Maria (not her real name) has three daughters and is raising them on their own since she filed for divorce. She took two jobs to cover the necessities and a few luxuries for them; luckily, her mother and siblings offer her help from time to time. Oftentimes, however, she faces the challenges of being a single parent on her own.
Maria is among the 11.6 million single parents recorded by the US Census Bureau, 80% of the total figure is single mothers.
Single mothers face various challenges daily – from raising the kids on her own, helping her children cope with the separation from the other parent, to coping with work-related stress. Based on studies, half of women and one-third of men hold anger against their former spouses. In 2004, a separate study also found that one-third of women and one-fourth of men looked at their lives as unfair and disappointing.
When stress is too overwhelming and no family help is in sight, mothers could face more difficult problems like depression and drugs. In 2014, a survey showed that almost three in 10 separated and divorced men and women reported using drugs or medicine to relax. The figure is higher compared to married men and women, 17% of whom admitted taking drugs or medications.
Effects of Divorce on Children
Each child has his or her own strengths and weaknesses and personalities, mainly due to their different degrees of social, emotional, and economic resources. Research shows that while there are different responses and effects among children of divorced parents, their losses should be acknowledged. Here are five effects divorce might have on children:
1. Losing Time with One or Both Parents
Children of divorce do best when they have equal access to both parents. However, this doesn’t always happen after a divorce. Spending more time with their custodial parent could partially compensate for the time they are missing with the other parent. However, when the father effectively disappears from the family, children of single mothers may also spend less times with her since she may need to work longer work hours to support the family on her own.
2. Lack of Economic Security
In 2014, a report showed that children with single mothers are prone to living in poverty compared to children living with both parents. A study shows that single mothers who take custody of their children lose 25 to 50% of the income they had before divorce. In 2011, the US Census Bureau also found 23% of women who got divorced in the past year receive public assistance than 15% of men. Data showed that custodial fathers experience financial loss, too, but they tend to recover fairly quickly.
3. Losing Emotional Security
Because of separation, children are prone to have a weakened relationship with a parent. In 1996, a study showed that fewer than half of children living with their mothers who got divorced were able to see their father at all in more than a year. Separation also causes the children’s weakened relationship with grandparents and relatives from their non-custodial parent. Children are prone to lose family traditions or friends and other support networks because of their change in residency.
4. Decreased Social and Psychological Maturation
Studies found out that anxiety among children seems to worsen after a divorce. Children may also have lower scores on self-concept and may display poor practice on social relations. A study in Sweden also found out that children who are growing up with a single parent are more than twice likely to have a serious psychiatric disorder, develop alcohol dependence or commit or attempt suicide. It was also shown in studies that children living with only a single parent are twice as likely to suffer from emotional and behavioral problems.
5. Poor in Cognitive Stimulation and Health
The Family Structure and Children’s Health in the United States found out that children in nuclear families were less likely to have a learning disability or attention deficit disorder regardless of their family’s educational background, income or area of residence, compared with children in other families. Children whose parents are divorced were also found to have less language stimulation and were prone to have lower grades. In 2012, the National Center for Health Statistics National Health Interview Survey showed that only 12% of children in nuclear families were considered to be poor in health compared with children of single parents (22%).
What Single Mothers Could Teach Their Kids about Relationships
The first piece of advice is to teach positive lessons only! Telling your children that all men are deceitful and untrustworthy is only helpful if you want your children to grow up unable to commit to or be intimate with a potential partner. Don’t sabotage your children’s future relationships before they’re even old enough to have one!
A study in Europe found out that parents who keep an open communication with their children greatly influence their kids’ decisions in life. Mothers can encourage understanding and empathy among their teenagers to help them become better parents and better partners someday.
Rember that what you do is just as or even more important as what you say, so make sure to model the lessons you wish to teach.
Here are three things single mothers could teach their sons:
- Tell your partner about how you feel. Encouraging your son to be open about how he feels – about his future partner and about what’s happening in his life – will help improve his relationships. Sons are not always encouraged to show their feelings, but creating an environment where it’s safe to express how they feel without worrying about being “less of a man” will help them to maintain lasting relationships with a partner who values his willingness to be open and vulnerable with them.
- Show your love for your partner in various ways. Whether it’s in a form of embrace, saying “I love you,” doing the dishes without being asked, or leaving love notes in her lunch bag, teach your son that showing his love for his partner will make their marriage and family stronger. Ask each other “What makes you feel loved?” and make a point of giving that to each other.
- Learn to listen to your partner and treat her as an equal in your marriage. Gender equality starts at home. Teach your son by example that women are equal to – although not always the same as – men. Research has shown that men and women have different communication styles; understanding those differences can prevent misunderstandings that lead to anger or distress. Single mothers should encourage their sons to appreciate women for their hearts and minds, skills and capabilities.
Here are three things single mothers could teach their daughters:
- Be confident. A girl’s feeling of weakness or lack of self-worth could be aggravated by how she is treated in the family. A divorced mother could boost her daughter’s self-esteem by reassuring her that she can do great things as long as she keeps learning and never lets anyone treat her like less than the amazing person she is. A daughter who has been taught that confidence is attractive will tend to be more confident in a relationship – an attract a partner with similar ideas about a woman’s self-confidence.
- Be self-reliant. Divorced mothers can be natural models of independent and strong women for their daughters. Girls as young as six should start to learn about taking responsibility for themselves and others – a list that will grow according to age and ability. This could include looking after their possessions, doing their homework, and completing assigned chores around the house (which will be divided equally between daughters and sons, of course!). This will demonstrate that they can do things for themselves without waiting for someone to take care of them.
- Respect yourself. Mothers, divorced or not, should teach their daughters about building self-respect so others will respect her as she matures. It’s not enough to talk about it: you have to live it by treating your daughter with respect and insisting she treats you with respect, too.
If you need help coping with or recovering from divorce, finding a local support group or online community of single mothers and/or divorced women can be a game-changer. Other single mothers who have been in your shoes can often offer helpful advice based on their own past mistakes and accomplishments. If you are suffering from addiction issues, ask your family doctor about women only rehab centers. Getting the help and support you need can be a starting point to reinventing yourself and living a happier, healthier life after divorce.
Dale Vernor has a background in journalism and an English degree from Central Michigan University.