*This is a guest post
There have been millions of studies and talks on single-parent families and the outcome of this arrangement on children, with conflicting findings. The Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study is one of the biggest and most recent studies on the subject.
This study, which has been taking place in the UK and the US since 2000, suggests that differences in the outcomes of children in single-parent families are measurable. It’s important to note that nothing in this study is about blaming or judging parents. Its purpose is to shed light on the challenges single-parent families commonly face.
In the US, 5,000 children and their parents took part in the study. As the study took place in bigger cities, many of the parents were of Hispanic or African American origin and had lower education or income levels, with two in five unmarried fathers serving a sentence in jail. Children of divorced parents were less likely to make progress at school. Children of unmarried or single parents were 50% less likely to complete high school.
The UK study, which recruited 19,000 children with their parents, showed little difference between outcomes of children of married and unmarried parents. In terms of the effect of parents separating, researchers found the impact was greater if the separation occurred before the child had turned 7. Children of single parents appeared to be doing less well in basic education skills. They were also more prone to depression, anxiety, and other negative emotions.
To what extent were these findings a result of single parenthood? Could financial challenges have accounted for them? There still seemed to be a difference between outcomes in single-parent arrangements and married or cohabiting households even excluding poverty as a factor.
Of course, the vast majority of single parents are women, who also earn less than men on average, and this is without exception. The question, “Will I make ends meet?” is by far the most common one single mothers ask themselves. Working can make a single mother feel resentment on some days. Fight resentment and find solace in the fact that you’re setting an amazing example for your child. Showing them how to be strong and resourceful is the best thing you can do as a parent!
Will They Be OK without a Father?
This is another common concern, and some women have gone to extremes to assuage it, such as introducing a man as the father (the child has no clue that he’s not). There are quite a few options when it comes to paternal involvement. At one end, the father is completely absent, and on the other, the child sees him very often. Usually, we arrange something in between. Healthy children grow up in homes where there is at least one attentive parent who’s good at expressing and encouraging expression of feelings and needs and mediating stress. It’s important not to let it show if you’re angry at the father because it’s between you and him, not you and your child. They will sense your resentment toward him or men in general and it might backfire.
If there’s no father figure, don’t worry. You will find a good male role model among the teachers, coaches, or neighbors you know. You might even meet a single father in your area. Involve other people in your child’s life so you have time to relax and recharge your batteries once in a while. Don’t be afraid to ask relatives and friends to pick your child up from school or drive them to football practice now and then.
Giving priority to your own needs does not mean compromising your parenting. What it means is limiting stress as much as possible and keeping yourself grounded so you can give your loved one the amazing childhood they deserve.
Even in the 21st century, single mothers worry about being stigmatised for having a child out of wedlock or getting divorced. In some cultures, that stigma is alive and well. Even in the US, where 50% of all marriages end in divorce and more than a third of children are born out of wedlock, you might still have to deal with neighbourhood gossip or a disapproving old aunt or grandfather.
Sitting at home with your child won’t help you cope with judgment. Surround yourself with secure, confident people and people who are as emotionally generous as possible. Join a single parent group, meet other single mums at yoga class, or meet people at a library story hour.
Single Mothers and Happiness
We started with studies, and we’ll finish with studies, but on a slightly different note. There will be no end to studies and parenting stories that document the joys and sorrows of raising children as a single mum. Some literature comparing parents and childless adults indicates a happiness advantage for the latter category, though it has emerged recently that this advantage is underpinned by the actual definition of happiness and well-being, as well as differences in the dimension of happiness in parents’ lives and experiences.
Between 2010 and 2013, the American Time Use Survey delved into mothers’ emotions and how these varied by partnership status, employment, and other demographic factors. Looking at mothers’ emotions in a wide variety of parenting activities, researchers found mothering experiences were generally linked to high levels of happiness and emotional well-being, though single motherhood was linked to emotional valence shifts. Single mothers reported more sadness, less happiness, and greater fatigue and stress in parenting than mothers with partners. However, these tendencies were focused among unemployed single mothers. Employed single mothers were less stressed, less sad, and happier when parenting than unemployed single mothers.
Few negative associations were found between employment and mothers’ feelings when parenting with the exception that employed women reported more fatigue in the context of providing parental care.
When it comes to single motherhood, things are rarely black and white. The most challenging situations in life can be the most rewarding because it is only after succeeding at something that demanded our best that we bask in true happiness.
About the author
Amy Petrou is a content advocate at GenMindful.com, and a mother of two. In her free time you will find her writing on her blog, reading and searching for pottery and paintings to add to her growing collection.