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Growing Up In Single Parent Families

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Single parents and their children constitute a rapidly increasing population. Much of the initial research on single parent families focused on single mothers due to the father's absence. More recently, single fathers, unwed teenage mothers, other single parents and the adjustment processes of single parents and their children have received more attention. Although the common assumption from early research was that single-parent households are a pathological family form, these units today provide a viable alternative to the nuclear families.

Yet, social development, in a traditional sense, has not prepared either males or females to be single parents. Single mothers and fathers need to establish strong support networks, personal friendships, and new social networks, and work on improving their self-esteem. Many single parents learn to live on reduced incomes, find acceptable ways to deal with a non-custodial parent, and redefine their relationships with their children.

Single parents report differences in parent-child interactions in their new family structure. They see themselves as more respectful and more able to encourage individual opinions from their children. They find themselves utilizing reason and threats, but not following through with physical punishment. Although they are more likely to report feeling angry toward their children, single parents more often take the children's preferences into account.

Single fathers have found synchronization of work, supervision of children, and household management to be the major focuses of concern. They are able to perform homemaking tasks such as cooking, cleaning, and shopping without considerable difficulty. In fact, homemaking is a major part of single-fathers' roles. Fathers today seem to be more familiar with these roles in home management and childcare than their predecessors.

While both custodial and non-custodial parents are learning to redefine their relationships with children, custodial fathers find they are required to make major shifts in life-styles and priorities as a result of being the primary caregiver of the child. The bonds between fathers and children become new focal points for self-direction and set the criteria for organization of more traditional spheres of work and social life. Single fathers develop close relationships with their children. They have a greater appreciation of responsibility in being the primary parent. They show more concern about day care, more interest in education and protection of their children, and more discipline orientation.

Children living in single-parent families also have additional stresses, but they find ways to adapt and thrive. A recent study found several characteristics in single-parent families that encourage positive youth development. These assets and building blocks serve as protective factors for all young people, including those in single-parent families.

Several assets highlight the critical influence of family dynamics on adolescent well-being. Others point toward the influence support systems have on families' adjustment - quality schools, friends who are a positive influence, extracurricular organizations, and religious institutions. This external network of support provides the key to success of single parent families.

Rearing families as single parents is tough work. However, with special effort, and the support of individuals, communities, and institutions around them, single parent families can be supportive, healthy families in which young people will thrive.

Bensen, Peter L. and Roehlkepartain, Eugene (1993). "Single Parent Families," Minneapolis, MN: Search Institute.
Garon, Risa (1992). "Working With Single Parents After Separation/Divorce," Minneapolis, MN: Family Information Services.
Hamner, Tommie, and Turner, Pauline H. (1985). Parenting in Contemporary Society. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.

Reprinted from permission from the Ohio University Extension Service
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