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Single Parent Homes Aren't "Broken Homes"

More than a decade ago, a television character named Murphy Brown, a single career woman, decided to have and keep a baby. This hardly seems like news today, but at the time it was a scandal. Even the then-Vice-President of the United States made public statements about what a horrid message it was to send to people. Single women should not be raising children - any fool knew that.

More than a decade ago, a television character named Murphy Brown, a single career woman, decided to have and keep a baby. This hardly seems like news today, but at the time it was a scandal. Even the then-Vice-President of the United States made public statements about what a horrid message it was to send to people. Single women should not be raising children - any fool knew that.

Well, the world has changed a bit. Single parenthood happens for a multitude of reasons. The most common is still divorce or the end of a relationship, but men and women also become single parents because a partner has died, or simply because they choose to. After all, who doesn't know that comedian Rosie O'Donnell adopted children, and that actress Jodie Foster now has two babies she is raising alone? In fact, more than half of all children will spend part of their childhood in a single-parent home. And while most of those single parents are women, many are men.

We may no longer see single parenthood as a scandal, but one thing hasn't changed: Raising a child alone is not an easy task. I happen to know this from experience: I was a single mom for more than eight years. Most parents who contemplate raising a child on their own have mixed emotions. They want the best for their child, and they want to believe that they are up to the job. But it is difficult not to buy into the persistent notion that children of single parents are somehow doomed, that they will become delinquents, that they will never have happy relationships of their own.

So here's the news: it is possible to raise a happy, healthy, capable child as a single mother or father. You do not need to run out and find a partner or a 'role model’ for your child. But successful single parenthood does take work, planning, and a great deal of thought and energy. If you are parenting alone (or are thinking about doing so), it will help you immensely to learn all you can about child development, appropriate behavior, and parenting skills. And you will need to become skilled at keeping your priorities straight. Most single parents must work, maintain a home, parent a child or two, and still find time to stay healthy themselves. It isn't easy.

Discipline is often an issue, especially because single parents are prone to guilt and may try to overcompensate for the fact that there is only one of them. Interestingly enough, research shows that single fathers do no better at discipline than do single mothers. So taking time to acquire some parenting tools, perhaps even taking a parenting class, may be a wise use of your time. It's also important to stay connected to your children, something that can be difficult to do when you are overwhelmed and busy.

And finances are important: If children of single parents are truly at a disadvantage, it is because single parents almost always have less money than do married parents. And when you're raising a child, money matters.If you are a single parent, take some time to decide what is most important.

Here are some suggestions:
  • It may be wise to put your children and your own mental and physical health at the top of the list. Many single parents (especially moms) report feeling 'selfish' or 'guilty' when they spend time on themselves, but in truth, you will do a better job as a parent when you are a healthy, happy person. Take time for friends; take care of your own physical health. Your children will learn to respect you when you respect yourself.
  • Ask for help when you need it. There are family resources available in most communities, if you look around. You may find neighbors, relatives, coaches, pastors, and friends who are willing to help you and your children - and 'family' means more than just blood relatives. 'Going it alone' doesn't win you anything but exhaustion as a single parent!
  • Invite your children to share the family work. Self-esteem comes from having skills, not from praise, and single-parent homes can be wonderful places to learn responsibility, competence, and confidence.
  • If your children are older than four, sit down with them at a family meeting and make a plan together about how you can share the family work. Invite them to learn skills, and show appreciation for what they do.
  • Learn how to provide discipline that teaches. Punishment (spanking, grounding, shaming, and taking away privileges) may work in the short-term, but long-term discipline will teach skills and attitudes for a lifetime. Take a parenting class, or invite your friends to read a parenting book together and discuss it. Skills build confidence, and single parents need all the confidence they can get!
  • Spend 'special time' with your children. Children need a sense of belonging and significance, and nothing builds trust and love like time spent together. Even ten minutes a day just 'hanging out' with each child can make a tremendous difference in the quality of your relationship, and the strength of your family. Take time to listen and to share your love with each other. Most important, make up your mind that single-parent homes are not 'broken' - they work quite well when parents and children pull together, focus on solving problems, and listen to each other. Single-parent families can be marvellous places to learn, love, and grow together with respect and joy.
Cheryl is a licensed marriage and family therapist with a private practice in Reno, Nevada, a popular speaker and trainer, and the co-author of eight books on parenting and family life, among them Positive Discipline for Single Parents (Revised 2nd Edition, Nelsen, Erwin, and Delzer, Prima, 1999). You can contact her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

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