Even today, the unjust stereotype is still sometimes invoked: a single parent presides over a broken home that produces troubled children, particularly during adolescence—a time when all parenting becomes more difficult to do.
Unless custodial single mothers and fathers disbelieve this popular prejudice, they are in danger of doubting their adequacy and undercutting their confidence, and that would be sad because so many of them do their job of parenting so well.
When it comes to creating a healthy family, it's not the number of parents in residence, but the quality of parenting a child receives that matters most. A home is only "broken" when healthy family interactions break down: when people stop communicating adequately, behave un-lovingly, or conduct conflict destructively, for example.
What is true is that single parents, without a parent partner with whom to share the daily child raising load, must assume additional family responsibility. However, by rising to this challenge, custodial single parents develop significant strengths that merit recognition and appreciation. Consider just a few common strengths they often seem to develop.
1) SINGLE PARENTS ARE HIGHLY COMMITTED.
Taking their family role very seriously, single parents vote with their actions, doing more care taking now that they are parenting alone thereby increasing dedication to the welfare of their children. Single parenting with sole responsibility for children takes a lot of self-sacrifice. According to 2011 U. S. Census figures, 85% of single parents living with children under 18 are mothers (NYT, 11/2011, p. A18.) Thus mothers are usually (although not always) the more committed parent. "I put more focus on the children now."
2) SINGLE PARENTS ARE CLEAR COMMUNICATORS.
With much to talk about and less time to talk, busyness causes single parents to speak directly and to the point, not hesitating to speak up when difficult issues need to be addressed, and treating conflict not as a challenge to their authority, but as a talking point. "I don't avoid what needs to be discussed."
3) SINGLE PARENTS ARE FIRM DECISION-MAKERS.
Accepting that parenting often requires taking stands against what adolescents want, for their best interests, single parents are tough enough to make unpopular rules and requirements stick. "I mean what I say."
4) SINGLE PARENTS ARE WELL ORGANIZED.
With so much to do and one parent to do it, single parents create efficient family systems to manage so much responsibility. "It takes routines to run a home."
5) SINGLE PARENTS MANAGE DIVERSE FAMILY FUNCTIONS.
Parenting alone, single parents expand their range of responsibilities to include family tasks the absent parent used to do, often breaking out of sex role limitations by which they were bound before. "I'm two parents in one."
6) SINGLE PARENTS CREATE A NETWORK OF SOCIAL SUPPORT.
Parenting alone does not mean going it alone; single parents are willing to admit problems and reach out for social support, something dual parent households are often reluctant to do, disinclined to let the world know when all is not going well at home. "I have friends to call in times of need."
7) SINGLE PARENTS HAVE CLEAR PRIORITIES.
Knowing that so much depends on them, single parents treat children as a third order priority -- single parent welfare first, family welfare second, and child welfare third. The well being of the children depends upon the single parent taking adequare care of their own. "For the kids' sake, I take care of me."
8) SINGLE PARENTS VALUE FAMILY VALUES.
Because there is no marriage partner in the home, single parents focus a lot of attention on the children, on the quality of that relationship, and on what values keep the family functioning well, hard work usually one of these. "What matters in this family is up to me."
9) SINGLE PARENTS ARE GOOD AT MAKING ENDS MEET.
For most single parents, learning how to stretch a dollar seems to come with the territory, a skill which adolescents in these homes often learn to their later benefit. "We don't waste money."
10) SINGLE PARENTS GIVE CHILDREN CLEAR EXPECTATIONS.
In order to be able to count on each other, single parents create a family system in which adolescents know what to expect of their parent and what the parent expects of them. "We keep each other well informed about what we need."
11) SINGLE PARENTS GIVE CHILDREN FAMILY RESPONSIBILITIES.
Knowing they cannot do every routine task that needs to be done, single parents are good at delegating household responsibilities to adolescents who draw self-esteem from contributing to the family, from being of significant family use. "The kids all know to help."
12) SINGLE PARENTS ARE REALISTIC ABOUT SETTING LIMITS.
Because single parenting is high demand situation, single parents tend to be realistic about setting limits: not letting adolescents drive them into over-giving and into stressing out from doing too much. "I'm not afraid to say ‘No.'"
Recovering from partner death, divorce, or abandonment, single parents can develop significant strengths through rising to the responsibility of parenting alone. In the process they come to meet the challenges of their children's adolescence extremely well.
For more about parenting adolescents, see my book, "SURVIVING YOUR CHILD'S ADOLESCENCE" (Wiley, 2013.) Information at: www.carlpickhardt.com
Next week's entry: When an adolescent throws an empty home party.