Single mothers lead complex lives. Juggling the role of wage earner, housekeeper, and parent and making time for some semblance of a personal life as well is quite daunting. Most, though not all, single parents are women. Most work but have not been employed steadily; they took time off when their children were small. Most have less money than the average two-parent family and, if they are divorced, less than they had when they were married. Many are coping with the emotional trauma of a divorce and the social awkwardness of becoming single again. Some are widows. Betty was married immediately after high school. She never worked outside the home. Her husband handled all the family’s needs. She never signed a check until after he died. Suddenly she found she has to fend for herself and her three children. “My Francis thought it was silly for me to want to work. A woman had only one purpose in life to him, to be a wife and a mother.” Betty said.
Some single mothers never even had the chance of experiencing a married life no matter how short, like can be seem in the case of Rose. “We were supposed to get married next month. But that was before he found I was pregnant. Then he decided he couldn’t handle being a husband and a father all at once. So he walked out accusing me of deliberately getting pregnant. My son has me and I will love him enough for two. He doesn’t need a father who doesn’t want him.”
He accused her of being a freak for refusing to take the pill. At one point he’d even questioned whether or not the baby was his. It was then she had given up on him, hounded him back his ring and later gotten him to legally give up any and all parental rights, which he had been only too happy to do after insisting he never wanted to see her or her baby again. She couldn’t risk leaning on someone again and then suddenly waking up to find him gone when she needed him most.
Many mothers are now single parents and have to take on an even bigger role in the life of their children. Not only must they provide the care and support a child needs but they also provide enough income for the family to live on. This is great task for anyone to take on. It is extremely difficult for a mother to provide everything a child needs so it helps if the child has another male figure present in the home.
She had been warned by her mother that babies consumed every waking moment and, a good part of the sleeping ones, as well, and she had got herself ready for it. She was bent on doing the right things for her baby. However, she couldn’t get used to this feeling of being overwhelmed by her new responsibilities of taking care of her son.
Single mothers tend to grant more independence to their children than parents do. This can be good for the children up to a point. Children need firmness as well as freedom. Authoritative parenting takes time and energy, both of which are in short supply in single mother homes. Establishing rules and monitoring the teenager’s activities are much easier when there are two adults in the home. In part to make up for their feelings of guilt, single mothers may bend over backward to make their children happy. In the absence of other adults in the house to support their decisions, they may give in to their child in order to be accepted. Adolescents may try to step into the absent father’s shoes and present themselves as more mature than they really are. The overburdened single mother may not supervise the mature-seeming-adolescent as closely as she would have otherwise.
Because single mothers are more likely to be permissive, their adolescents are somewhat more likely to get into trouble. If a single mother maintains authoritative relationships, however, any problems that might develop can be averted.
It is natural for a single mother to want to begin dating and entering into sexual relationships. How much of their personal life should single mothers reveal to their children? In my view, very little.
Children are only beginning to formulate their ideas about dating, sexuality and intimacy. Just as parents have a hard time accepting the development of sexuality in their adolescents, so adolescents find it hard to deal with the emergence or re-emergence of sexuality in their parents. When parents stay married, adolescents tend to give less attention to the expressions of physical intimacy but regard it as affection. When parents are single and dating, this self-deception is more difficult.
The best way to deal with the adolescent’s mixed feelings is not to bring home every man you have dinner (or more) with. Instead, meet new dates outsides your home and tell your adolescent you are going out with a friend. If you begin seeing someone frequently, you might invite him to dinner, preferably with a group of friends the first time. Introduce your date as a friend, and ask him to act like one. If the adolescent asks, point blank, whether you are going to bed together, reply that you are not ready to discuss your sex life with him. But if the relationship becomes serious, you will have to tell him.
There are obvious reasons for not parading every date through your home, not to mention your bed. Firstly, it makes everyone (you, your date, and your children) uncomfortable. Secondly, your adolescent might jump to wrong conclusions. If the adolescent is hoping you will remarry, each date will raise his hope unnecessarily. If he dreads the thought that you will remarry, each date will plunge him into needless despair. Thirdly, as an adult, you may engage in more sexually advanced behavior than you want for your son or daughter. As a newly single woman, you may sleep with someone on a first date, but will you want your daughter to do the same? Do you sincerely want your son to expect this with his first date?
The time to introduce someone to your children as a boyfriend is when you and the man are becoming serious. You may or may not be contemplating marriage, but if the relationship is amorous, significant, and steady, it is time for the people who are important in your life to meet one another. Certainly, you should not invite someone you just met or someone you are dating casually and do not see a potential partner to spend the night. There is nothing wrong with a lover sleeping over or even moving in, after some time, if the two of you care deeply for each other and are contemplating a life together. Many adults who have been through a divorce want to try living with someone before risking a second marriage. If the relationship tentative, however, if moving in a way to hold someone who may not want to be held, this is a serious mistake. Your children have already lost daily contact with one parent; don’t subject him to another loss. Raising a fatherless baby is not easy.