Written by Varda Epstein
Single parent households are now so common that more than a quarter of all U.S. children under the age of 21 are being raised by a single parent. Only one in six of these single parents are dads. But the very vast majority of single parents, be they moms or dads, work to put a roof over the heads of their children (and food in their mouths).
It’s a hard road to haul and it’s not always by choice. Some single parents are widowed. Others may have never found that special someone, but were lucky enough to have children. In short, every single parent has a story to tell and it’s bound to be an interesting story at that.
If you’re a single parent, or a parent contemplating the end of a marriage gone wrong, you likely worry about the effects of the single parent home on a child. By having only one parent, are you cheating your child of the stability of a two-parent home? Will your child suffer from having a mom with no dad or a dad with no mom? Or perhaps only part time influence from the other parent?
On bad days, the guilt can be crushing.
Single Parent Freedom
But on good days, perhaps you think how awesome it is to be free to make all the parenting decisions, to have no one undermining your authority, no one confusing your child with conflicting demands. By the same token, of course, when you’re absolutely exhausted from being up with a sick child all night and you still have to go to work in the morning, you may be green with envy of two-parent homes, where someone is available to pinch hit when the going gets rough. You may dream of someone who shares the burdens of cooking and housework and running errands. Someone who picks up the dry-cleaning or goes to that PTA meeting when you just can’t make it.
Melanie Oates can tell you all about both sides of the equation. A single mother to a set of special needs 6-year-old twins—one has autism, the other a rare genetic disorder called Chromosome 7 Terminal Deletion—Oates blogs about her experiences as TwinMomMel. The pros and cons of single parenthood are something Melanie has often contemplated.
On the pro side, Melanie says, “You don’t have to worry about daily input from the other parent nagging about how you changed a diaper or what you cooked the kids for dinner. You don’t need to worry about your child favoring one parent over the other. That doesn’t exist because you are the main (or only) parent! Also: you get to create all the rules.”
But being able to see the positive doesn’t mean that Melanie doesn’t see the downside of single parenthood. Her cons outweigh her pros. “You get burned out quicker because there is no time for you to take off your ‘parent hat’ while the other parent takes over. If you have more than one child, it can be difficult to give each child their own independence because you don’t have another parent to help take one child to soccer practice, while you take the other to dance practice.
The Single Parent: Dating? What’s That?
“Also, as a single parent, if your child is sick, there goes another sick day taken from work since there is no other parent to fall back on. Not to mention: dating (what’s that?), especially if you have special needs children like myself. Good luck with finding a childcare provider that can help while you try to explore the dating world. Even worse, try meeting a ‘Mr. Right’ who actually understands the circumstances at home!” says Oates.
For Becky Lockridge, the issue for her two sons was the absence in their lives of a positive male figure. A single mother to two sons, ages 11 and 23, Becky has always been on her own. The lack of a strong male in her sons’ lives is something Lockridge feels keenly. “I tried to fill the void with coaches, godfathers, and big brother types. In the end I do wish my sons had had their fathers actively involved.”
Kate Campion, who blogs at My Sweet Home Life, has experienced it all: shared custody, full custody, and with remarriage, step-parenthood, as well. Like Melanie, Kate loved that there was no one to compete with her parenting style and no one to undermine her parental authority. But Campion suggests some other perks we might not have suspected. “You get the ‘firsts.’ When your child gets home from school, they often tell their news to the first parent they see. By the time their second parent gets home, that report is condensed to ‘I had a good day,’” says Campion. “You are the one with whom they share all the details of their life as it unfolds. It makes your relationships closer.”
Campion also suggests that single parenthood can bring extended family members closer, since a single parent may be forced to rely on extended family for help. On the other hand, says Campion, “You will never be a family unit the way you once were. If you remarry, you will need to navigate the murky waters of step-parenting. When you have a child, you build up a bank of love over the years that you can withdraw from in challenging times. You don’t have that luxury with a stepchild and your new partner will not have that with your children.
The Single Parent: No One to Share the Delight
“Also, as a single parent, there is no one who will share with you the delight of their achievements. When your child performs in a school play, or has a killer time on the sports field, you won’t be able to share in those moments with their dad at the end of the day,” says Kate.
“Finally, you have half the time, half the money, half the energy. Even small things, like when your child is sick, or you have a late meeting at work, are so much harder to manage when you are on your own.”
A single mother of one child, Monique Battiste adds that as a single parent, “There’s not much time to yourself, no dating life (unless you have or can find a sitter), and you feel stretched thin both financially and mentally. But the hardest part for me, perhaps, is having to answer the question of why the other parent isn’t in my child’s life, why that parent is simply unavailable.”
Single Parent Blind Spots
Dr. Edward V. Haas, M.D., psychiatrist and author of Transformative Parenting: The Empathic, Empowering Approach to Optimal Parenting and Personal Growth, points out that for the single parent, there’s, “No one to catch you when you are becoming irrational/unreasonable: Sometimes we are irrational. We may have an unrealistic expectation of our child which is leading to frustration and anger. Having another adult with a second opinion can help us see these ‘blind spots’ which interfere with our understanding, communication and bonding with our child.”
Haas also speaks of the dilemma of the single parent in balancing work and home. “Even many couples have difficulty meeting their financial obligations and caring for their children at the same time. Being a single parent can create a severe conflict between being present to care for the emotional needs and wants of their children and working to provide for their needs for food and housing.”
While most single parents see it as a plus that their parenting styles hold sway with no one to undermine their authority, Haas sees this a different way. “A single parent can only teach their way of doing things. People have different strengths and perspectives, children who have two parents can learn different ways of resolving issues and seeing things.”
On the other hand, says Haas, “Single parents can teach their children their way of seeing the world and doing things without the stress of conflict with another parent who may want to teach their child differently. Parents who are inclined to provide more freedom of action to their child do not have to feel conflicted with the other parent who may be more comfortable restricting their child in certain ways, and vice-versa.”
Single Parent Attitude
There is no doubt that the life of the single parent has its hardships and much like any other parenting experience, its triumphs, too. Can single parenthood be better in some cases than the traditional two-parent home? It seems that in many cases, it may be, especially when there’s strife in the marital relationship. But what seems to matter most of all, is attitude. A single parent who makes the effort to see all that is good, while not turning a blind eye to the issues, is a strong single parent: one who is bound to raise a strong, independent and healthy child, no matter the obstacles that develop along the way.
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