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Living With One Parent

Single-parent households have increased dramatically in recent years. While God's intent was for young people to live with both parents, due to various factors, many don't have this luxury. What can young people do if they live with only one of their parents? What have teens and parents of single-parent households discovered?

by Doug Horchak

Many of you reading this article live in a home with only one parent. Others know many teens who have only one parent at home. As a matter of fact, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that about 30 percent of American families are headed by one parent.

Whether you have family or friends who live with only a mom or dad, or you yourself are a member of such a family—single-parent families are all around us. In this article we want to address some important issues to help you appreciate the varying family circumstances that some face.

In an effort to focus on this growing phenomenon, Youth United e-magazine conducted a limited survey of single parents and their teens. Their responses to the following questions shed light on feelings and perceptions that, when understood, can help us all have a greater appreciation of how we can build more meaningful relationships.

Consider the following questions and the advice given by teens and parents in single-parent homes:

What challenges do teens with one parent face?

Most of the teens and parents surveyed focused on two issues that are challenges to them.

  1. The fact that growing up in a home with only one parent does not give the teen the best chance to understand and really appreciate what the love between a committed mother and father should and can be like.
  2. While most of the teens expressed great love and added respect for the parent they are living with, some teens and parents said that having one parent limited the perspective with which decisions were made, views were developed, interests and experiences were shared.

What misconceptions are there about single-parent households?

By far the greatest misperception that many of the teens and parents surveyed stated was that many people seem to view single-parent homes as dysfunctional and virtually doomed to failure. Teens of single-parent households, along with their single parents, often have numerous examples of times when other well-meaning people (family, neighbors, friends and even pastors) make references to single-parent families presuming the worst about the family's emotional health, personal development and prospects for the future.

Daughters kissing their mother As one single mother stated, "A misconception is often that we are not a whole family, that we are weakened and not part of things anymore. That we don't belong in the crowd anymore." While many parents and teens of single-parent homes readily admit that they often face special challenges, most of them agreed that the stability and love needed for a healthy family environment can still be met—even though there is only one parent.

What can a teen do to compensate (if needed) for such challenges?

Many commented that having clearly-defined roles within the household helps to compensate for some of the challenges that single-parent families face. Often the parent is more stressed due to having even greater responsibilities (without having a parent-partner to share these important duties).

Both teens and parents in these circumstances need to be aware of the added stress that both are likely under. One teen made the comment, "Always be positive about things, still have fun and know that things will always get better."

What is the single most important piece of advice you would give a fellow teen in a single-parent household?

This question had varied responses. Many talked about learning to get on with life and make the very best of the circumstances and family that they do have. One parent mentioned that having one parent who loves you and is focused on doing his or her best is a great blessing when compared to having no parent or having parents who do not care.

One teen said, "I would tell a teen in a single-parent household to not treat the situation like it is very different from a two-parent home. There is still someone who loves you. I really appreciate the bond my mom and I have." Another teen stated that teens in single-parent homes should not become paralyzed in life, but be proactive and make the very best of their situation. They might be frustrated at times because of not having the blessing of two loving parents with whom to talk, but as she wisely advised, "don't forget that God is your Father too! So leave Him in the picture and let Him get you through things."

Reasons and circumstances vary

While having only a mom or dad to come home to may be a common denominator in millions of families, the reasons vary widely. Some single-parent households have come about as a result of an untimely death of a parent and mate. These losses are often sudden and require a unique set of tools in order to cope.

The most common reason for single-parent homes is the dissolution of a marriage, otherwise known as divorce. Even in these cases, the reasons and causes of the failure of a marriage vary greatly. Such circumstances often make it hard for both the children in the families and friends outside of the family to adjust and cope. Too often those outside of the single-parent families are ignorant of the true circumstances that family has had to respond to and are prone to pre-judge the people involved and the causal factors.

Understanding is needed

As is true in all aspects of human relationships, knowing what the other has gone through in life helps. A better understanding of the facts of single-parent households is needed by all of us. In the Church, we are all family and "brethren." That should never be forgotten.

Working together God's Word tells us that the purest form of Christianity involves building lasting relationships with all members of the congregation. James taught that "pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world" (James 1:27, King James Version).

While not all young people in single-parent homes are living in the kind of grief and loss indicated by James in this letter to the Church, our sincere efforts as friends and brethren to understand and build lasting and meaningful relationships with all in the Church (regardless of the makeup of their family) is the purest form of practicing the way of love and giving that Jesus Christ modeled for us all. YU

Facts About Single Parents

Single parents headed 31 percent of American families.

In the United States, 22 million children go home to one parent; 83 percent of those parents are moms.

Single parents consist of divorced, widowed and never-married parents. Never-marrieds comprise the largest group (40 percent).

Most single parents are between the ages of 27 and 34. Single parents over 40 are increasing in numbers because of the trend by many women to delay childbearing.

Half of all single moms receive no child support. Half of all children involved do not see their fathers on a regular basis two years after the breakup of the family.

Seventy percent of single-parent mothers live in poverty (less than $13,000 annually).

Of those single parents who profess to be Christian, only 5 percent attend church.

In 1970, fathers accounted for only about 1 in 10 single parents. In 1998, it's 1 in 6.

In the past three years, the number of single-parent families headed by fathers has grown from 1.7 million to 2.1 million.

There are currently 9.8 million mothers in the single-parent role.

—Christian Single Parent Network, 1999

About the author:
Doug Horchak is the chairman of the United Church of God Youth Education Team and a member of the Council of Elders. He also pastors congregations in Dallas and Sherman, Texas.

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