this is often because they are so focused on their children and their needs.
They can be very good at money management. Although this is a skill that may not come easily at first, they soon learn what is involved.
Can feel resentful, hurt and angry with the other parent and use much of their energy dealing with these emotions. This can lead to further resentment because they feel their time is being absorbed in a negative way. They may also feel a sense of loss over the time that was spent with their ex-partner and cannot be redeemed.
Single parents will often use a problem-solving approach with their children, talk through issues and use explanations more often than those who are dual parenting.
Can be lonely for adult company. Studies have shown that single men with children tend to re-partner more quickly after a separation than women in the same situation.
Can be very close to their children and display more “friendship” qualities in their relationship than those in a dual relationship.
Tend to feel torn between their commitments at work and being with their children. This is consistent with parents in conventional, two parent families as well.
May feel guilty that they are unable to give their children a “traditional” upbringing with two parents.
Can feel overwhelmed with tiredness and exhaustion at having to meet the needs of young children on their own. This is why it is important to develop and maintain support networks and a safety plan in the case of needing immediate assistance.
May need to develop skills in supporting their children to feel comfortable speaking about their other parent. Children can see their parents with rose-tinted glasses and consider they can do no wrong. For single parents who don’t share this view, it can be very difficult to not say anything and hold back on giving their appraisal.
For emotional and psychological support check with:
Your General Practitioner. Counselling is sometimes necessary, especially if there are grief and loss issues relating to the relationship change.