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Your Options - Single Parenting

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There is no scent in the world as sweet as a newborn, and no touch compares to baby's tiny hand grasping your finger, holding tight. Parenthood is a privilege that encompasses countless wonderful moments: the sounds of baby babbling, first smiles, watching baby crawl, toddle and walk, reading that special book cuddled together in bed, seeing the zoo animals through your child's eyes.

But as any experienced parent will attest, for each "magic moment" there is a "counter-moment," a time that tries one's patience, knowledge and commitment. Before baby happily coos and babbles in her crib, there may be weeks of coping with her normal but stressful newborn crying and fussing. Before enjoying baby's wonderful smiles, there are months of feeding, diapering, holding and rocking a baby who may not appear to differentiate you from the FedEx man. Along with the joy of watching your toddler walk, comes the never-ending responsibility of baby-proofing your home and keeping the exploring toddler safe. Parenthood is filled with joys and challenges at every stage of our child's development.

In two-parent families, the challenge is shared as parents strive to negotiate their different personal styles, histories, and perspectives on child rearing to become a cohesive parenting team. This is a difficult task, but if accomplished, the payoff is wonderful as each parent has the other as a partner and safety net. If mom is sick, dad can take over nighttime feedings, letting her sleep through. If mom becomes anxious, worrying about how many ounces of formula baby is taking, dad can reassure her that baby is gaining weight and doing well. Often parents take turns being the one to worry, or the one to reassure. It's not only worries that are shared; it's the details of daily life as well. One parent is good with numbers and is able to help with math homework, the other is an athlete and happily teaches her child to ride a bike. One parent takes baby to day care in the morning, and the other picks baby up at night. In the best of circumstances each parent is strengthened by the presence of a partner with whom to share the intense journey of child rearing.

How do single parents face the challenges of parenting? Just as each two-parent family is unique, so is every single-parent family. The personalities and endowments of the individuals as well as the distinctive circumstances determine how smoothly family life will proceed. Is the single parent a teen with a supportive extended family or a teen alone with no resources? Is the single parent a professional with financial means who chose this life path, or a woman with limited education unexpectedly pregnant? Is the single parent dealing with the painful break-up of a marriage compounded by financial strain, custody/visitation issues? Does the single parent have a network of supportive friends and relatives or few such resources? There are an infinite number of ways to "be" a partner in a two-parent family or to "be" a single parent. For single parents, however, whatever the circumstances, there is one salient issue: the primary responsibility for raising the child is yours alone. This is at times a great joy, at times a great burden, and always a great responsibility.

In a single parent family, as in any family, the goal is to raise a child who feels positively attached to his caregiver and is free enough from undue anxiety to play and learn. Of course, this good attachment situation can take place in a single parent family. Of course, one loving parent can raise a secure well-adjusted child. But remember that a child's good outcome rests on the availability of a parent who is consistently attuned to him and can handle the loving component of parenting as well as the limit setting component. Single parenting can be a challenge because in order to be available and give to our children, we need to be "given to" and supported ourselves. The "safety net" of the partner available in the two-parent family, someone with whom to share joys, worries, dinner, carpools, is absent. A different "safety net" must be created in single parent families. It's crucial to create a support system for help with parenting issues as well to meet normal adult needs for conversation and companionship. Please call upon your family members and friends for assistance if possible. Look for services such as single parent groups through churches, social service agencies, and park districts. No one should undertake the amazing journey of parenthood alone.

Summary of Single Parenting Challenges

  • Economic struggles
  • Only one income
  • Parents forced to work less hours due to childcare responsibilities
  • A high percentage noncustodial parents not financially supporting their children
  • Pay discrimination
  • High cost of childcare
  • Lack of resources
  • Most single-parents are restricted in their ability to explore and utilize community resources
  • Securing resources is time consuming
  • Information about available resources is sometimes not easily accessible to single-parents
  • Most communities are not equipped to address the needs of single-parent families
  • Threats to self-reliance
  • Reliance on support from relatives and friends
  • Dependence on government support
  • The need to have outside child-care assistance in order to work
  • Single-parents that are on welfare sometimes do better financially than those who are employed
  • Moral admonitions
  • Criticized and judged by acquaintances they look to for support
  • Negative perceptions regarding raising children outside of marriage
  • In many cultures and religions, the concept of single-parenting is considered an insult against traditional family values
  • Child development risks
  • Struggles with academic achievement
  • Compromised social-emotional development due to attachment issues related to diminished parent/child interaction
  • Lack of family structure resulting in discipline issues and behavioral challenges
  • Delays in social-emotional development as a result of decreased parent/child interaction
  • Children of in single -parent households often care for each other.
  • Mental health issues
  • Coping challenges associated to guilt and blame
  • Stress
  • Absence of emotional support
  • Caregiver strain/ burdens on the parent and child
  • Medical concerns
  • Engaging in at-risk behaviors
  • Single-parent families that do not have Medicaid unable to afford medical care
  • Poor single-parents put the nutritional needs of the children before their nutritional needs
  • Medical issues related to stress
  • Absentee fathers
  • Reduced paternal attention to the children
  • Less parental authority in the home
  • Difficulty integrating fathers into the lives of their children
  • Loss of contact between the father and their children
  • Parenting challenges
  • Discipline issues
  • Lack of co-parenting support
  • Time constraints on the parent
  • Lack of supervision
  • Psychological distress
  • Anger management
  • Social Isolation
  • Abandoned by friends and family as a result of family disruption
  • The social life of the single-parent is altered
  • Limited money for family socialization opportunities
  • Decreased social networks
  • Children feeling inferior to their friends from two-parent families
  • Decreased community ties
  • Family conflict
  • Anger regarding the family disruption
  • Unresolved issues with the noncustodial parent
  • Pressure from extended family members
  • Issues related to money
  • Environmental stressors
  • Often the targets of stigmatization by government agencies
  • Lack of affordable housing
  • Living in at-risk neighborhoods
  • Overcrowding and other poor living conditions
  • Issues related to grief and loss
  • Anger
  • Blame
  • Guilt
  • Difficulty adjusting

Wow! That's a long list. But you also need to realize, that life is a series of hills and valleys. Things will always get better and worse throughout your life. So timing is everything. Only you can make the decision to parent or not, and only you know if this is a hill or valley in your life. Can you be a single parent and survive till you can get back on top of things . . . or will single parenting make that valley just too wide and too deep to for you to bear? Only you know this answer to this question.

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