Divorce and the Single Parent


An Interview with Dr. Savitri Dixon-Saxon

When a family splits up, it can be one of the most traumatic events in child’s life – big changes happening all at once. But, oftentimes the single parents are also left in a state of ambiguity – fighting to maintain a sense of normalcy in a turbulent time. Once the initial impact of divorce is over, there are many questions to be answered about how to handle everyday life in a society that holds two-parent households as the ideal. Are children of single parents being raised with a deficit or are there any benefits?  And how can we best support both the children and parents of single-parent families?  These are the questions posed to Dr. Savitiri Dixon-Saxon. –  Christina Montoya Fiedler, TMC Web Content Producer

What are the biggest challenges facing single parents?

The biggest challenges facing single parents are lack of resources. Those resources are time, sleep, good diet, exercise, and finances. Of course, not every single parent experiences all of these to the same degree, but those are the greatest challenges. These are the same problems that couples face, but not to the same degree as single parents. Clearly, in homes with at least two adults caring for children, the responsibilities are divided between the two adults. A single parent has twice the responsibility, often times with half the resources.

However, it should also be noted that single parents do not experience some of the challenges that people who co-parent do. Single parents do not have to consult anyone else about the decisions they make for their children and they don’t have to share all of the rewards of parenting their child or children.

Many people still see single-parent households as representative of a deficit family model, but there are quite a few people who have chosen to raise children as single adults because they want to experience life as a parent and partnering may not be an option or may not be in the best interest of the family unit. Regardless, single parents can raise healthy, self-sufficient children, who grow up to be responsible, loving, and productive adults.

What are a few common misconceptions about single parents?

I think the most common misconception is that single parent homes are inferior families and that single parents do not parent well. Single parents are as devoted and committed to their children’s upbringing as anyone else. The other misconception is that all single parents are biding their time until they find mates. It is very complicated to bring a new adult into a pre-existing family and many single parents are adverse to the prospect of starting a new relationship that will require time away from their children.

Parenting is hard work, and in America, the two-parent home has been identified as ideal. However most of the world recognizes that child rearing is a concern for the extended family. Single parents need a community of support and for the sake of their children, they should identify and cultivate relationships in that community.

If a single parent does bring another person into the mix, what is the best way to introduce a new partner to your child?

The best way to bring another person into an existing family is cautiously and carefully with realistic expectations. It’s important that you have done your due diligence to ensure that this person is a healthy, safe adult for your child or children to be around. A common mistake of single parents is to believe that because they get along with this new person their children will too. This is not necessarily the case and the relationship between this new adult and your children should not be forced. There are a few tips I would share with anyone who is considering bringing a partner into the lives of his or her children and especially into the home.

– Do not bring everyone you casually date around your children. Some people feel strongly that they want to test the waters to see if a person gets along with the children first. This is not a good idea. You need to have some idea about who the person is and where you expect your relationship with the person to go before you introduce him or her to your children. Children ask questions that you need to be prepared to answer and children do not take introductions to new adults casually.

– Do your homework. Who is this new person? Does he or she have experience being around children? Does he or she like children? What are their attitudes about child rearing and do they know how to be a good role model? This is not just for your children’s sake, but for your sake as well.

– If you do co-parent with an ex-spouse or partner, be prepared to explain to him or her who this new person is and clarify roles and expectations. You may feel perfectly comfortable with this new partner being on the emergency list or picking your child up from soccer practice, but you do not want to surprise the person with whom you co-parent.

What are the typical reactions of young children to a new partner?

Young children attach easily and are not casual about the trusted adults in their lives. The best way to help them cope with changes is to keep the lines of communication open. Ask questions often and give them the opportunity to get to know the person on their turf without imposing your feelings on them. Instead of saying, “Don’t you think Brian is an awesome person?” ask, “How did you like your time with Brian?” Listen to what your child has to say about the new person and don’t leave your child alone to fend for him or herself with this person until you have every confidence that the person is a safe, caring, and responsible adult.

How can non-single parents best support their friends who are single parents?

Friends of single parents can be very supportive by inviting them and their children over for family barbeques or inviting them to join a vacation. One of the greatest challenges for single parents is navigating beaches or amusement parks alone. You could also make the offer to take the person’s children out to buy a birthday card or make a Mother’s Day gift. Of course an offer to watch the children of a single parent for a few hours so that he or she can grocery shop or read a book without interruption is always welcome. One of the best things that you can give to a single parent, however, is a word or two of validation. This is something that single parents miss – another person in the household who can say, “Gosh you are just the best mother. Your children are so lucky to have your love.”

Dr. Savitri Dixon-Saxon is the Associate Dean of Walden University’s School of Counseling and Social Services and specializes in family and parenting issues, the dynamics of single-parenting households and the health and welfare of single mothers. Dr. Dixon-Saxon is a licensed counselor and also a single mother herself.

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