Characteristics of Successful Single Parenting
By Dr. Stephen Duncan
It's common to talk about single-parent
family problems and their disadvantages to children. This can
lead some single parents to think there is little they can do
to have a successful family. That's not so.
Not all children growing up in
single-parent families experience negative consequences, just
as not all overweight people have a heart attack. More importantly,
focusing on the weaknesses and problems doesn't help single parents
and their children become strong.
Some years ago, this column discussed the unique strengths of
single-parent families. Some researchers have asked successful
single parents how they succeeded. This is what they said.
Acceptance of responsibility. Successful single
parents accept the responsibilities and challenges of single parenting.
They neither minimize nor exaggerate problems but seek solutions.
They acknowledge the difficulties (e.g., lack of personal time,
restricted social life, sole responsibility for meeting multiple
needs, financial stress) without self-pity or bitterness.
One woman lost her husband to an
auto-pedestrian accident. She was left with five sons to raise
and little education or skills. She was devastated. Ultimately
she made a plan and proceeded to carry it out. She decided to
establish a home-based business, and it became very successful
in a large metropolitan area. This woman was my mother.
Commitment to family. Successful single parents
make the family their highest priority. They focus on being the
best possible single parent, which often means putting the needs
of the child first. They genuinely like and enjoy children, sacrificing
time, money and energy for the sake of the children. They try
to be supportive, patient and help children cope. Like other effective
parents, they are consistent and non-punitive. This discipline
style gives children choices, uses natural and logical consequences
and provides structure.
Open communication. Successful single parents
foster open communication. These parents encourage clear and open
expression of thoughts and feelings in the family as a key to
developing honest and trusting relationships. They foster individuality
within a supportive family unit. These parents strive to accomplish
this individuality and independence by each member having individual
interests and building individual skills.
Successful home management. Successful single
parents manage the family needs well. They strive to be well-organized,
dependable and work hard to coordinate schedules. They take pride
in their ability to financially provide for the family, although
finances still remain a struggle. One single mother effectively
organized her children to help with chores. She typed out the
jobs for the day on 3x5-inch cards and expected a report before
Care of self. Successful single parents take
care of themselves. Despite lack of time, these parents recognize
that caring for themselves is important. They attempt to achieve
it through physical, spiritual, emotional and/or social means.
They are connected to others on whom they can call on for practical
and emotional support.
Maintain rituals, traditions and relationships.
Successful single-parent families maintain rituals and traditions,
whether bedtime routines, special family time together or holiday
celebrations. A tradition is any event with special or meaning
to a family. When a family has been disrupted, maintaining traditions
becomes a stabilizing force, something that can be depended on.
If the other parent is living,
successful single parents encourage the child's involvement with
the nonresidential parent, as long as the other parent doesn't
present some danger to the child. When possible, the other parent
shares responsibility for the children and regardless of where
children live, they receive economic and emotional support of
Have a positive outlook on challenges. Successful
single parents have a positive attitude toward parenting and life
in general. They see positive aspects in stressful situation and
feel that they have succeeded despite many doubts.
All families, including single-parent
families, have strengths. Achieving success as a single parent
is difficult, but it can be done. As with any family, you can
have the quality of family life that you want, if you are willing
to pay the price.
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