Does single parenting affect children? Read on to find out how you can provide a positive single parenting experience for your child.

Recently, I overheard a conversation between some children discussing who they liked to live with- their father or their mother.  It made me question the effects of single parenting on children.

A lot has changed in the way we define the word ‘family’.  Gone are the days when the family described the traditional unit of two parents raising their children.  Instead, families come in many different forms today.  

Although couples decide to separate/divorce after a lot of thought, the fact remains that the breakdown of the family and subsequent single parenting does affect children.  Knowing these effects can help you take steps to reduce their impact and plan for positive single parenting.

Effects of Single Parenting On Children

Even when divorce/separation is necessary for the welfare of everyone concerned,  it does cause some short-term and long-term effects on children. Let’s see what they are:

Short Term Effect of Single Parenting

Immediately after separation, a child almost always experiences and expresses feelings of:
  • Anger and non-compliance especially towards the parent who initiated the separation.
  • Sadness, depression, and loneliness.
  • Increased aggression, social adjustment issues, and acting out.
  • A perceived sense of parental loss or increased yearning for the non-custodial parent. 
  • Resistance to discipline.
  • A decline in academic performance.
single parenting effects on children

The intensity of these feelings and how long children harbor them depends on:

  • Their personality and the coping strategies they engage in. 
  • The social support systems such as grandparents, relatives, and friends can take up a more active role in their welfare. 
  • Collaborative efforts of both the custodial and non-custodial parents towards their stability and welfare.   This includes conflict resolution and positive co-parenting measures.

Some children may continue to resent their parent’s separation or their current single-parent status, while others gradually learn to accept it and move on.

Long Term Effects of Single Parenting

The long-term effects of single parenting on children can be both positive and negative. Let’s first take a look at the negative effects, so that we can work towards mitigating its impact.

The Negative Effects of Single Parenting

Emotional Effects:

emotional effects on children of single parenting

Children may continue to experience feelings of isolation and depression, or struggle with a sense of abandonment.  This is especially true if they were closer to the non-custodial parent before the break-up.  These feelings are amplified in social situations such as birthdays, PTA meetings, or extra-curricular events such as competitions or plays when a parent fails to attend them.

They might behave more aggressively, or resort to alcohol and substance abuse to create an impression of being tough or indifferent to their situation. 

Children can also become emotionally distraught when their parents keep using them as ‘weapons’ against each other.  They are quick to pick up on feelings of hostility between parents and may feel troubled when having to choose sides with either parent or be the ‘go-between.’

Academic Effects:

Single parents have to work twice as hard to provide for their kids and make ends meet. Sometimes, they may not be able to assist children with their school work or ensure that the work has been done. This can affect the academic performance of their kids, as they might fail to perform as well as their peers.

Social and Psychological Effects: 

Children growing up in a single parenting household may become wary of others and have difficulty forming, and sustaining, meaningful relationships. As adults, some of them may choose to be single parents themselves, while others will work hard to compensate for their loss and try to uphold a traditional family system.

Financial Woes:

Money can be tight when you are living on a single income.  Your child may learn early in life to compromise and forgo privileges, such as eating out, dance or music lessons, and spending money frivolously. 

They might feel financially constrained and resent the loss of financial freedom to live life as their friends do.

The Positive Effects Of Single Parenting

As with two sides of a coin, there is a positive side to single parenting. Over time, children learn to:

Form a Better Relationship with Parents:

Over time children will gradually learn to accept their parents’ situation as is and work towards adjusting to the new routines and schedules. They will develop their special ways of bonding with both parents and find comfort in it.

Responsible and Focused:

Single parenting children learn to become more independent, self-reliant, and responsible.  They may support their family by helping out with chores, taking care of the siblings, or doing part-time work.  They often become financially smarter as they learn to save and budget at an earlier age. 

Children who watch their parents struggle will be motivated and driven to have a better life.  They will set goals and work towards attaining them.

Creating A Positive Single Parenting Experience:

It’s never easy to watch your child grow without a parent.  It hurts you, even more, to see them struggle to find stability in their new situation.  To help prepare for a positive single parenting experience, here are some steps that you can carry out.

  • Talk to them 

Encourage your kids to be open, and talk to you about their lives, problems at school or home, and other important stuff.  While this is easier with younger kids who are more willing to share their lives with you, older ones might want to keep their emotions bottled inside. 

Try to strike a careful balance between giving your older kids their space and encouraging them to talk to you.  Only by being aware of their troubles, can you take the steps to help them.

ways to help with children dealing with single parenting
  • Give Them Your Time

As single parents, we’re so focused on providing for our kids, that we forget to keep aside time for them.  Plan for a special “us time”, or make new traditions to do with each other.

It could be continuing with your nightly bedtime routine or a weekly ice-cream date.  Better yet, have a spontaneous pizza game night or take a short drive! Small things can make your child feel special, loved, and included. 

  • Be Honest With Your Kids

Children are very perceptive and good at finding things out.  It’s better, to be honest, and upfront with them about any difficulties.   At the same time, try to stay positive and remind them that things can get better.  Life can be a rollercoaster and there will be an ‘uphill’ after every ‘downhill’. 

  • Give Them Structure 

Kids need structure and thrive when they have some in their lives.  Whether your child lives with you or shuttles between you and your ex, remember to provide them with a clear structure. Regular meals, chores, rules, and responsibilities at one or both households can help kids have a clear understanding of these expectations.

Be consistent with them. Don’t spoil or give in to them, just to make up for being a single parent.

  • Ask For And Accept Help 

Learn to lean on others as needed. Ask for and accept help from your loved ones, such as family, friends, and neighbors.  Your children will fare better when more people cheer them on and help you out. 

  • Work With Your Ex

Your child will always be an invisible tie binding you to your ex.  Try to work with your ex to create a positive and stable environment for your child.  Being cordial and refraining from criticizing or disrespecting your ex in front of the children are some simple measures you could practice.  Remember, they continue to be your child’s parent, even if he/she is just an ex to you. 

  • Practice Self-Love

It’s important to practice a little self-love, regularly.  Eat healthily, sleep well and stay active.  You must also chart some time for a bit of fun, frolicking or relaxation. 

Enjoy a fun night with friends, give yourself time for a bubble bath or arrange for a play date just so you can catch up on your z’s.  Remember, the happier and rested you are, the better you can care for your child.

ways to make single parenting work

It’s not easy being a single parent, and the single parenting journey does come with its share of responsibilities and difficulties.  Yet, we persevere for the sake of our little ones.  All they crave is our love, attention, and stability.

Thus to practice positive single parenting, we need to first understand how single parenting can affect children and how to overcome these hurdles.   If you know a single Mom who might need some support, read our 6 Easy Tips To Help Single Moms.