Dr. MJ Bazos MD,
Single-parent families are
more and more common in today’s society. One of every four North American
children lives in a single-parent home. While most single-parent homes are the
result of divorce, many parents are raising children alone for other reasons as
well. Some parents may be alone due to the death of a spouse. Others choose to
have or adopt a child without a partner. Whatever the circumstances, single
parents cope with unique issues and
A death in the
Losing a parent is one of the
most traumatic events that can happen to a child. A child under 5 years of age
cannot understand that death is permanent. Older children may have an
understanding, but will have many questions they may be afraid to ask. Where did
Daddy go when he died? Why did he die? Who will take care of me if you die?
Children can react to death in many ways. Some will be quiet and sad. Others may
be angry, guilty, or refuse to believe the parent is gone. It’s important
to accept your child’s response, whatever it is. If signs of sadness or
anger continue, talk to your pediatrician. He or she may recommend professional
counseling to help get the healing process back on
An unplanned pregnancy brings
great change. The job of caring for a new baby is not easy, especially for
single parents. Those who work may feel they aren’t able to spend enough
time at home with the baby. Money can be tight. Finding affordable child care
might be hard. Be aware that help is available. Family, friends, and religious
and community leaders are your best resources for support. If you need to find a
job, employment agencies and temporary services can help. You may also qualify
for government programs such as Head Start, Temporary Assistance for Needy
Families (TANF), Women, Infants, and Children Supplemental Feeding Program
(WIC), and Earned Income Credit (EIC).
It is increasingly common for
a single person to adopt a child on his or her own. Adoption can bring special
challenges to parents. The child may be a baby just a few days old, or she could
be school age. The adopted child may be of another country, race, culture, or
from an abusive background. As a result, adoptive families can easily feel
different from other families. The differences are real, but the rewards of
working through these issues can be great. Working with your pediatrician to
prevent and solve problems can be very important to your child’s happiness
Nearly two thirds of all
single-parent families are the result of a divorce or separation. For a child,
divorce can be just as hard as the death of a parent. A long period of grief and
mourning can be expected. The age of the child also plays a role. A preschooler
may regress in such things as toilet training, and may develop new fears or
nightmares. A school-age child is more likely to show anger and feel guilty or
sad. He may also do poorly in school. A teenager may worry about moving away
from friends or not having money for college. No matter the age, some children
feel responsible for the divorce of their parents and dream about getting them
back together. Divorce or separation often leaves parents angry with each other.
During disagreements with your child’s other parent, stop and ask
yourself: How will this affect my child? You may disagree with each other, but
try to set aside your differences for your child’s sake.
Use the following tips to avoid
- Never force your child to take sides.
Every child will have loyalties to both parents.
- Don’t involve your child in arguments
between the two of you.
- Don’t criticize each other in front of
your child. Even if you find out the other parent is saying bad things about
you, explain to your child that people sometimes say mean things when they are
- Discuss your concerns and feelings with your
child’s other parent when and where your child cannot hear.
- Don’t fight in front of the children,
In a divorce,
separation, or unplanned pregnancy, both parents have a continuing financial
obligation to the child. If you have custody of your child, seek child support.
According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, millions of
single-parent households do not receive child support. In some cases, one
parent doesn’t want money from the other parent. In others, the parent may
not be able or willing to pay or perhaps cannot even be found. Many times, the
parent with custody simply does not try to get child support. Contact your state
child support enforcement agency for guidelines on what parents must pay for
child support. If your child’s other parent has disappeared or won’t
cooperate, your municipal or provincial government may be able to
Talking with your
Talking with your child is a very
important way for you to help each other through tough times. Being able to
share her fears, worries, and feelings with you can make your child feel safe
and special. The more often you talk, the more comfortable she will feel. Be
patient as you listen to her questions. You don’t have to have all the
answers. Sometimes just listening is more helpful than giving advice. If needed,
don’t hesitate to get help from your pediatrician or a family counselor.
The following suggestions may be useful in talking with your child about the
changes in your family.
- Be honest with your child. If your spouse
has died, your young child may not understand what has happened. Be careful what
you say. Young children often see death as a temporary situation. It is very
important not to talk about death as ‘going away’ or ‘going to
sleep.’ Your child may believe that the deceased parent will come back,
wake up, or the child may think that she will die while asleep. If you are
going through a divorce, talk about it in simple terms. Try not to blame your
ex-spouse or show your anger. Explain that parents sometimes choose to live
separately. Give your child all the comfort she needs to feel safe and
- Make sure your child knows he is not the
cause. Children will often think that it’s their fault that one parent
has left. After a separation, divorce, or a death of a parent, children may
blame themselves. They may feel alone, unwanted, or unloved. Let him know the
changes are not his fault, that you love him and won’t leave
- Talk to your child about his fears.
Confusion about a parent leaving or dying can be scary for your child. In
your child’s mind, if one parent can leave, maybe the other one can too.
He may think being away from a parent is temporary and that if he behaves, the
parent will return. It is important to discuss these fears with your child, and
to be as reassuring as possible.
10 ways to reduce
stress Single-parenthood brings added pressure and stress to the job of
raising children. With no one to share day-to-day responsibilities or
decision-making, parents must provide greater support for their children while
they themselves may feel alone. The following suggestions may help reduce stress
in your family:
1. Get a handle on
finances. Finances are often a problem for single parents. Learn how to
budget your time and money. Know when your paycheck or other income will arrive,
and keep track of household bills. If you write down monthly bills and due
dates, they will be easier to manage. Do what you can to improve your finances.
