Mayo Clinic Health Library

Single parent? Tips for raising a child alone

Updated: 06-22-2011

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.

What are the most common single-parent challenges?

Child rearing can be difficult under any circumstances. Without a partner, the stakes are even higher. As a single parent, you might have sole responsibility for all aspects of day-to-day child care. This 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. In addition, single-parent families generally have lower incomes and less access to health care. Juggling work and child care can be financially difficult and socially isolating. You might also worry about the lack of a male or female parental role model for your child.

How can a single parent deal with these challenges?

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.
  • Create a routine. Structure — such as regularly scheduled meals and bedtimes — helps your child know what to expect.
  • Prioritize family time. Set aside time each day to play, read or simply sit with your child.
  • Find quality child care. Although an older sibling can sometimes care for a younger sibling, 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. If you need regular child care, look for a qualified caregiver who can provide stimulation in a safe environment.
  • Set reasonable limits. Explain house rules and expectations to your child — such as speaking respectfully and picking up after yourself — and be careful to enforce them. Work with the other caregivers in your child's life to ensure you're providing consistent discipline. Consider re-evaluating certain limits, such as your child's computer time or curfew, when he or she demonstrates the ability to accept more responsibility.
  • Don't feel guilty. Don't blame yourself or spoil your child to try 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 close friends.
  • Lean on others. Just because you're a single parent doesn't mean you have to do everything yourself. Work out a carpool schedule with other parents. Join a support group for single parents or seek social services. Call on trusted loved ones, friends and neighbors for help. Faith communities can be helpful resources, too.
  • Stay positive. Your mood and attitude can affect your child. 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. Try to keep your sense of humor when dealing with everyday challenges.

How should a single parent talk to a 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.

How can a single parent handle dating?

If you're dating, consider the fact that your new romantic partner will have an impact 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 develop a relationship.

How can a single parent address the lack of a male or female parental role model for a child?

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 about the opposite sex. 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 love and respect, talking honestly and staying positive, you can lessen the stress of single parenting and help your child thrive.

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