Some people say parenting is the hardest job on earth.
If that’s true, then single parenting is in a category all by itself.
And if that’s true, then being the single parent of teenage children – well, let’s just say anyone doing that job alone deserves special recognition.
This post will focus on them. But first, we’ll talk about single parents in general.
The Common Stereotype
What most people picture when they think of a single parent is a young single mom. While there are more single moms than any other type of single parent in the U.S., single parents have always come in all ages and genders. Single parents can be moms, dads, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and male or female foster parents. Single parents are caregivers of any sort who shoulder the parenting load by themselves. Some parents in full domestic partnerships or committed marriages feel like single parents.
This post is for them, too.
What is National Single Parent’s Day?
National Single Parent’s day this year falls on Thursday, March 21st. It’s a day for all of us to recognize single parents and everything they do. From the single mom working two jobs to make ends meet, to the well-off grandfather taking care of his grandchild for reasons unique to his family, to the single teenage dad finishing high school and planning to go to college, Single Parent’s Day is a time to honor and support those who arrange their lives around taking care of the world’s most precious resource: children.
Single Parent Statistics
Data from the 2016 U.S. Census indicates the following:
- There are 11 million single parent families in the U.S.
- Single mothers account for 8.5 million of those families.
- Single fathers account for the remaining 2.5 million families.
- Between 1960 and 2016, the percentage of children living with only their mother rose from 8 to 23 percent.
- Between 1960 and 2016, the percentage of children living with only their father rose from 1 to 4 percent.
Those statistics bring us to a point we want to drive home to all the single parent families out there: you may be parenting alone, but you are not alone. You’re part of a cohort that’s 11 million strong. Also, there are many public and private organizations whose sole purpose is to help you. We’ll list those at the end of this post.
Now, though, we’ll talk about the category we mentioned above: single parents of teenagers.
Single Parents of Teenagers: Challenge Creates Strength
First, we want to dispel the myth that a single parent home is a broken home, and that those broken homes are only capable of producing troubled teens. Well-known and respected author, parent, and Ph.D. psychologist Carl Pickhardt writes in Psychology Today:
“When it comes to creating a healthy family, it’s not the number of parents in residence, 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, behave un-lovingly, or conduct conflict destructively.”
Pickhardt goes on to point out that parenting teenagers is difficult at the best of times, and single parents of teens, rather than being at a categorical disadvantage, develop – out of necessity – a set of unique characteristics that make them particularly effective at parenting teenagers. This is a condensed list of the traits he identifies in single parents:
1. They’re committed.
The fact that all the responsibility for child-rearing falls to them means single parents dedicate themselves wholeheartedly to the task at hand.
2. They’re decisive.
Many, but not all, single parents have made it through infancy, toddlerhood, and the early school years. This experience gives them practice putting their foot down when it really matters. Single parents embody the words of Harry Truman: The buck stops here.
3. They’re clear about behavioral boundaries and outcomes.
Single parents, in general, don’t have time to debate family rules and outcomes of unwanted behavior. For a single parent, no means no. They’re not dictators, but many single parents raise kids who understand the household rules and know exactly what will happen if they break them.
4. They utilize resources.
Single parents learn quickly they can’t do everything themselves. They understand asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but of strength. They’re not afraid to enlist the assistance of friends, family, or public and private organizations geared toward offering them assistance.
5. They delegate family responsibilities.
To make sure any given day, week, month, or year runs smoothly, single parents include their children in household chores and tasks when appropriate. This benefits both the parent and the child. The parent has help getting the work done, and children learn responsibility and the value of teamwork.
These characteristics are not limited to single parents of adolescents, of course, nor are they present in all single parents of adolescents. They are, however, traits Pickhardt identified as “common strengths they seem to develop” in order to reassure single parents themselves: one of the stated goals of his article in Psychology Today was to shore up their confidence, so that they themselves do not unconsciously undercut their own parenting capabilities.
Resources for Single Parents
We’ll return to a trope about single parents borne out by the facts: they’re not alone. They’re 11 million strong. Also, there are many public and private entities that exist to help them on a variety of levels. Here’s a list of resources single parents can begin to utilize immediately:
The Single Parents Alliance of America is an organization “dedicated to the purpose of supplying information about financial planning, advice, articles, information, and other services that may be useful and beneficial to single parents.”
Single Parent Advocate is a non-profit organization “committed to educating, equipping and empowering single parents with resources, practical assistance, emotional encouragement and social networking to better their lives, and those of their children.”
The Single Parent Resource Alliance Resource Center (SPARC) is an organization with a similar mission to both The Single Parents Alliance of America and Single Parent Advocate.
Finally, state and federal programs single parents can utilize include cash hardship assistance (TANF), help paying energy bills (LIHEAP), help feeding infant children (SNAP), school lunch programs (NSLP), early education programs (Head Start), and assistance for women who are pregnant or have children under the age of five (WIC).
Angus is a writer from Atlanta, GA who writes about behavioral health, adolescent development, education, and mindfulness practices like yoga, tai chi, and meditation.