One out of every five American children lives with a single mother

Single-parent households face a unique combination of stresses and challenges every day. These hardships have a tendency to interact and reinforce each other, amplifying their negative impact on families.

This clearly shows up in statistics: children raised in single-parent households are at heightened risk for substance abuse, depression, anxiety, self-harm, incarceration, and low academic and career attainment over their lifetimes. Single moms themselves face similarly elevated risk of depression, anxiety, and ongoing issues with their physical health.

It is extremely difficult for families to have happy, healthy lives under these conditions. As a nation, we need to address these problems holistically, transforming a vicious cycle into a virtuous one that helps families get on their feet and help each other.

The Mental and Emotional Strains of Single-Parent Households

First and foremost, living in a single-parent household is extremely stressful–both for children and for the solo parent. Such households lack the “multi-parent dynamic” that often helps defuse in-house conflict. As a result, otherwise simple child-rearing issues and disputes (about chores or grades or other family matters) can simmer and fester, rather than resolve. This baseline stress is often made worse as the single-parent household has to absorb stress spilling over from custody issues or conflicts with the non-custodial parent or other family.
Single mothers absorb the brunt of this stress. For example, the Centers for Disease Control has found that single parents are more likely to endure poor sleep, with the worst of that falling on single moms. Barely 50% of solo mothers get at least 7 hours of sleep each night. They have twice as much trouble falling asleep (compared to married moms), and more than half of all single mothers regularly wake up feeling exhausted.

Many single mothers struggle with social isolation, social stigma, and guilt. Research has repeatedly shown that this results in higher rates of both physical and mental health disorders for single mothers. Single mothers have been found to have higher risk for depression and other mood and anxiety disorders. Similarly, children raised in single-mother households are at heightened risk for substance abuse, depression, anxiety, and both outwardly- and inwardly-focused destructive behaviors and disorders.

The Financial Strains of Single-Parenting

These mental health strains often arise from, or are amplified by, the extreme financial hardships faced by single-parent households–and especially those headed by a single mother. Pew Research has found that 30% of all single-mothers in America live in poverty. That is almost four times the poverty rate for married couples. 

This is the case even though single mothers make up a growing portion of the American workforce. Despite accounting for only around 3% of all US adults, 1 in every 20 American workers is a single mother. Single moms disproportionately work multiple jobs, lower-wage jobs, jobs with non-standard hours, and jobs more likely to be deemed “redundant” during times of economic turmoil. The net result is that they spend more hours at work (or in work-related activities like commuting), have less control of their schedule, and suffer more economic uncertainty, even in the best of times.

The struggle to maintain a decent standard of living almost invariably cuts into family time and disrupts “parental monitoring” and supervision. This has been shown to have terrible outcomes for children, and is likely among the primary reasons that children of single parents are more likely to commit crimes, and more likely to be victimized.

Making it Easier for Parents to Parent

It’s a simple fact: if we fail to make it easier for parents to be parents, then we are making it harder for children to grow into healthy adults.
Single Not Alone supports programs that make it easier for parents to be parents. We directly address the needs of single-mother families, with a special focus on giving them the support they need to maintain financial independence and focus on their families.

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