Fortunately, the days are gone when there was a stigma attached to single parent families. Improved understanding and tolerance generally, has made an enormous difference to the simple act of allowing adults to make the right decisions for themselves and then being left to get on with their own lives.
Parents can either make a conscious decision to separate and raise their children on their own, or because of circumstance, separation becomes a necessity. Increasingly, a number of single women are choosing to have a child or children on their own by using donor sperm and raising them independently.
Transferring old modes of family functioning after a separation tends not to work. Single parent families operate in a different way to dual parent families. Separation generally means a fair bit of reshuffling and organisation with all the individuals involved. Clear communication, patience and tolerance contribute significantly towards working out what these new rules will be.
According to data from across the Tasman at The Australian Bureau of Statistics, single parents tend to have lower levels of educational attainment than those who parent with a partner, though this is not exclusive. There are all sorts of reasons why there is educational inequity within different strata groups. What is important is that the children’s needs are met and that no matter who their primary care giving parent is, they are not neglected.
Caring for a family is expensive and dropping to one wage often creates financial hardship. Although acceptance is changing, the reality is that single parent families still tend to be at a higher risk of social disadvantage. Social support services, community groups, Government funding and housing services are all geared to provide assistance for any family regardless of their status and without discrimination.
However, even when criteria are met and a family do qualify for support, waiting lists tend to be lengthy and often hold up the delivery of services. The general advice to single parents who feel they may need additional support is to make enquires, register for assistance and do whatever administration work needs to be done as early as possible. Social situations can deteriorate quickly and it can be useful to plan for a “worst case scenario”.
Sharing everyday parental decisions regarding household functioning can no longer occur. The tendency then is for single parents to do this with their kids rather than the other parent. What to eat for dinner, where to go on holidays, how to spend free time are all common areas of negotiation. This can have its benefits of course, because the children feel involved; they sense they are being trusted with adult responsibility and that they have a voice in what they do. But it can also cause problems. There is a fine line between parents involving their kids whilst still having the ultimate say when it comes to whatever final decisions are made.
If the reason for the relationship separation was because of violence, alcohol, drug abuse or other toxic circumstances, there can be a sense of overwhelming relief for everyone when it has ended. However, if there is sadness and grief over the leaving or death of the other parent, then it is
impossible to say how long, if ever, it will take for the family to recover.
It is worth remembering that children are better off being raised by one loving parent who is able to focus their energies on them, rather than having to deal with a conflicting relationship at the same time. Single parent families are not always compromised. In fact they can be highly protective and healthier than dual parent families where dysfunction exists.
Counselling can be invaluable in helping family members come to terms with intrinsic changes to their family’s structure. Although you may all be members of the same family group, each individual will have their own, unique experiences. Biology is not destiny and although children may share the same DNA they can be very different people. Resilience, temperament and personality play a large part in how a child responds to the transition towards being in a single parent family.
Don’t assume that just because your children aren’t saying it, they are feeling OK. Changes in behaviour, school work, eating, sleep and a decrease in energy levels can all reflect emotional stress. Your GP is an ideal starting point for referral on for psychological support.
Many newly separated parents find the relentless grind of having to organize, plan for, and then attend to every household detail exhausting. For this reason, kids of single parents tend to do more. They are also given greater responsibility for a wider range of household chores than kids in dual parent households. This can boost their independence and skills in taking the initiative when they see something needs to be done. But it can also cause problems in the classroom and amongst their peers who may not have the same degree of responsibility. The additional responsibility can also impact on the child’s free time. If they are diverting their attention away from playing, spending time with friends or sport then it can become a problem.
Having a voice in the household does not always transpose to the same degree in the classroom. It can be useful for parents to keep the lines of communication open with the school and others involved in the child’s care.
Children of single parent’s households often show more maturity, self reliance and responsibility than kids of the same age in dual parent households. Another positive is that their relationship with their supporting parent tends to be close, particularly if there is only one child.
No matter how much practical support kids can contribute, it is worth remembering that their role is not to become a confidant or counsellor to their parent. This is a position best left to other objective adults who do not have the same emotional investment. It is reasonable for parents and their children to feel emotionally close and connected to each other. However, single parents sometimes need to place barriers around the areas in their lives which they don’t want, or need, to share. Financial security, their own health care needs, decisions regarding dating and sexual relationships with another adult are all “no go” areas for shared negotiation with a dependent child.