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"LEADER" Online: Vol. 8, No. 1

Single Parents Come in Many Ways

Successful Parenting author Barbara-Lynn Taylor, M.Ed., explains how different kinds of parents have different kinds of problems—and how we must meet that challenge.

Have you ever thought about the different ways men and women become single parents? There are many, and each has its challenges—and its opportunities. When working with this group, its very important to consider how they became single parents, because the issues they face may be different.

Never-married parents
Never-married single parents face issues of rejection by the other parent and by society. They often have to cope with abandonment, financial problems, the relationship with the other parent, answering questions about the other parent, and not fitting in with friends anymore.

There are also positives about being a never-married parent. They are in a position to make their own decisions, schedule their own time, and perhaps build a stronger bond with their children. Some parents find that being faced with so much responsibility even helps them get their lives together.

Adoptive single parents
Singles who adopt have already experienced an excruciating (and probably expensive) waiting period. Now that they have their child, they must cope with extended family pressures and the feeling of being on display at all times to the authorities. They are also sorting out their feelings about having a child who is not blood-related—especially if it is a culturally mixed adoption.

Positives here may be that their dreams have finally come true, and they may feel the joy of having given another person a life he/she would never have had without them.

Family member taking over parenting
There are many reasons why family members—often grandparents—may take over raising a child. Perhaps the biological parents have been called away to military service. Sometimes the parents are incarcerated. Often the reasons have to do with the parents being just too young, too poor, too sick, or too unstable due to drug or alcohol abuse, to raise their children. These are particularly tough since the take-over parent will have to field questions from the children about the absent parent and aid them in the process of learning to forgive the absent parent.

Since the biological parent is often still in the picture, there may be problems including disagreements over what is right, and children who are confused about who the authority figure is. Then there is the question of when to have the biological parents resume the care of the child.

Positives here may be that the child gets to remain a member of the family rather than being raised by another family or turned over to a social service agency. Sometimes it is easier to set up a schedule for the biological parent to visit with his or her child.

Death of a parent
The death of a parent is unlike any other single-parent situation. It is permanent and that's hard for everyone to understand and accept. Children ask why, and there is no easy answer. How should each person grieve? How long is too long? What is appropriate and okay? Feelings of anger, fear, and guilt may take over the children and even the caregiver.

The final situation resulting in single parenting is when married couples separate and later divorce. This causes special problems because it is a choice and it may be hard for one spouse or the children to understand. Issues of unfaithfulness, lying, alcoholism, and abandonment only complicate the problem. Communication between former spouses may be very difficult and the children may end up in the middle. It is important that the parents be mature and work together in the best interests of the children. (It takes lots of hard work and maturity to separate or divorce successfully, with as little damage to the children as possible.)

As hard as it is to say, sometimes separation or divorce may be the best option, particularly if there is spousal or even child abuse involved.

There are indeed many ways to become a single parent. Our challenge as parenting educators is to help families rise above the circumstances. Do it for the children. They deserve it.


Barbara-Lynn Taylor, M.Ed., is the author of the Successful Parenting video series, which includes two videos for single-parent families.


Reprinted from Leader magazine.
Copyright 2003 by Active Parenting Publishers, Inc.