Raising kids can be challenging for any parent at times, but being a single parent brings some unique challenges to the equation. In addition to the stress and heartache that a separation of any kind can cause, single parents are limited to a single income potential, and have less time to spend with their kids, as well as all the same responsibilities that come with a 2 parent household. Add to that the social stigma that often surrounds the single parent and you have an emotional burden that can be overwhelming.
Single parents are no longer the minority in our world. The U.S. Census Bureau table, “America’s Families and Living Arrangements for 2012,” reports that 26% of children are raised in single parent homes. If you look at the same statistics over the last several years, it is clear that the trend is on the way up. Single parents are not alone, but for the individual living a life of stress every day with no break, it can feel that there is no support. Juggling a job, children, schools, household chores, the finances, and all the things that go along with all those, without the help of a partner every day can be more than just a hectic life.
Single Parent Struggles
Research has shown that single mothers are more likely to suffer from poor mental health than partnered mothers, and the factors that most greatly affect single mother mental health are financial hardship, and a perceived lack of support. In the study, 45% of single mothers experienced depression, anxiety, or substance use disorder in the previous year, compared to 23.6% of partnered mothers. In the study, all the factors believed to contribute to the mental health concerns were examined such as financial hardship, unemployment, lack of social support, the responsibility of caring for children, consequences of a family break-up, trauma such as abuse, childhood adversity, and socio-economic disadvantage. Of the factors studied, financial hardship, social support, household income, and socio-demographics accounted for 94% of the association between single mothers and poor mental health. Did you get that; making ends meet and support are the most important factors for the mental wellness of single parents. I would bet all the single parents out there can concur. It makes sense, right?
It is not just single mothers; there is an increasing amount of single fathers each year. Single fathers in 2012 consisted of 16% of all single parents, 9% were raising 3 or more children under the age of 18, and of those, 42% had a family income of $50,000 or more annually. That means that 58% made less than $50,000 per year.
One of the most important factors in being emotionally healthy is the ability to provide for your family. Single parents have a harder time with this in many cases. Some parents must work two jobs to make ends meet, which not only takes time from their family, but can wear on the physical health as well. The parent has to choose between wearing themselves out to provide, and being there for their family. Food, a basic need, can be a source of stress for anyone who is not earning enough to support their family. The prevalence of mental health illness among Canadian adults with poor food quality was 24%, and 25% for those who did not have enough food, with an even higher rate for single parents.
Single parents also have to deal with the stigma of being a single parent, while worrying about their children’s’ well-being. Many studies over the years have correlated single parenting with an increase in children’s mental disabilities, as well as unruly kids. Recent research suggests that single parent families are no indicator of a child’s future well-being, but family climate and well-being is significantly related. So the quality of mom or dad being there is very important to the child’s well-being. This means that parents need to take care of themselves in order to provide the emotional support their kids need.
Aside from depression and anxiety, lone parents have an increased prevalence of suicidal thoughts. All of these factors emphasis the need for single parents to place themselves in an environment of support. Therapy is a valuable tool for many single parents, and their children.
The Therapist is Not the Missing Parent
One of the challenges of seeing a therapist for single parents is that the family looks to the therapist to take a position that would represent the missing parent. Often times the members of the family look to the therapist to take on a position of authority, or experience to resolve their problems. For instance, if a single mother is hoping to gain respect, or discipline from the children, she may hope for the therapist to take a disciplinary role with the children. It is not the place of the therapist to think of the mother as a victim, or label the other members of the family. The environment of therapy is non-judgmental. The therapist will be able to reconnect the family with its own resources and a social support system.
While being a single parent may be the most difficult thing you will ever do, it is not hopeless. There are resources to help you, and therapy can give you insight into some of those resources. If you would like to read more about divorce, check out this link. http://www.theravive.com/services/divorce-help.htm
 Crosier, T., Butterworth, P., & Rodgers, B. (2007). Mental health problems among single and partnered mothers. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 42(1), 6-13. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00127-006-0125-4
 One-parent Unmarried Family Groups With Own Children Under 18, By Marital Status Of The Reference Person: 2012 (FG6). (2012). Retrieved from U.S. Census Bureau website: http://www.census.gov/hhes/families/data/cps2012.html
 Mental health; findings from university of british columbia update understanding of mental health. (2013). Food Weekly News, , 167. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1356048090?accountid=3358
 Phillips, T. (2012). The Influence of Family Structure Vs. Family Climate on Adolescent Well-Being. Child & Adolescent Social Work Journal, 29(2), 103-110. doi:10.1007/s10560-012-0254-4
 Psychiatry; study findings on psychiatry are outlined in reports from science institute. (2013). Mental Health Weekly Digest, , 101. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1415811419?accountid=3358
 Rober, P. (2010). The Single-Parent Family and the Family Therapist: About Invitations and Positioning. Australian & New Zealand Journal Of Family Therapy, 31(3), 221-231.