Children and the Single Parent Single parenting begins with the divorce of a couple who have children. Approximately ninety percent of all minor children live primarily with their mothers. Non custodial fathers usually have less than biweekly contact with their children, and involvement usually declines as time goes by. Since most single-parent households are mother-headed, and have only one income, often below that of a man. This results in economic distress and fewer opportunities for educational and extracurricular experiences. Economic constraints may limit growth enhancing experiences. Even children whose fathers pay substantial child support are faced with limiting experiences. Children hate divorce because having two of the most important people in your life living apart hurts. For children, divorce is not a one time event, but a continued process. This is a traumatic experience for the children because it leaves them feeling alone, as if nobody in the world cares about them. Single parenting affects each child differently according to that child’s age. Infants and young children can feel abandoned by the decision of parents to get divorced. Most infants and young children need to feel, hear, and see both parents in order to bond with their parents. This bond is important for their parent/child relationship later in the child’s life. Parenting is difficult at this age because this young child requires great amounts of nurturing. Single parents dont have time to give the proper nurturing because they are forced to work and take care of the household duties alone and therefore become extremely stressed because they worry about their children getting enough of their attention. Preschool aged children need a daily schedule. They have certain times for naps, lunch, dinner, and play. They like their certain toys, certain spots on the rug, certain people, and certain television shows. In the book, Growing Up With Divorce by Niel Kalter, he states that, an inconsistent daily schedule can cause distress in preschool age children in much the same way as it does in infants and toddlers (136). Parents need to maintain the daily schedule. This is most difficult for the parent who does not have primary custody of the child. The non custodial parent must try to accomplish a schedule of their own, that must include the needs and wants of the child. Depending on the work situation of this parent, it can be a quite difficult task. Preschool age children can develop stress reactions when they dont live with their non custodial father. The attachment many children develop with their father by the preschool years makes them sensitive to changes in the amount of time they spend with him and interact with him. In these instances, the changes in the quality of the father-child relationship can be difficult at best. A younger child can not always understand who their father really is. This leaves fathers feeling desparate for time with their child. When the father spends time with his children, he is liable to stretch the time they have together by taking the children home later, which causes stress for the mother because she has such negative feelings toward the father. This becomes fuel for confrontations with the father. The elementary school age is the third stage of child development. Children gain an increased capacity for abstract thinking. Children of divorced parents have frightening fantasies and dreams of being abandoned or hurt as a result of their parents rage towards each other. Carla B. Garrity and Mitchell A. Baris, authors of Caught in the Middle, explain how children of six to eight years of age, are often directly involved with their parents disputes. Research suggests that parents encourage children of this age to take part in their quarrels. These children are like a communication channel. Mom may use children as spies to learn details at dads house. Dad encourages children to harass and complain to their mother about things he dislikes himself. Ninety-five percent of children this age witness episodes of verbal abuse between their parents (31-32). Mothers may find themselves spending a great deal of time trying to make the father look bad. Children begin to dislike their mother for what she is doing to dad. In Warner Troyers book, Divorced Kids, he explains that, children are often aware that their mothers make visits to their father difficult or unpredictable. They need predictability and do not easily forgive this form of interference (152). Single parents of children in this age group need to understand the child’s’ need for attention. Being a single parent places high demands of time on the parent, however, there is only so much time in the day. The custodial parent must go to work and then come home and handle household duties. Most times, when the child asks to play, the parent is too busy and the child is left to feel alone. The custodial parent must keep the non custodial parent informed of all the children’s’ activities. They must make sure all schoolwork is completed and not lost or forgotten. This too, involves scheduling and a type of babysitting affect, when the non custodial parent decides what they need to do is different from what the custodial parent wants, this produces a negative effect. In Does Wednesday mean Moms house or Dads? by Marc J. Ackerman PhD, in his section on making visits better, he explains that children complain about visiting being boring. One parent becomes the Disneyland Parent. This can become costly and neglectful of parenting activities. Desirable visits can be made by allowing children to invite friends or to become active in planning the visits (120). The last phase of child development is adolescence. All adolescence go through puberty. If parents separate during adolescence, children deal with the loss of stability, support, protection, and the family structure. Some adolescents feel they have to grow up faster. In the eyes of the child, parents become selfish, stupid, weak, and cruel. Divorce brings a more lasting bitter and demeaning view of parents. Children blame themselves and begin to feel as if no one loves them. In The Kids Book About Single-Parent Families by Paul Dolmetsch and Alexi Shih, they explain that children are used to getting blamed by their parents for doing things wrong. They come up with reasons why its not their parents fault, but their own. Parents have to remember that to a kid, almost anything is possible (34). Adolescence are unpredictable. They are independent beings. Parents who earlier felt pushed out of their children’s lives by an angry ex-spouse, find a second chance to heal old wounds and create a new relationship with their adolescent child. Over time, parental wars take a greater toll on a child’s development. When parents fight, children lose faith, and the world becomes a scary place. Parents can find themselves picking up pieces of the adolescents life. Children become masters of manipulating parents to meet their needs. Children learn to take care of themselves first and always. They fail to learn compassion and become skilled at manipulating others for their own needs. Custody at this age can be difficult. Parents find themselves trying to buy off the child to live with them. Custody can be painful to both the child and parent. Parents try to persuade adolescence to choose them. Courts seriously consider a teenagers preference for which parent to live with. This opens the door to subtle and not so subtle attempts to persuade adolescence to make that decision. Most teenagers love their parents and this places them in a troubling position. Parents begin a tug-of-war, and the children are the rope. In Divorce and Your Child by Sonja Goldstein LL.B and Albert J. Solnit M.D., they state that as a condition of custody, parents should choose why they would want responsibility for the child and which parent has the desire to look after the child. If the parents want to do what is best for their child, parents need to recognize what should not determine their choice (37-47). Parents of an adolescent child still must uphold their own daily routines of work and household affairs. An adolescent can feel many emotions putting added stress on the single parent. Sometimes, a single parent must resort to counseling if the parent relationship is such that they cannot talk with their child together. Teenagers are well aware of facts that many families experience with divorce. After living in a single-parent family for a number of years, you get to know the parent and child you live with very well. You know their faces and voice, and what their different tones may mean. Not many parents ever expect to become single-parents. Being a single-parent can have a big affect on a person, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. Regardless of which way a person changes, single-parent living is a more stressful life. Single-parents avoid the conflicts of a two parent family. Parents have the stress of child support payments, part-time workers become full-time workers, financial demands become draining, you must become a good listener, a budgeter of both time and money, and learning the importance of the child’s emotional upbringing. When parents recognize that divorce initiated life changes affect children, they can be in a better position to help relieve the stress divorce has on their children.
Works Cited Ackerman PhD, Marc J.. Does Wednesday mean Moms house or Dads?. New York: John Wiley ; Sons, Inc., 1997. Dolmetsch, Paul and Alexa Shih. The Kids Book About Single-Parent Families. New York: A Dolphin Book, 1985. Garrity, Carla B. and Mitchell A. Baris. Caught in the Middle. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1994. Goldstein LL.B., Sonja and Albert J. Solnit M.D.. Divorce and Your Child. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984. Kalter, Neil. Growing Up With Divorce. New York: Ballantine, 1990. Troyer, Warner. Divorced Kids. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1979.
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Children and the Single Parent