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Single Parenting

Parenting is a hard job, and single parents face extra challenges. Though every family’s situation is unique, there are some tips that single parents can try to overcome some of their challenges.

Some single parent statistics show the prevalence and challenges of single parenting in America:

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  • Slightly more than 1 in 4 children in America is being raised by a single parent.
  • About 40% of children born in 2007 were born to unmarried mothers.
  • 23% of kids live with only a mother, 4% live with only a father, and 4% live with neither parent.
  • 3% live with unmarried parents.
  • Black children are the most likely to be raised by a single parent, followed by Hispanic, then white children.
  • Children living with only one parent have financial and educational disadvantages compared to children with both parents, especially if their parent is the mother and if she did not finish high school. 

Parents may be single due to separation, divorce, or death, or they may have never been married. Also, some parents may have a partner who is not able to help with parenting due to a disability or a job that takes them away from their family most of the time. Parents in different situations face different challenges, but in all of these cases it is hard for both the parent and his or her children to parent alone.

Having a single parent can be hard on children and teens, who often wish they could have more of their parents’ attention and may have emotional issues to work through. Though every situation is unique, here are some tips that might help a single parent whose child or teen is struggling:

  • Tell your children every day that you love them.
  • Encourage your children to recognize and express their feelings. Younger kids especially may need help recognizing feelings like sadness, hurt, and fear that can come as a result of the loss of one parent, and teens may also need help dealing with these emotions. Even teens who grew up not knowing their other parent may at times feel a sense of loss over his or her absence. It’s okay to get help from someone else to talk to teens, including a relative, clergy member, or professional counselor.
  • Let teens ask questions and give them honest, age-appropriate answers. Be honest when you don’t know an answer – there are some questions only the absent parent would be able to answer.
  • Don’t say negative things about the absent spouse. This may be very hard, but it’s not good for children or teens to hear one of their parents say bad things about the other, and may lead to feelings of anger. This doesn’t mean a parent should make up good things, but they should refrain from saying bad things.
  • While you may be too busy working and trying to be both mom and dad to spend as much time with your teen as you would like, make time for special activities together. Try to eat at least one meal together as a family every day, even if it’s breakfast or a late dinner. Also, consider finding one time each week that you can set aside as family time to do fun activities together. Activities don’t have to be expensive or elaborate to have a positive impression on teens.
  • If you work in the afternoon when teens are out of school, make sure your teens have somewhere to go and positive activities to do. The time right after school is when teens are most likely to get into trouble, but if they are with a responsible relative or neighbor or in an after school program they are less likely to get into trouble. Summer programs are also available in many communities for times when parents are working while school is not in session.
  • Have clear, consistent rules, and enforce the consequences when the rules are broken. It may be especially tempting for a single parent to “let things slide,” but its very important for teens to have clear rules and consistent consequences.
  • Emphasize the importance of education to your children. Get help for teens who are struggling in school.
  • Do as much as you can to be supportive of teens’ positive activities, like sports or music. You may not be able to be there for every game or performance, but go when you can, and talk to teens about their interests to show that you care.
  • Be patient with teens when you are starting to date again or getting remarried. This can be a difficult process, and it may take time for teens to adjust to it. Keep talking to them about their feelings.
  • Don’t be afraid to seek support for yourself or your teens. Support groups like Parents Without Partners can help single parents feel support. Family and friends can also help, and being involved in community or church groups can relieve loneliness for parents and give teens positive role models.
  • Be aware of signs of depression, aggression, drug or alcohol abuse, or suicidal thoughts and behavior in teens or in yourself. Talk to teens about concerning behavior, and seek counseling if you are still concerned. Many communities have free or low-cost counseling for those who do not have insurance that covers the costs. 

Single Parenting Tips and Single Parent Statistics Sources:

Nemours, KidsHealth, “Tips for Divorcing Parents” [online]
Nemours, KidsHealth, “Living with a Single Parent” [online]
U.S. Bureau of the Census, Census Brief, “Children with single parents – how they fare” [online]
Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, “America’s Children: Key National Indicators of Well-being, 2009” [online]