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Single parenting

7-minute read

You can be a successful parent, regardless of your family circumstances. What matters is how children are raised, not the type of household they live in.

In particular, spending time with your child is important for every single parent.

What makes a successful family?

Good relationships with parents make children happy, whatever family structure they live in. Research shows that children living with a single parent are just as happy and do just as well as those living with both parents or in step-families, regardless of income.

A relaxed home that is free of conflict and violence is very good for children, as are positive co-parenting arrangements.

Successful parents in all types of households:

  • feel confident about parenting most of the time
  • are concerned about being good parents
  • make good use of family networks

Coping with a break-up

If you have experienced a break-up, it’s very important to let your children know they are not to blame. Try not to argue in front of the children, or talk about your ex-partner to your children behind their back.

Helping children adjust

Moving to a single-parent household is a big change for children, who may also have to get used to other changes like a new house, different school and moving away from their friends.

It can take time to adjust, but you can help your children by:

  • sticking to the children’s routine as much as you can, and always explaining to them what’s going to happen
  • spending one-on-one time each day with your children and making the most of everyday moments, like doing homework, reading or playing
  • supporting them to have a relationship with the other parent even though this may be hard for you — children want to love and be loved by both their parents
  • having a range of supports for your child, such as another trusted adult
  • letting them know all families have their ups and downs, not just single-parent families
  • praising your child for the way he or she is coping and when they tell you how they are feeling

Children's behaviour

Clear rules and boundaries give children a sense of safety and security. But it’s hard to be consistent with rules and boundaries when you’re on your own, especially if you’re tired and stressed, or if your child’s behaviour is challenging.

It’s likely that you’ll see some challenging behaviour after a break-up. It is important to help your children deal with their feelings and learn how to manage their behaviour.

Here are some ideas for encouraging good behaviour:

Acknowledge feelings: Acknowledge feelings without accepting inappropriate behaviour.

Create clear rules: Let your child know, clearly and simply, the family rules that apply when he or she is in your care. If possible, agree with the other parent about common rules and limits if your child moves between 2 homes. If that's not possible, children can learn that different people have different rules.

Try to be consistent: Keep reinforcing the limits and behaviour you encouraged before your separation. Stick to your rules as much as much as you can, even if your child pushes back.

Choose your battles: Dealing with discipline issues can be especially hard when you're parenting alone. It can help to choose your battles. Before you get irritated, ask yourself if it really matters. If you let the little things go, you'll have more energy to deal with important issues like safety or wellbeing.

Calling on friends and family

If you're bringing up a child on your own, don't be afraid to ask for help from friends and family. You may find the best source of support is other single parents. If you don't already know people locally, contact other parents through local groups. You can also contact your local council to see what services are available in your area. These suggestions may help to relieve the pressure and make it easier to cope:

  • Suggest a 'swap' arrangement with another parent so you take it in turns to look after both children. It might be easier to start doing this during the day. Later, when everyone's used to the arrangement, try doing it overnight. The children will benefit too from having a close friend, especially if they don't have brothers and sisters.
  • Suggest a regular evening's babysitting by a trusted relative or friend. You may find that they're delighted at the opportunity to make friends with your child.
  • Grandparents are often glad to have a child stay overnight.

Single mums

If you had hoped to bring up your child as a couple, you may be feeling very angry and hurt. As a single mother, one of the hardest but most important things you have to do is to keep those feelings to yourself and let your child build their own relationship with their father.

Unless your child's father is violent towards you or your child, or you feel he's likely to abuse the child in some way, it's almost certainly better for your child's development to see their father regularly, even if you enter into a new relationship.

At first, you may find that your child behaves badly when they come home after a visit. Small children can't understand and explain their own feelings. Challenging behaviour is sometimes the only way they can let you know that they're upset and confused. The best way to deal with this is to be reassuring and calm. In the end, your child will learn to look forward to visits and to coming home.

You'll almost certainly want (and need) to talk about your own feelings. Try to find another adult to talk to. Your children don't need to hear the details of your feelings about their father and will feel confused and unhappy about loving someone whom you may not love any more.

Single dads

Separating from a partner is tough. Being separated from your children can be even tougher. It might take a little while to get used to having a one-on-one relationship with your kids, especially if you haven't been their main carer in the past. Go easy on yourself if things don't always go the way you plan.

Children are very adaptable, but they need structure and stability. If you're living in a new place, it's important that your kids have a spot they can call their own. Ideally, this would be a room. If that's not possible, try to give them a cupboard or place to store their things.

Becoming a solo dad can be a major challenge, so don't be afraid to ask for help. Talking to other single parents can be a great support.

Money issues

You can contact Services Australia for details on what assistance is available to you as a single parent.

Resources and support

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby on 1800 882 436 or visit Relationships Australia.

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Last reviewed: September 2020

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Need more information?

Single parents: the early days | Raising Children Network

Becoming a single parent is a big change. Single parents can manage the change by giving themselves time, focusing on strengths and seeking help.

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Government parenting payments | Raising Children Network

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Call us and speak to a Maternal Child Health Nurse for personal advice and guidance.

Need further advice or guidance from our maternal child health nurses?

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