Single parent? Tips for raising a child alone

Raising a child on your own can be stressful. If you're a single parent, understand how to cope with the pressure, find support and nurture your child.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

If you're raising a child on your own, you're in good company. Single-parent families are more common than ever. Know how to manage some of the special challenges single parents experience and what you can do to raise a happy, healthy child.

Common single-parent challenges

Child rearing can be difficult under any circumstances. Without a partner, the stakes are higher. As a single parent, you might have sole responsibility for all aspects of day-to-day child care.

Being a single parent can result in added pressure, stress and fatigue. If you're too tired or distracted to be emotionally supportive or consistently discipline your child, behavioral problems might arise.

Single-parent families also generally have lower incomes and less access to health care. Juggling work and child care can be financially difficult and socially isolating. You might worry about the lack of a male or female parental role model for your child, too.

Positive strategies

To reduce stress in your single-parent family:

  • Show your love. Remember to praise your child. Give him or her your unconditional love and support. Set aside time each day to play, read or simply sit with your child.
  • Create a routine. Structure — such as regularly scheduled meals and bedtimes — helps your child know what to expect.
  • Find quality child care. If you need regular child care, look for a qualified caregiver who can provide stimulation in a safe environment. Don't rely on an older child as your only baby sitter. Be careful about asking a new friend or partner to watch your child.
  • Set limits. Explain house rules and expectations to your child — such as speaking respectfully — and enforce them. Work with other caregivers in your child's life to provide consistent discipline. Consider re-evaluating certain limits, such as your child's screen time, when he or she shows the ability to accept more responsibility.
  • Don't feel guilty. Don't blame yourself or spoil your child to make up for being a single parent.
  • Take care of yourself. Include physical activity in your daily routine, eat a healthy diet and get plenty of sleep. Arrange time to do activities you enjoy alone or with friends. Give yourself a "timeout" by arranging for child care at least a few hours a week.
  • Lean on others. Work out a carpool schedule with other parents. Join a support group for single parents or seek social services. Call on loved ones, friends and neighbors for help. Faith communities can be helpful resources, too.
  • Stay positive. It's OK to be honest with your child if you're having a difficult time, but remind him or her that things will get better. Give your child an age-appropriate level of responsibility rather than expecting him or her to behave like a "little adult." Keep your sense of humor when dealing with everyday challenges.

Be aware that some research has shown that teens in single-parent households have a higher risk of depression and lower self-esteem. Signs and symptoms of depression may include social isolation; feeling sad, alone or unloved; disliking one’s looks; irritability; and a sense of hopelessness. If you see these signs in your child or teen, talk to his or her doctor.

Talking to your child about separation or divorce

Many single-parent families are the result of divorce or separation. If this is the case in your family, talk to your child about the changes you're facing. Listen to your child's feelings and try to answer his or her questions honestly — avoiding unnecessary details or negativity about the other parent. Remind your child that he or she did nothing to cause the divorce or separation and that you'll always love him or her.

A counselor might be able to help you and your child talk about problems, fears or concerns. Try to regularly communicate with your child's other parent about your child's care and well-being to help him or her adapt. Children who fare best in divorce have parents who continue to communicate on co-parenting issues, placing their children's needs above their own desire to avoid the ex-spouse.

Single parenting and dating

If you're dating, consider the impact your new romantic partner will have on your child. Look for a partner who will treat both you and your child with respect. Consider waiting until you've established a solid relationship with someone before introducing him or her to your child.

When you're ready to make the introduction, explain to your child some of your new partner's positive qualities. Don't expect your new partner and your child to become close immediately, however. Give them time to get to know each other, and be clear that the new partner isn't trying to replace the other parent.

Male and female role models

If your child's other parent isn't involved in his or her life, you might worry about the lack of a male or female parental role model in your child's life. To send positive messages about the opposite sex:

  • Look for opportunities to be positive. Point out accomplishments or positive characteristics of members of the opposite sex in your family, the community or even the media. Avoid making broad, negative statements about the opposite sex.
  • Contradict negative stereotypes about the opposite sex. Share an example of a member of the opposite sex who doesn't fit the stereotype.
  • Include in your life members of the opposite sex who aren't romantic partners. Seek out positive relationships with responsible members of the opposite sex who might serve as role models for your child. Show your child that it's possible to have long-term, positive relationships with members of the opposite sex.

Being a single parent can be a challenging but rewarding experience. By showing your child love and respect, talking honestly and staying positive, you can lessen your stress and help your child thrive.

April 10, 2020 See more In-depth

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