Contact employment and temporary agencies for help finding a job. Consider
getting your high school diploma, a college degree, or other special
2. Talk early and often.
Don’t leave your child in the dark about the changes in the family.
She will handle her problems much better by talking about her feelings. Sit
quietly with your child just before bedtime. It may be a great time for her to
talk with you.
3. Find support and use
it. Don’t try to handle everything by yourself. Get help whenever you
can. It is difficult when a single parent must hold down a job and care for
children at the same time. Try not to feel guilty about things you can’t
do or can’t provide without a partner. You will need the support that
family and friends can give. Get to know other single parents through support
groups. Your pediatrician can also be a great source of help and
4. Take time for family.
Working every day, fixing dinner, cleaning the house, and paying the bills
can be overwhelming. Set aside some time each day to enjoy your children and
your relationship with them. Spend quiet time playing, reading, working on
arts-and-crafts projects, or just listening to music together. Time spent
together is one of the most important things you can give to your
5. Take time for yourself.
Whether you are reading, relaxing, or visiting with friends, time spent away
from your children is important for you, and for them. Go to a movie. Find a
hobby. Do things that interest you. Being a single parent doesn’t mean you
can’t have an adult life.
a daily routine. Making rules, setting a good example, and providing support
is tough, but giving in to your child’s demands will not help. Schedule
meals, chores, and bedtime at regular times so that your child knows what to
expect each day. A routine will help your child feel more
7. Maintain consistent
discipline. If others help in the care of your child, talk to them about
your own methods of discipline. Divorced or separated parents should work
together to use the same way of disciplining their children. Discipline
doesn’t have to mean physical punishment. You can teach a child to behave
in ways that are good for both himself and those around him. Many good methods
have been developed. Check your local library for helpful books on parenting.
Local hospitals, the YMCA, and church groups often sponsor parenting classes.
Learning good ways to handle your child’s behavior will reduce stress for
both of you.
8. Treat kids like kids.
Children have a right to enjoy childhood and grow up at their own pace.
Though single parenting can get lonely, resist treating your children like
substitutes for a partner. Avoid expressing your frustration to them. Try not to
rely on them for comfort or sympathy. As children grow older, they will be able
to take on more responsibility and help around the house. Don’t expect too
much too soon.
9. Stay positive. The
pain of a separation, divorce, or death will ease over time. Be aware that your
children will always be affected by your mood and attitude. They will need your
praise and your love through hard times. It’s okay to be honest about your
own feelings of sadness and loss, but let them know better times lie ahead for
both of you.
10. Take care of yourself.
This is a difficult time for you, too. Exercising regularly, maintaining a
proper diet, and getting enough rest can help you better deal with stress. Visit
your own doctor on a regular basis. Ask your pediatrician not only about help
for your child, but also about help for
Find good child
Good child care is essential for
your child’s well-being and your peace of mind. If you are a working
parent, finding quality child care may be one of the most difficult tasks you
will face. Never leave a child home alone. Find someone you trust to take
care of your children while you are working. Don’t rely on older brothers
and sisters to baby-sit for younger siblings. Even the most reliable brother or
sister does not have the maturity to be responsible for a younger sibling on a
daily basis. Also, be careful about asking new friends or partners to watch your
children, even for a short time. They may not have the patience, especially if
the child’s behavior becomes difficult. Children need to be cared for by
an adult with proven experience in child care. The best way to make sure your
child is getting good care is to visit the child care center or watch your
babysitter when he or she is with your child. Your pediatrician can offer advice
on finding the best child care for your family. The local city or county
government in your area may also have a list of licensed child care centers or
children need a place where they can feel truly at home. Although the parent who
lives with the child takes care of the day-to-day needs, the parent without
custody should remain as involved as possible. He or she can still help with
homework, go to athletic or other after-school events, and contribute support.
Cooperation between parents is very important for a child’s long-term
well-being. Remember, it’s the job of both parents to stay involved in
their child’s life. Work together to arrange a flexible schedule for
visits. Neither parent should be kept from taking part in raising the child.
Make sure your child knows that it is okay to love both parents.
Dating and the single
Be choosy about which dates you
introduce to your children. Try to form a solid relationship before bringing
someone new into your home. Particularly, overnight guests may confuse your
child. If you are dating someone special, you may not know how to present him or
her to your child. Talk to your friend about your child before they meet. When
you feel the time is right, let your child meet your new partner. Don’t
expect them to be close right away. Give them time to become friends. If your
new partner is new to child-rearing, he or she may feel awkward with your
family. Observe how your friend gets along with your child. He or she should be
patient and understanding. Before you leave your child with a new partner, be
sure that he or she can be
Raising a child on your own
isn’t easy. Single parents face unique problems, but children in
single-parent homes can grow up just as happy as children in two-parent homes.
Providing a loving, supportive home for your children is the most important
factor in helping them grow up well-adjusted and happy. By seeking out the
information provided here, you’ve taken the first step to adapting to the
changes in your life. Making the right choices for you and your children will
help all of you live a new and rewarding life together as a family. The
information contained in this publication should not be used as a substitute for
the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in
treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and