Being a single parent, whether through choice or circumstance, creates a very different dynamic compared to a situation where children are raised by both natural parents. Most single parents, at some time or another, will worry about whether their child will be harmed by the experience, especially if they read studies, based on figures from the Office of National Statistics, that suggest children in single-parent families are more likely to suffer from a mental disorder.
However, more recent research by NatCen Social Research suggests that family composition has no effect on child happiness, with 36 per cent of children in single-parent families reporting that they felt happy all the time, identical to all other family arrangements.
This news should come as some relief to single parents and there are some steps you can take to ensure your children are among that contented minority:
Schedule in family time
Most single parents have to work to pay the bills, yet money remains tight since there is only one income. This situation presents both benefits and challenges. On the plus side, children have a positive role model to look up to and often grow up to be resourceful and independent. On the other hand, they can feel lonely, especially during the school holidays, and after a hard day’s work, the demands of entertaining your children can be exhausting.
It is important to understand that your children need you as a companion as well as someone to look up to, so make sure you commit to quality time together with no interruptions from work. When children are older, this can be formalised during a weekly family meeting where events like movie nights and craft evenings can be scheduled. Involving children in household chores is another great way to maximise contact while making your life easier.
Maintain a happy home
Research has shown that children in single-parent families are happiest when siblings get on with one another and when the parent rarely shouts at them. Try and work towards a harmonious household by setting clear boundaries and responding to bad behaviour with firm but controlled discipline.
Talk about feelings
Don’t underestimate the depth and range of feelings that your children will go through as a child of a single-parent family or any family. While it is perfectly possible for them to be happy much of the time, you can expect them to feel sad at not having the other parent around, especially if there was a separation or bereavement. If there was a divorce, they may feel angry at you for the break-up and guilty for feelings of love they have for the other parent. It is important to let your children know you are there to talk to them about their feelings.
Extend your support network
Single parents, more than anyone, need the help of their extended families and friends to share the intense burden of parenthood. Ensuring you maintain a strong support network will enrich your children’s lives and help ease the pressure on you.
Single Parent Support Online
If you want to speak to a Parenting expert for advice on single parenting, helping children through divorce or any other aspect of parenthood, Roots of Life (www.rootsoflife.co.uk) enables you to access support via a customised video service. A free ten minute ‘Meet the Consultant’ session is available.