Have you ever thought about the different ways men and women
become single parents? There are many, and each has its challengesand
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 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
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-relatedespecially if it is a culturally
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 membersoften grandparentsmay
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