By David Elkind Ph.D, Chief Scientific Advisor, JustAskBaby.com
Picture courtesy of Justaskbaby.com
Although the divorce rate in the US is declining, the number of single parent families is a still a substantial proportion of all families. While many single parents do a superb job of childrearing, they confront many more challenges and unwise options than is the case in two parent households. Perhaps the greatest challenge is having no one with whom to share responsibilities and decision making. In some respects, the single parent must be mother and father, homemaker and breadwinner, good cop, bad cop. In addition, the inevitable crises, illnesses, and emotional meltdowns have to be handled without someone else to lean on or take over when in need of a break. It is not an easy task but many parents handle it brilliantly, particularly if they have the support of friends and an extended family.
Yet there are unhealthy options as well as challenges. Perhaps the most serious of these is to use the child as a partner, confidant and/or therapist. We all need to confide in people, to share our experiences, our likes and dislikes. It is tempting, in the absence of an adult partner, to use the child in the same way, as one might use the other parent. Indeed, in some cases the child comes to see himself or herself as the other parent. In many respects, treating the young person in this way, robs the child of his or her childhood with long lasting negative consequences. This is not to say that children should not have more chores and responsibilities than might be expected in a two parent family. The added work is easy for the children to understand and is healthy and normal. What is hard for children to understand is why they have to hear about the parent’s problems at work, and especially about their romantic involvements. These are not things they neither need, nor want, to hear about.
One option a single parent should be very careful about taking, is involving the child in a relationship, which may not be serious. The child has already been attached to a parent who is now gone. Attaching to another, or more than one, new adult who then disappears from the child’s life, puts the child at risk for attachment burn. Just as the child who had been burned avoids the fire, a child who has experienced too many broken attachments will be reluctant to enter new ones.
Single parenting is hard but can be immensely rewarding. In such a household children may learn to be more responsible and more independent than in a two parent household. If single parents look to friends, and to the extended family for the kind of adult support they need, children will reap the benefits, and not the costs, of single parenting.
About The Author
David Elkind Ph.D is the chief scientific advisor for Just Ask Baby, an online video membership service, which gives parents a unique baby’s eye view on how to effectively nurture their infant’s full developmental potential. For more information visit http://www.JustAskBaby.com