SummaryRead the full fact sheet
- Single parent families are now the fastest growing family type across Australia.
- Children raised by one biological parent are generally just as happy as children raised by 2.
- There are different reasons why a person becomes a single parent.
- Help from extended family and friends can help strengthen any family and provide support for single parents.
A person can become a single or sole parent for many different reasons. You may have chosen to start a family on your own, you may be separated or divorced, or the other parent may have died.
As a sole parent, you may worry about whether you can create the happy, healthy family environment your child needs. The good news is: you absolutely can.
The challenges faced by single parents vary according to their circumstances, but there are also common experiences that are shared by most single-parent families.
Facts about single parenting
- Children raised by one biological parent are generally just as happy as children raised by 2.
- A sole parent can provide the required secure emotional base, clear boundaries, love and warmth that children need for healthy standard development.
- Children can thrive with one loving role model.
- Spending time together is the real key to a happy and child.
Single parenting and dual parenting
Single parenting differs from dual parenting in many ways, but the most common difference is the way in which the parent interacts with the child.
In dual-parenting families, the parents usually decide together how to run the household, while in single-parent households, issues such as holidays or major family purchases may be more likely to be decided with the children. This can in fact be a positive difference, as it supports a child in their emotional and cognitive development, and to feel included in family decision making.
Other common differences include:
- Children of single parents may have more duties and responsibilities around the home from an earlier age, simply because there isn’t another adult around.
- Single parents may experience the challenges of attempting to fulfil the roles of 2 parents as a sole person and income earner. Many can feel burnt out by this task, as it is unrealistic and stressful.
Family types are increasingly complex. Regardless of whether you’re a sole parent, part of a two-parent family, or one of the myriad of diverse family types, you can feel positive about your parenting if:
- you’re confident about your parenting most of the time
- you’re concerned about being a good parent
- you call on family and friends to support you in your parenting.
There’s lots of ways a family can look, and a loving home created by one parent is a perfectly valid one.
Children and single parenting
Some common factors that can occur in a single parent-child relationship may include:
- The need for ‘extra hands’ around the house may sometimes reduce the time a child can take part in typical children’s activities such as hanging out with friends or playing.
- If a child is used to having a near-equal say in the household, they may clash with teachers and other authority figures who expect unquestioning obedience.
- The child may not appreciate that their parent needs adult companionship at times.
- In separated families, the child may feel torn between their 2 parents and feel they must ‘pick sides’ – this is especially the case if the parents are hostile towards one another which can be stressful for a child or young person.
You’re not alone – single parenting statistics
In June 2021 in Australia, the Australia Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reported:
- One in 7 families were one parent families (15% or 1.1 million).
- 79.8% of these were single mother families.
- 111,000 (1.5%) were classified as 'other families', where at least 2 people were related in some way other than as a couple or as a parent and child (such as adult-age siblings).
- Of the one parent families, 59.5% (651,700) had dependants (including children under 15), which is an increase of 45,600 (7.5%) since June 2011.
- Single-male-parent families are projected to increase the fastest of any family type, increasing by between 44% to 65% by 2041. Single-female-parent families are projected to make up 13% to 14% of all families in 2041.
- In families with dependent children, the percentage of couples with children declined, and one parent families increased substantially. The rise in one parent families is mainly due to the rise in divorce and the increase in cohabiting relationships, which are less stable than marriage.
Challenges and single parenting
Some of the common problems faced by single parents include:
- The child is more likely to misbehave for the day-to-day disciplinarian than for the parent who lives outside the home.
- It can be hard work to be the only disciplinarian in the house – you may feel like you’re the ‘bad guy’ all the time.
- A child or young person may experience difficulties when they see their own single parent experience alongside friends who have dual parents.
- A single parent may lack the opportunity to compare ideas and discuss solutions to problems. They also do not have the option to delegate responsibility of certain decisions to the other parent.
- New parental relationships may be challenging, and it can take time for children and young people to adjust to family life stages and changes in a parent’s life situation.
- On occasion a parent-child relationship may become enmeshed, making it challenging for both a child and parent to have independence. This can result in making it harder for the child to eventually leave home.
- The demands of income earning, child raising and housework mean the single parent may have little or no time for their own self-care.
Issues with co-parenting in separated couples
Common issues facing separated or divorced families include:
- The single parent may (even if not deliberately) make the child feel guilty for having fun with their other parent.
- Some parents involve their children in their marital disputes, instead of discussing the issues in private away from children.
- Some separated parents find it difficult not to fight at changeover time, which can place the child under stress.
- Some parents ask their child about what they did or who they saw during the visit (perhaps asking about their ex-partner’s new partner).
- The child may take some time – from a few hours to a few days – to settle down again after visiting their other parent.
- It can take time for a child or young person to adjust to significant life changes such as changed parenting relationships. Ensuring a child knows they are safe and loved no matter which parent they are with is crucial to assisting them to have a ’secure base’ in each household.
Positives for the single parent and child
Some of the positives of a single-parent household include:
- A child from a single-parent home who is loved and supported has no more problems than a child from a two-parent home.
