The Hard and Soft Knocks of Single Parenting
Wed, April 21, 2021

The Hard and Soft Knocks of Single Parenting

Today, statistics show one quarter to one-third of all families in the world are headed by single parents as divorce becomes more common. / Photo by: Alina Demidenko via 123rf


In the family structure, the nuclear family was once the norm, but not anymore. It has been overtaken by single-parent families. Today, the world experiences all sorts of single-parent families headed by mothers, fathers, or even grandparents.

It was in the latter half of the 20th century that there was a surge in the number of single-parent families. Many see this change as family breakdown, but more view this as normal diversity that influences the social and economic context of family life.

Global Trends

Historically, single-parent families were the result of parental deaths. Today, statistics show one quarter to one-third of all families in the world are headed by single parents as divorce becomes more common. Approximately half of the recently born children will experience part of their childhood with a single parent as a result of divorce, separation, or out-of-wedlock births.

Among the developed countries, the United States topped the list with the highest percentage of single-parent families at 34%. Canada comes second at 22% followed by Australia and Denmark at 20% and 19% respectively. In developing countries, rates vary with a high 40% in Barbados and Botswana, more than 25% in Puerto Rico, Trinidad, Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda, and Tobago and a low 5% in Kuwait. Divorce is the main factor in single-parent families in developing countries while desertion, imprisonment, and deaths in developing countries.

It was also noted that there is a racial variation in the proportion of families headed by a single parent: uppermost in black at 57%, followed by Hispanic at 33% and white at 22%.

Another trend noted is the escalating births to unwed mothers mainly due to accidental pregnancies and the decision not to marry. Across race, Asian and Pacific Islanders account for 20%, white women at 25%, Hispanic origin at 41%, Native Americans at 57%, and African-American at 70%.

There is also the growing trend of single women opting to bear or adopt children. Insemination is popular among lesbians and older women while adoption is popular among gay men.

Hard Knocks of Single-Parenting

Under the best of conditions, parenthood brings a lot of challenges. With single parenting, these challenges burgeon at quadruple rates. Overloads seem to be the rule: responsibility overload, task overload, emotional overload all leading to anxiety, depression, and loneliness.

Income seems to be the most challenging. Bringing in enough funds to support children is a strain as one paycheck to run a household is not enough. MassMutual’s 2018 State of the American Family Study found that in the US, nearly one in three families is grappling to make ends meet. In another study, Brooking Institute states that a large portion of poverty in the US belongs to single-parent families headed by women.

The emotional burden comes second in challenging single-parent families. The American Psychological Association found that single parents may have ongoing conflicts with the other parent in terms of child custody, visitation, and child support. The extra responsibilities hoisted on their shoulders in running the household while going to work constrain quality parent-child moments.

The disruptions from normal living conditions may affect children’s social and academic lives which in turn adds tension and stress to single parents. Long hours of work may cause missing out important school functions. Moreover, the valuable downtime with children is diminished as babysitters are expensive. These plus the guilt make single parents more reactive even to simple situations like a child being untidy or a child refusing to sleep early.

Children may suffer from adjustment problems or even feel resentment, shame, and low self-esteem. They may not receive the affection they crave because of the busy schedule of single parents. Difficulties encountered in everyday life may be harder to bear. Even joys may be suppressed in the absence of parents.

Soft Knocks of Single Parenting

Although single parenting is hard to bear, there are soft knocks in single parenting that deserve attention and praise. Mostly concerning children, a few of these include the following:

Kids develop a unique and strong bond with single parents. Their interdependence draws them closer to each other. They go through life’s ups and downs together, drawing emotional strength from each other. Their attachment to each other is further developed and enhanced.

A strong sense of community is fostered. Kids raised in single-parent families are surrounded by well-meaning relatives like grandparents, uncles, aunts, and other close family friends prepared to help in nurturing the children. They manifest their concern by getting involved in children’s activities at home and school.

Children learn to assume responsibility. Unlike children with both parents present, it is a must for single-parent children to provide their share to the family system. With only one adult to run the household, children step up to take more responsibilities around the house. Their contributions to the family enhance their self-importance and pride to give more.

Experiencing the hard knocks in life, children raised by single parents learn to capably navigate through the real world. They thrive on their own, learning to cope with disappointments while at the same time drawing valuable lessons to help them become sensitive and caring adults.

Children raised by single parents develop good money sense early in life. They learn how to earn, save, and spend money wisely. They learn how to balance their wants considering available resources and the needs of others. They learn to be creative to achieve their goals in life.


Children raised by single parents develop good money sense early in life. / Photo by: Andriy Popov via 123rf


Giving Best Efforts

The expectations and demands for single parents can be extremely awesome and crushing at the same time. Establishing priorities and asking for support can help normalize family life. Life as a single parent hardly runs smooth, so being literally and figuratively flexible is a good policy. Put children first, keep an open mind, and learn lessons from mistakes. Strive to move on together.