Solo but standing strong: Single mothers and their children - By Tricia Chan

Sending your child to school, preparing his meals, doing household chores and spending time with your precious one are part of a parent’s daily routine. Sounds draining, right? Unlike two-parent families, single-parents carry all the weight on their shoulders for the well-being of their child.

Some time ago, I caught up with an old friend of mine and we chatted about our families and our ever-hectic lives. As we were talking, the topic of our childhood came up and she said something that left a deep impression on me: “You will be stronger than who you really are”.

As the youngest child of a single mother who has to work from 7am to 10pm in order to support 3 children, my friend has had to juggle both school and household chores since the age of 10.

Since her mother works such long hours, she hardly had time to spend with her youngest child. But this didn’t stop her from taking time out from her busy schedule to take the whole family out on short trips. This made me realise that single mothers could be resilient and independent when they put their minds to it. 


The path of single motherhood

Sometimes, single mothers are unwed women who have gone through unplanned pregnancies. Despite that, their courage for keeping and raising the child alone deserves our support as they navigate their motherhood journey. Other single mothers choose to conceive by choice, otherwise known as choice mothers. These are the women who have thought long and hard about the decision to have or adopt a child.
 
But whether unplanned or by choice, single parenthood is, without a doubt, one of the most challenging jobs in the world. Single mothers often have to play multiple roles, which means they might come up short from time to time (e.g. financial and child care support). On top of that, others often view their children as outliers in society. Despite the disadvantages, it doesn’t mean that children from single parent families are doomed to fail in life. Here are a couple of common misconceptions about children who grow up in a single mother family that people often have.

Misconception: They are not as well adjusted as someone who grew up in a family with a father and mother.

BUT!
Dr Sophie Zadeh of the Centre for Family Research at the University of Cambridge from the University of Cambridge found that 59% of single mother children reported high (19%) or very high (40%) levels of enjoyment of school. All of the single mother children surveyed reported having at least one friend, and 51% of them named five or more friends. A child’s adjustment depends on the quality of mother-child relationships and positive parenting. If a single-mother actively supports and communicates with her child, her child has the potential to become a well-adjusted individual.

Misconception: A single mother child tends to perform poorly academically.

BUT!
LiveStrong.com states that children from single-mother families lack financial support from a working father. With single mothers forever on the go for their jobs, they spend less time helping their child with homework, resulting in poor performance in school. However, research has found that single mother children can perform as well as children from two parent families.

A study published in the Journal of Education Learning and Development  compared the grades on a report card of 6 – 12 graders across America from  single and two-parent families. Researchers found that the grades of the children are not related to family structure. In fact, it was believed that students tend to perform academically better when their parents have higher expectations of them.

From here, we can see that even children from single mother families have the potential to shine academically despite their disadvantaged situation as long as they perceive that their mothers have an active interest in their academic performance.


The other side of the spectrum

Having said all that, there are some children who unfortunately slip through the cracks. In fact, some studies find that children from single mother families can be more susceptible to aggression and crime.

According to a state-by-state study conducted by The Heritage Foundation, when there is a 10% increase in children living in single-parent homes, it typically leads to a 17% increase in juvenile crime. The study also found that the type of aggression and hostility shown in a future criminal is often foreshadowed as unusual aggressiveness in single parent children from as young as five or six. This is usually caused by lack of economic security and time spent with their mothers.

Be that as it may, here are some ways to help single mothers create a positive experience for their children. 


Managing better as a single parent

Tip 1: Find stable, safe child care

When single parents don’t spend much time with their children, the development of their child essentially depends on the people around him, especially if he spends more time with his guardian/baby sitter. Research has found that the quality of care given helps with promoting essential life skills. Don’t overlook childcare!

Tip 2: Apply rules and discipline clearly and consistently

Single parents have the responsibility for shaping their child’s behaviour, and helping them make good choices most of the time. Applying clear rules can help the child to develop confidence, an internal sense of responsibility and control and protect the child from danger. Therefore, it is paramount that you discipline your child in a clear and consistent manner.

Tip 3: Answer questions about the other parent calmly and honestly

Compared to their peers with two parents, your child may have many questions about their father. Such questions can be emotional for both you and your child. Don’t be discouraged by the questions and answer them in an appropriate manner to your child’s age. Remember to give your child the space to express his feelings, no matter positive or negative.

Building a community around you

As single mothers, your child and yourself may feel lonely at times but reading up on single mother sharing sites such as MummySG.com or joining the Single Parent Support Group on Facebook may help you be more comfortable with the single motherhood journey.  Through these platforms, you can find support and learn from other single mothers, as well as meet like-minded people. Such interaction can also help to ease any form of social anxieties your child has and ensure that your child doesn’t have low self-esteem because of his status.

Accepting single mothers and their children

Society may have opened up slightly in this day and age, but there is still a stigma attached to being a single mother with a child. Thankfully, organisations such as AWARE Singapore, Kinetic Singapore and Daughters Of Tomorrow (which started the campaign #asinglelove to support and empower single parents in Singapore) are trying their best to help single mothers with various initiatives and help schemes. On top of that, a group of Nanyang Technological University students started the campaign ‘Hey Solo Sister’ in hopes of collating as much information as possible to provide single mothers with the informational support they require.

The government, too, have started to include single mothers in benefits such as the full 16-week maternity leave and access to a CDA account. Be that as it may, there is still a long way to go before single mothers and their children can be fully accepted into society. After all, as NUS’s Professor Straughan said in an article by Straits Times, ‘raising a child in marriage is already so difficult, what more doing so without a father.’