Teens talks: four ways to cope with just one parent
BEFORE their 18th birthday, more than half of all the children in the United States will spend some of their years in a single-parent home. Presently, 12 million youths—1 in 5 in the United States—already do so. The one-parent family has thus been labeled “the fastest growing family style” in the United States. With the statistics of other nations lagging not far behind, this may even prove to be true globally.
The prevalence of one-parent families has done much to lessen the stigma they bore in former times. Still, as one youth puts it, many young people have to “beat down a lot of feelings” in order to cope with life in a one-parent home. Some even fear they will somehow be handicapped or abnormal because of having only one parent at home. Are such fears warranted?
Why One-Parent Households Exist
Few would deny that having a loving father and mother at home is the ideal situation.
But for one reason or another, you may have been denied the ideal. Because of unforeseen occurrence, one of your parents may have died. Or one of your parents may temporarily be absent due to overseas employment. On the other hand, other situations, such as unfaithfulness to marriage vows, may have caused your parents to separate or divorce.
In any event, you have no control over your parent’s marital status, and there is no reason for you to bear a burden of guilt as if you were to blame; nor do you need to feel ashamed if you were conceived out of wedlock.
Granted, growing up in a one-parent home, you may face unique problems and challenges. But as the book How to Live With a Single Parent observes: “Many of the difficulties [one-parent] kids have . . . may stem from the negative and self-destructive image they have of themselves.” Where does such negative thinking come from, and how can you eliminate it?
Broken Homes—Broken Lives?
‘Products of a broken home,’ ‘divided family,’ ‘half a family,’ ‘torn-apart family’—perhaps you have heard these negative labels applied to your family. And although blunted by frequent use, such comments can still cut you to the quick.
The way others treat you can also kindle negative feelings about your family. Some teachers, for example, have shown a glaring insensitivity toward one-parent students. Some have even been known to assume that such youths automatically have an abnormal family life and are quick to blame any behavior problem on their home environment. Being constantly made to feel that your family is abnormal can understandably fill you with anxieties regarding your own emotional well-being.
But are you automatically at risk of being mentally or emotionally inferior simply because you live in a single-parent home? Not at all! The Journal of Marriage and the Family acknowledged that the “loss of a parent may bring on a period of slowed development” at first. Nevertheless, this is often “followed by a time during which the child catches up with peers, or even overtakes them.” The article concluded: “A blanket assumption that the one-parent family has generally bad, longlasting effects on all children is not justified.” Another article in this same journal similarly reported that research “does not lend any support to the cliché that ‘broken homes yield broken young lives.’”
While such facts may be of some encouragement, negative feelings may still surface from time to time. How can you successfully fight them?
Overcoming Negative Feelings
An initial step would be to learn to accept your situation. True, sadness and a sense of loss are only natural if your parents have divorced or if a beloved parent has died. Thirteen-year-old Sarah, whose parents divorced when she was ten, recommends: “Do not brood over your situation, having the ‘what-if’ blues, or feel that the problems you have are because of your one-parent home, or even that kids in two-parent homes have a cushy life.”
For one thing, even the “ideal” family is hardly devoid of problems. And rather than seeing your family as abnormal, you can see it simply as a variation, as something not necessarily bad but just different. Equally important is not allowing comments—or a lack of such—by well-meaning people to arouse bad feelings. Some, for example, may hesitate to use such words as “father,” “marriage,” “divorce,” or perhaps “death” around you, fearing that these words will offend or embarrass you. Refuse to follow suit. Fourteen-year-old Tony, who never knew his real father, says: “When I am around others who seem to bite their tongues when it comes to certain words, I’ll go right ahead and use them.” He adds: “I want them to know I’m not ashamed of my situation.”
Seeing the Advantages
It is also important to avoid dwelling on what could have been or what used to be. Focus instead on the positive aspects of your life. For example, likely your mother has to go to work. As a result, you have probably assumed a lot of responsibility around the home. “Taking on responsibilities in the home,” claims 17-year-old Melanie, “contributes to your maturing faster than kids your age in two-parent families, who may have less responsibility.” Experts agree. Harvard University sociologist Robert S. Weiss says that youths from one-parent homes “tend to be more mature, independent,” and “self-disciplined.” These are important qualities, and your family situation may help you gain them.
You may also enjoy having a greater voice in family decisions, as single parents often view their children as trusted confidants. At times, though, you may have to remind your parent that you are still young and that weightier matters would better be discussed with someone more experience. Still, there are many matters you can appropriately discuss together, including personal troubles you may face. Doing so helps you draw close to your parent and may dispel negative feelings. Melanie, mentioned earlier, says: “Since my parents’ divorce, my mother and I are really able to talk; we have become very close friends.”
This is not to say that you won’t face problems. But you can profit by facing adversity. Carrying your yoke, or burden of problems, may involve dealing with the adversities you face in a single-parent home. Remember, though, that you are not alone while bearing this yoke.
Interestingly, though, such divine help may well be rendered through your remaining parent. By responding to such efforts, you can grow up normally and lead a rewarding life
More than 90 percent of single-parent families in the United States are headed by mothers.