Stability Overrides “What Ifs?”!
One of the most frustrating thoughts as a single parent are the never-ending “what ifs”?
It’s the “what ifs” that will drive a person crazy and prompt them to overanalyze and question so many decisions from the mundane to truly huge life changing options for fear they are contributing to the future failure of their child.
“What if” my children will be emotionally scarred? “What if” they have:
Commitment issues? Learning issues? Depression Issues? Rejection issues? Social issues? They can’t play sports because they feel abandoned issues?
The more one thinks about it, the crazier the fears become. If you’ve encountered these feelings, you aren’t alone.
Statistics reflect nearly a third of children are being raised within single parent homes.
(Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, 2015)
Research also suggests approximately half of all children will be raised by a single parent at some point in their lives.
The data on single and dual parents is quite extensive, as are the suggested benefits or drawbacks of being raised by one over the other. There are significant studies focusing on the negative effects of being raised outside of a dual parent home; however, much of the base from which the research stems focuses on economics.
In other words, there is an emphasis on examining the impact of being a poor child of a single mother. Single fathers are typically not focused on as much probably because they don’t suffer such a financial impact raising a child alone.
Living on a tight budget is stressful regardless of one’s family structure, and poverty certainly doesn’t discriminate. Nonetheless, one would like to think money isn’t the primary divide between a child’s well-being and going down the path of social and emotional depravity. There are many individuals raised by a single parent who become enormously successful.
As to whether money really makes a difference…
A longitudinal study concluded children weren’t disadvantaged over time by substantial difference in income due to family structure (Seabrook & Avison, 2015).
This is very good news, as it gives single parents the security that even if they can’t provide children with all the material goods a child would like, the family makeup itself wasn’t a negative impact. Household socioeconomic stability affords a child more options, but it doesn’t necessarily make them happier.
If research shows us money doesn’t impact a child long-term, then what does?
In a study by Ford-Gilboe (2000) investigating the strengths of single parent and dual parent families, she found similarities in four out of five categories:
• Family Cohesion
Single parent homes actually identified optimism/pride as ranking higher 42% than the dual parent homes, 11%. Her study suggested many more similarities between single parent and dual parent homes than one would think.
This data reiterates the fact single parent families are structurally different from dual parent homes, but the values aren’t that different in terms of what they need to thrive.
While it’s fantastic news families thrive under certain values, it must also be noted how others impact a family negatively. When conflict is high, regardless of family structure, children are detrimentally impacted. A meta-analysis of research suggested children within stable single parents homes may be better adjusted than those within two parent high conflict homes (Amato & Keith, 1991).
Clearly, it’s better for children to reside within a low conflict home regardless of structure than one filled with volatility, as constant crisis decreases emotional well-being. This goes for single parents involved in volatile relationships—personal, professional, or romantic.
The most important component of a child’s well-being isn’t a family’s structure, rather a family’s stability.
Stability is so significant to a child, that having a stable and consistent parental figure even if from just one person has been shown to be just as important to a child’s development (Lian & Bolland, 2014). A Canadian study consisting of over 23,000 children found good parenting could overcome the drawbacks of coming from a lower income or single parent home (Duffy, 1997). These skills the study referred to were positive and consistent behaviors on the part of the parent. It has also been suggested stable childhoods decrease the potential of depressive symptoms as an adult (Ivanova & Israel, 2005).
Lastly, stability is so crucial to children that research show children who grow up in stable single parents homes fared just as well academically and behaviorally as children growing up in married households (Peters & Kamp Dush, 2009).
For those uncertain about how home stability can be created or where to start, below are several approaches for getting parents on the right path.
Guidelines for Home Stability
Maintaining a daily routine that’s predictable, stable, and encompasses practiced family rituals creates security for children. Ensure relationships with your former husband/wife or biological parent of the child remains civil. Refrain from frequent moves and create a household that exudes safety and comfort.
Be Present & Engaged
Don’t be so caught up in the state of your personal or work life you forget about the children. While a parent’s needs are incredibly important, a child must know the parent is always available to listen, love, and support them. Carve out family time each day where one on one time takes precedence—no interruptions allowed.
Support Cognitive & Emotional Development
Take the time to understand how your child thinks, how they feel, and what’s going on with them. Active engagement in a child’s learning and growth takes effort. Listen to your children and ask questions. Know what they are learning in school and how you can support them. Endorse reading vs. watching television. Research has shown books in a parent’s home have an immense impact on a child’s academic success.
Disengage from Toxic Relationships
Whether a potential romantic partner, family member or friend, keep drama to a minimum. Children should not see a parent involved in any physically or verbally abusive relationships whatsoever. Not only is it upsetting the emotional stability of the children and the safety you are creating within the home, keeping such people in your life will teach children these types of behaviors are “normal”. This is not what you want.
Keep Partners to A Minimum
Do not have a revolving door of romantic partners. Research shows children are better off within a single parent home than a single mother marrying and then it not working out. That would equate to too many changes for the child. Additionally, partners in and out of a child’s life isn’t reinforcing stability, rather lack of consistency. Mirror the values you want your children to have as adults.
The “what ifs” may not be completely gone for parents, but hopefully the data does provide some support for what is required to point single parents in the right direction. Remember, raising well-balanced, happy children is a result of good parenting, something family structure simply can’t dictate!
Amato, P. R., & Keith, B. (1991). Parental divorce and the well-being of children: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 110(1), 26-46. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.110.1.26
Duffy, A. (1997, Feb 02). Parenting has power to erase disadvantages; positive, attentive care is the key; CHILD’S PLAY. Edmonton Journal Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/252440192?accountid=32521
Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics. (2015). America’s children: key national indicators of well-being. Retrieved from http://childstats.gov/americaschildren/index2.asp.
Ford-Gilboe, M. (2000). Dispelling myths and creating opportunity: A comparison of the strengths of single-parent and two-parent families. Advances In Nursing Science, 23(1), 41-58.
Ivanova, M. Y., & Israel, A. C. (2005). Family Stability as a Protective Factor Against the Influences of Pessimistic Attributional Style on Depression. Cognitive Therapy & Research, 29(2), 243-251. doi:10.1007/s10608-005-3167-0
Lian, B., & Bolland, J. (2014). Perceptions of parental figure stability among adolescents in low-income neighborhoods. North American Journal of Psychology, 16(3), 463-479. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1635437448?accountid=32521
Peters, E., & Kamp Dush, C. M. (2009). Marriage and family. [electronic resource] : perspectives and complexities. New York : Columbia University Press, c2009.
Seabrook, J. A., & Avison, W. R. (2015). Family Structure and Children’s Socioeconomic Attainment: A Canadian Sample. Canadian Review Of Sociology, 52(1), 66-88. doi:10.1111/cars.12061
Statistics reflect nearly a third of children are being raised within single parent homes. Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, 2015
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