The Unique Strengths of Single-Parent Families
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by Stephen Duncan Dr.

Nowadays, it's quite common to talk about the problems of single parent families. These problems usually center on the disadvantages to children. This focus may lead some single parents to throw up their hands in despair. I remember as a young graduate student feeling shocked and appalled at some of the personal deficits I was predicted to have, because I spent 11 years of my childhood in a single parent family.

It's true that research shows that children in single parent families, on average, tend to do less well in many ways than children in two-parent families. However, all of us know of persons who grew up in single parent families who turned out fine. In addition, single parent families aren't helped to become strong by focusing only on their weaknesses and problems. Instead, to become an effective family, it's better that they realize and build upon their own strengths.

According to Stephen Atlas, author of the book "Single Parenting," if single parent families are willing to work at it and get help when they need it, there are seven benefits that can come to their children and themselves.

First, if there was high conflict before a divorce in a two-parent family, a change to single parent family living can bring about a reduction in tension, hostility and discord and an increase in family solidarity and consistency.

When tension is high between parents on their way to divorcing, children's emotional needs are often ignored. Rules are not consistently enforced and children feel less secure. When that tension is gone, single parents can focus more on children's needs and return to greater consistency in rule enforcement.

Second, a single parent may have greater flexibility in planning time with children. Single parents aren't distracted by the expectations or time demands of another adult. With fewer schedules to negotiate, there may be greater flexibility to spend time with each child.

Third, single-parent families may become more interdependent, working-together approach to problem solving and daily living. Single parents depend more heavily on the voluntary cooperation of their children. This cooperation is encouraged by holding family councils, where children are involved directly in making decisions and solving problems. When children are thus involved, they are more likely to help carry out the decisions.

Fourth, single parenting provides many challenges that are opportunities for growth and sharing. Single parents often need to develop new skills and obtain additional education. While it isn't easy, pursuing the task of balancing a full-time job with full responsibilities for housework and parenting can help make us stronger people.

Fifth, children have wider experiences because they may go between two differing spheres of influence. Each single-parent family will have its own unique influence. This can be a broadening experience for children.

Sixth, the extended single parent community can provide support. Single parent families are not necessarily isolated or cut off from the broader community. Nor do they necessarily lack support. Groups for single parents such as Parents Without Partners can be a valuable resource for activities, sharing, personal growth and forming new relationships.

Seventh, young people may feel more needed and valued as contributing members of the household. I still remember Mom's "duty lists" she gave out each Saturday. All five of us were expected to fulfill our responsibilities. Failure to do so only placed increased burdens on Mom. In two-parent families, parents typically share the major responsibilities. In single parent families, each child's help is needed and vital in day-to-day living. As a result, they may feel more valued.

What strenths have you found in your single parent household?
One of the biggest benefits I have found in single parenting is consistency in routine and discipline. I set the daily routine for the kids and I do not have to worry about another adult's work or recreation schedule. Also, discipline is much easier since the kids don't have to adhere to two different techniques.
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