I don’t think it’s healthy for children, parents, or society as a whole and consequently, when I have the opportunity I tend to encourage couples to work out their relationship problems and discourage women from willfully going into parenthood alone.
I’ve been a single-mother for 12 years. I was never-married, nor have I ever co-habited with a mate. For 3 years, I allowed my daughter to live in her father’s home, so I have also experienced single parenting from outside the home. My parents were married for 5 years, by the time I was born, and they remained married and living together for another 15 years. I lived with my mom as a single parent for about 2 years, and I lived with my dad as a single parent for another 2 years. So, I believe I’m more than qualified to speak on this topic. For the sake of a common definition, Single parenting is a spectrum, you can be married and living in the same house as your partner and feel more alone in your child rearing that someone who co-parents with a parent living outside the home. But as a general definition, single-parenting refers to parenting without the live-in presence and/or support of the other biological parent.
When I found out I was pregnant as a junior in college, I didn’t think twice about the challenges that lied ahead. In fact, I had no idea what they would be. Fast forward 12 years, and I now fully understand, why parenting alone is a set-up for failure.
One oft-repeated saying coming from exasperated parents who are attempting to discipline is: “I am not your friend…I’m your mother (or father).” We know that the primary job of parenting is doing what you believe is best for your child, even though it may be contrary to what they want for themselves. This is quite opposed to the dynamic of being a supportive friend, who seeks to support the friend’s own desires for himself, not direct his path. This requires a high level of personal strength and exertion of will that is not readily available as a single parent who is focused on fulfilling roles meant for two separate individuals. Additionally, in the process of fulfilling this duty to raise and guide a child for their best outcome, the parent will be met with resistance, and without a supportive, concerned, invested partner, to support that initiative, the single parent is often left exasperated and unable to fulfill the mission, especially if that child is especially willful. Knowing that his/her initiatives were in the best interest of the child, he/she may end up feeling resentful of the child, who not having the full benefit of the parent’s wisdom and experience, has thwarted noble efforts to receive proper training. Then often in retribution, the parent threatens to stop caring about the welfare of the child, because it’s simply too work. Clearly, it’s an impossible task, for most parents to not care about the welfare of their children, and so it creates a cognitive dissonance, and all the resulting stress on the part of the parent and the child.
Some may be thinking, what of the parent who lives outside the home. Any concerned individual who is invested in the outcome of that child’s raising, can be an ally to the custodial parent, but it really depends on the quality of the relationship of those two parties, because so much of the work of parenting takes place in the home. Important interaction take place at the dining table, in the car on the way home from school, in the evening, in preparation for bed, and over breakfast in the morning. Developing the high-level of trust and cooperation with the parent living outside the home, is difficult because the single parent is less likely to share details of the private events or discussions that take place within the confines of the home, as it is a personal space, and the single party might fear being misunderstood and judged for the state of the affairs in their home. It is also feared that information may also be used for purposes that it was not intended to be used for when it was divulged. For example, incidents could be referenced in family court at a custody hearing, and taken out of the context of the home, may be perceived in narrowed view that could affect a parent’s rights to the child. Even though a single parent might try hard to make the raising of that child a village affair, they may find it difficult to achieve the level of intimacy necessary, if there is no sharing of a roof and four walls with other invested adults.
The developmental tasks of pubescent child of a single parent is to develop their sense of self and utility, whilst trying to preserve the unusual role of simultaneously being a child and a supportive partner to their single parent. Part of developing a sense of self, is differentiating oneself from others, including the parent. This is illustrated in the contrary stances that sometimes adolescents take to any and everything that a parent asserts. It seems that they disagree just for the sake of it, and to a degree, it’s a healthy adolescent who does this. But when the messaging, conscious and sub-conscious, is that the child must support the parent’s efforts in his/her own rearing, or else the parent will become exhausted and disengaged, it becomes a strain on that child, because it’s impossible to do both at the same time.
Consequently, you have a child who is robbed of the opportunity to develop in a healthy way. What happens after that I don’t know, but I have some ideas of the possibilities. Resentment on the part of the child towards the parent for stifling their growth. Resentment on the part of the parent toward the child for being so wasting their energies and not appreciating their efforts. It’s a cauldron of negative emotions and a perversion of the dynamic of the parent-child relationship.
What can be done if this dynamic or the potential for this dynamic already exists?
Share a home with another family. It could be a two-parent family, or a single parent family. Parents can support each other in their roles and children will find it easier to accept rearing when they experience it with a peer. Might this cause other issues? Yes. Is it easier said than done? Perhaps…. ( awkward silence) I hope you didn’t think I had all the answers. I’d love to hear other people’s ideas about how to make single-parenting, satisfying and successfully. Comment below!