Single Parents, Multiple Challenges
“I deal with a lot of emotions. I spend nights in the bathroom crying. It’s kind of hard.”—JANET, A SINGLE MOTHER OF THREE.
THE routes to single parenthood are many. Some families are left with a single parent because of war, natural disaster, or disease.
Parents of some children decide not to marry each other. For example, in Sweden almost half the children are born out of wedlock. Divorce also creates single-parent households. Research suggests that over 50 percent of American children will live in a single-parent household for some period of their childhood.
Understanding the Challenges
Mothers who have recently become widows have a special burden to carry. They must assume responsibility for their household while still grieving for their lost mate. Their adjustment to this role may take months, even years, as they cope with economic challenges and the responsibility of consoling their children. The widowed mother may find it extremely difficult to assume these added responsibilities. This may leave a child without adequate parenting at a time when he or she desperately needs attention and reassurance.
Single mothers who have not married their child’s father are often very young and inexperienced. They may not have had an opportunity to complete their formal education. Without adequate job skills, they are more likely to be poor and employed in low-paying jobs. Without the support of relatives, such as their parents, they will also have the added responsibility of providing suitable day care for their child. The unmarried mother may also be struggling with emotional burdens, such as feelings of shame and loneliness. Some may fear that the presence of a child will preclude their ever finding a suitable mate. As children in such households grow older, they too may be plagued by unanswered questions about their background and by a need to be recognized by the absent parent.
Similarly, parents going through divorce are under enormous stress. Some parents may feel great anger as a result of the divorce. Feelings of low self-worth and a deep feeling of rejection may also rob some parents of their ability to extend themselves emotionally to their children. Mothers who need to enter the job market for the first time may have difficulty coping with the responsibility of managing a household. They may feel that they have neither the time nor the energy for the special needs of the children, who themselves have to cope with dramatic changes after the divorce of their parents.
Unique Challenges of Divorced Parents
Single parents realize that their children’s individual needs are different and in a constant state of flux. For divorced single parents, providing reasonable opportunities for spiritual guidance may bring unique challenges.
For example, some divorced parents who are Jehovah’s Witnesses may not have custody of their children. They have sought to have their visitation at a time when they can include attending a Christian meeting. This arrangement for visits would give the child regular contact with the Christian congregation, which is of great benefit to children of divorce.
Divorced parents who have fewer opportunities for regular contact with their children need to look for ways to assure them of their love and affection. To be successful, a parent needs to be sensitive to the child’s changing emotional needs. This is particularly true when the child reaches adolescence and takes a growing interest in social activities and friends.
The successful parent also understands the child’s capabilities, personality, and manner of thinking. (Genesis 33:13) Parent and child enjoy close, intimate, and warm conversations and association with each other. The lines of communication are open. The child is involved in the parent’s life, and the parent is involved in the child’s life.
The Need for Reasonableness
After a divorce, children benefit from regular contact with both parents. Suppose the parents have different religious beliefs; one is one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the other is not. Regular and open communication helps to avoid unnecessary conflict. “Have a reputation for being reasonable,” wrote the apostle Paul. (Philippians 4:5, Phillips) Children should be taught to respect both parents’ rights to practice their religion.
The non-Witness parent may insist on having the child attend religious services at his church. What can the parent who is one of Jehovah’s Witnesses do? She can also share her religious convictions with the child. In time, the child can make his own decision regarding religion, as did young Timothy, whose mother and grandmother likely taught him Bible principles. (2 Timothy 3:14, 15) If the child feels uneasy attending services in another religion, perhaps he can consider the Bible character Naaman, who after becoming a true worshiper continued to carry out his duties by accompanying the king who worshiped at the house of Rimmon. This account may reassure the child of Jehovah’s love and understanding despite his presence at religious ceremonies to which he is unaccustomed.—2 Kings 5:17-19.
The successful parent is able to mold the thinking of the child or children and to understand their feelings. (Deuteronomy 6:7) True, parents who were never married might feel embarrassed over their former life course. However, such parents need to remember that children have two biological parents. Children want to know about both parents, and they need to feel that they are wanted, not just unfortunate accidents. By speaking respectfully of the absent parent and giving answers that someone the child’s age can grasp or needs to know, the parent can provide the child with loving reassurance.
Parents should remember that a child’s first impressions of love, authority, and power are shaped by the relationship the child has with his parent. By the loving exercise of authority and power, the Christian parent can do much to prepare the child to have a loving relationship with Jehovah and to have respect for arrangements in the congregation.—Genesis 18:19.
Children’s Cooperation Essential
Children living in single-parent families also need to understand that their cooperation is essential to the success of the family. (Ephesians 6:1-3) Their obedience to parental authority shows that they love their parent and respect the added effort that the parent makes to provide a safe and happy household. Since communication is a two-way street, children in a single-parent family need to remember that they must be willing to support the parent’s efforts to maintain good communication in the family.—Proverbs 1:8; 4:1-4.
Such children are often required to assume responsibilities quicker than those who live in two-parent households. With loving and patient instruction, boys and girls will gain self-confidence and a sense of self-worth as they master life skills at an early age. Also, some chores may be delegated to children so they can assist in the orderly management of the household.
This does not mean that the objective of the single parent is to make her children into little, self-sufficient adults who have no need of parental direction. Certainly, it is most unwise to leave a young child alone or unsupervised.
Single parents are often mistakenly drawn into thinking that they must be buddies or chums with their children. While a close relationship is necessary, single parents should keep in mind that children need a parent and that a child is not emotionally mature enough to be the parent’s confidant or peer. Your children need you to act like a parent.
Single parents and children cooperating together in a loving relationship can contribute to a successful family. As more and more children are being raised in single-parent households, everyone should be aware of the particular challenges facing single parents and their children and be willing to offer loving encouragement and support.
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Effects on Children
Single parents in general may have less time for each individual child than two parents would. Sometimes a single parent lives with a partner who is not his or her spouse. However, cohabiting relationships are less stable than marriages. Children living in such families are more likely to grow up with a revolving set of adults in their lives.
According to some studies, “children from single-parent families are more likely to experience less healthy lives, on the average, than children from intact families.” However, closer analysis of such studies indicates that lack of income may be “the single most important factor in accounting for the differences in children from various family forms.” This, of course, does not mean that children from a single-parent family are condemned to failure. With proper guidance and training, they can overcome negative effects.