- Whether or not the child uses their free time constructively (for example, reading or playing sports) depends on discipline, family routine and quality time between parent and child – not whether the child has one or 2 parents living in the house.
- The child is typically mature and responsible.
- The parent is typically self-reliant and confident.
- The relationship between parent and child is close.
- Single fathers are more likely to use positive parenting techniques than married fathers.
- Single-parent families are less likely to rely on traditional gender-specific roles than two-parent families.
- Single parents tend to rely on positive problem-solving strategies rather than punishment or discipline when faced with difficult child behaviours.
Reinforce your network
Apart from money pressures, many single parents can experience difficulties when trying to manage all of their roles and responsibilities as a single person household.
This can be particularly challenging for those parenting a child with special needs as the demands on your time and energy will be greater.
Ensuring you surround yourself with a strong family and/or social network can really help relieve a lot of these worries. If you’re struggling or need a break, could another adult in your child’s life step in for a while? Or could you access some ?
If you do not have extended family or friends accessible to you, exploring how to link in with your child’s friend’s parents, parents linked into your child’s daycare, or finding your local community centre and inquiring about social networks and support for single parents are effective ways to start setting up your support network.
Being there for your child
Showing warmth and assurance to your child is always important for your child to feel safe and secure. But sometimes it can be difficult when you’re on your own, particularly if you’re at the end of a long day, or you’re concerned about finances. It may be especially challenging if you’re dealing with your or the absence of a partner or their .
According to the Australian Institute of Family Studies, when it comes to child outcomes, parenting practices are more important than family structure (who’s in the family).
Some tips on how to help strengthen connection with your child include:
- Make everyday moments special – by spending time together while you’re doing routine things. Playing games (like eye spy) in the car, talking while hanging out the clothes, or turning the TV off during dinner all contribute to quality time with your child.
- Show you’re interested in your child – by asking them about their favourite books, movies or computer games. Chat about their friends at school or their new hobby. Ask to be shown how they’re playing a game.
- Give lots of positive attention – by showing your delight at seeing your child, smiling and hugging them frequently, and being engaged when they talk to you.
- Protect your one-on-one time – even in a busy day. It doesn’t have to be long or complicated: you could simply read to your child before bed, or go for a walk together.
- Give lots of praise and encouragement – especially if your child is coping with new family arrangements.
Helping your child adjust
If being a sole parent is a new arrangement for your family because of separation, divorce, the death of a partner, or for other reasons, your child will feel the effects of the change in their home structure. This is especially so if they have to change schools or move house as well. Give your child time and support them to adjust to their new way of life.
Try to spend quality time with your child, and be supportive of their relationships with the other adults in their life. It can help your child to have another trusted adult to talk to – such as a teacher or friend – who can offer support and understanding.
Coping with stress
Parenting under can be challenging. Maybe you find that you are too strict at these times, or maybe you are too lenient. Try to be kind to yourself and think about what you can learn from that experience and how to support yourself so you can feel better resourced to address the situation next time it occurs.
It isn’t easy dealing with stressful situations on your own, and everyone has their breaking point. If at any time you fear you may hurt your child, contact or a for help, and remember, you are not alone.
Dealing with your own feelings
Sometimes when life is feeling tough some parents can let their adult thoughts and feelings come out to your child/children, particularly when you may feel overwhelmed with stress (such as , going through a marriage breakdown, or losing your partner). But it’s important to keep adult feelings separate from your child.
It is not appropriate to involve your child in your problems and is likely to result in them feeling unable to help and anxious. Instead, talk to a friend, family member or a parenting helpline. Keeping strong boundaries with issues such as this helps create a stronger connection with your child and allows room for them to grow and play as per standard development.
Taking care of yourself
Take time away from your child when you can, to refresh and recharge. Your child needs you to be strong and healthy.
Some other tips for taking care of yourself include:
- Make times regularly for fun with friends.
- Use your support networks, don’t be afraid to ask for help.
- Explain to your child that sometimes you need adult company.
- If single parenting is new for your family, try not to feel guilty about your new arrangements. Guilt doesn’t help anyone or solve anything.
- Take new relationships slowly, and talk to your child about them as appropriate. Listen to how your child feels and reassure them how special and important they are to you.
- Practice awareness for what you are grateful in your life, rather than what you are not happy with.
- Consider gaining mental health support for single parent group support to talk through the challenges of single parenting.
Ways to manage stress include:
- Find outlets such as exercise, or a hobby or interest like music or creative pursuits.
- Learn mindfulness or , or take a moment in the day to close your eyes and focus on the breath – even if it’s for 5 minutes.
The rewards of parenting on your own
Single parenting may be challenging, but it also offers rewards. If becoming a single parent was your choice, you may enjoy the freedom of being able to make your own decisions and set your own direction in life.
Single parenting can allow you plenty of time with your child, which can be very beneficial to both of you. Your bond is likely to be strengthened, particularly if you use consistent, positive parenting practices.