Strengths of the Single Parent
by Carl Pickhardt, Ph.D.
Even today, the unjust stereotype is still sometimes invoked: a single parent presides over a broken home that produces troubled children.
Unless single mothers and fathers disbelieve this popular prejudice, they are in danger of doubting their adequacy and undercutting their confidence as parents.
It's not the number of parents in a family but the quality of parenting a child receives that matters most. A home is only "broken" when healthy family interactions break down – when people stop communicating adequately, betray trust, or conduct conflict destructively, for example. As for troubled children, from the vantage point of my practice, they are no more likely to come from single parent homes than from dual parent families.
What is true is that single parents, because they have no parent partner with whom to share the daily child raising load, must absorb additional family demand. However, by rising to this challenge, custodial single parents develop significant strengths that merit recognition and appreciation. Consider just a few of the common strengths they often seem to possess.
1) SINGLE PARENTS ARE HIGHLY COMMITTED.
Taking their family responsibilities very seriously, single parents vote with their actions, doing more care taking now that they are parenting alone thereby increasing dedication to the welfare of their children.
2) SINGLE PARENTS ARE CLEAR COMMUNICATORS.
With much to talk about and less time to talk, busyness causes single parents to speak directly and to the point, not hesitating to speak up when difficult issues need to be addressed.
3) SINGLE PARENTS ARE FIRM DECISION-MAKERS.
Accepting that parenting often requires taking stands against what children want for their best interests, single parents are not afraid to make tough and unpopular rules stick.
4) SINGLE PARENTS ARE WELL ORGANIZED.
With so much to do and one parent to do it, single parents create efficient systems to manage so much responsibility.
5) SINGLE PARENTS MANAGE DIVERSE FAMILY FUNCTIONS.
Parenting alone, single parents expand their range of responsibilities to include family tasks the absent parent used to do, often breaking out of sex role stereotypes into which they were bound before.
6) SINGLE PARENTS CREATE A NETWORK OF SOCIAL SUPPORT.
Knowing parenting alone does not mean going it alone, single parents are willing to admit problems and reach out for social support, something dual parent households are often reluctant to do, disinclined to let the world know when all is not going well at home.
7) SINGLE PARENTS HAVE CLEAR PRIORITIES.
Knowing that children are a third order priority (single parent welfare first, family welfare second, and child welfare third), single parents know that unless they take care of themselves and the needs of the family, the welfare of their children will not be secure.
8) SINGLE PARENTS VALUE FAMILY VALUES.
Because there is no marriage partner in the home, single parents focus a lot of attention on the children, on the quality of that relationship, and on what values matter most to keep the family functioning well.
9) SINGLE PARENTS ARE GOOD AT MAKING ENDS MEET.
For most single parents, learning how to stretch a dollar seems to come with the territory, a skill which children in these homes often learn to their later benefit.
10) SINGLE PARENTS GIVE CHILDREN CLEAR EXPECTATIONS.
In order to be able to count on each other, single parents create a family system in which children know what to expect of their parent and what the parent expects of them.
11) SINGLE PARENTS GIVE CHILDREN FAMILY RESPONSIBILITIES.
Knowing they cannot do every routine task that needs to be done, single parents are good at delegating household responsibilities to children who draw self-esteem from contributing to the family, from being of significant family use.
12) SINGLE PARENTS ARE REALISTIC ABOUT SETTING LIMITS.
Because single parenting is an over-demand situation, single parents tend to be realistic about the limits of what they can do, saying "No" to themselves and children when doing more would drive them into doing too much.
Recovering from partner death, divorce, or abandonment, single parents develop significant strengths from rising to the challenge of parenting alone and come to parent extremely well.
© Cark Pickhardt. March 2003 Psychological Update. All Rights Reserved.