Single Parent Families and Child Psychology


Single parenthood is becoming an increasingly prevalent phenomenon in the western hemisphere, especially in the United States and European Union. This social trend began in the 1970s along with social liberation (Cashmore, 2014). Some people consider the growing single-parent family rate is an acute societal issue and a sign of a profound crisis in Western society (Cashmore, 2014). Others see it as a positive change and a new social institution. It is essential to clarify what single parent means for further discussion. According to Cashmore (2014), a single parent is the natural one who raises the child or children single-handedly. The other parent disappears from the family unit due to various reasons. Factors that influence whether a person becomes a single parent are educational level, regional legislation, social status, and economic opportunities. Children raised in single-parent families exhibit both extremely positive and negative behavior patterns. Most single parents are women; almost all of them experience significant work-life imbalances (Cashmore, 2014). A single parenthood setup is challenging and dramatically affects the emotional and psychological upbringing of a child.

Negative Impact of Single Parenthood

The behavioral characteristics and unique emotional features of children raised in single-parent families are important research topics for family psychologists. Honeycutt (2018) notes that “there has been a growing interest from a family psychologist in finding out the characteristics displayed by children for single-family set up compared to dual family set-ups” (p. 32). The children’s single parenthood background is associated with negative socioeconomic phenomena such as poverty, deviant behavior in schoolchildren, dropouts, and performance problems at work in adulthood. Dronkers et al. (2017) found a mechanism that explains why single parenting negatively affects school performance. For instance, a single mother may be too busy working to meet the expenses; thus, paying less attention to her children. In this case, the low parental monitoring may result in higher absenteeism, engagement in truancy, decreased learning opportunities, and lack of concentration. Moreover, students raised in single-parent households tend to behave more disruptively at school because of individual emotional issues and opposition to adult supervision.

Positive Impact of Single Parenthood

As noted above, children from single parenthood exhibit two behavioral extremes, socially approved and asocial. Simply put, the single-parent family background also has a positive influence on children. Research shows that some of them have ended up succeeding in their future endeavors compared to the rest, who face a myriad of challenges, especially in their teenage years (Everett, 2018). The reduced economic resources related to single parenthood often make children develop early a strong sense of responsibility. Such young people often try to help their parents by taking care of some of their responsibilities. They learn how to deal with various challenges developing a sense of maturity and an adult worldview. For that reason, some children raised in single parenthood are more self-sufficient and have developed emotional endurance compared to other members of their social group and children from two-parent families.

Interconnections of Male Gender, Single Parenthood, and Behavior

The gender of a child with a single-parent background is also a determining factor in their behavior. According to Silton (2017), “psychologists have recorded significant differences between boys and girls brought up in single-family backgrounds, and each of them tends to showcase different characters in their development…” (p. 43). For example, boys in one-parent families tend to be more aggressive than their peers (Usakli, 2018). In this context, aggression is an assertive behavior aimed to defend one’s rights and freedoms by all means possible. Hence, it is a destructive behavior both psychologically and physically that works as a negative response to perceived humiliation and the feeling of being broken (Usakli, 2018). Aggressive students do not respect their peers’ desires, rights, interests, and feelings, contributing to a hostile in-class atmosphere. Family psychologists and researchers should consider sociobiological factors together.

Interconnections of Female Gender, Single Parenthood, and Behavior

Girls raised by a single parent also have distinctive behavioral characteristics. Usakli (2018) notes that female children from one-parent families are more submissive than in their school environment. Contrary to boys’ aggressiveness, girls’ submissive behavior is evident in high indifference to everything around them and their own life. It is also detrimental since female children raised by single parents feel worthless, worried, and broken. Moreover, they do not seek to achieve their needs, let others decide on their behalf, and even deny themselves. Such girls are less respected by their peers and distressed in the long term. It can be concluded that a different kind of socialization occurs in each gender; therefore, each gender is bound to display specific characteristics that are unique to them. Studying their uniqueness helps psychology specialists in particular and society, in general, understand the phenomena of children of single parenthood better.

The Role of Age in Development, Socialization of Children of Single Parenthood

Age is also a substantial psychological influencer that one must take into account in studying the behavior of children from single-parent families. According to Cashmore (2014), “depending on the children’s age, children growing up within single-parent backgrounds tend to present varying and extreme behavioral characteristics due to their socialization” (p. 18). Children at an early age are more emotionally susceptible, so adverse events affect their behavior and socialization more heavily. Preschoolers and school-age students are egocentric; thus, they may blame themselves for their parents’ breakup which leads to aggressive or submissive behavior. On the contrary, teenagers are more ready to deal with their parents’ divorce by applying critical thinking successfully. Although they still require time and assistance to adapt, such children are able to understand and accept the change within the family.

The Relationship of Age and Parents’ Separation in Development, Socialization of Children

Divorce can be either a good or a terrible event, depending on the circumstances. Parental divorce is one of the turning points in the behavioral development and socialization of children. It is the moment when the help of a family psychologist is most needed to minimize psychological damage. Children at a younger age who go through family breakups leading to single families tend to be adversely affected due to their emotional and psychological naiveness. As a result, they tend to portray adverse effects compared to children undergoing separation in their teenage years.

Furthermore, the most fundamental developmental changes occur in children under four years old. At this time, the divorce and separation may adversely affect their emotional, social, and cognitive development. Such children have a higher chance to face challenges in adolescence, including adjustment problems, health issues, delinquency, and substance abuse. The best solution here is to organize frequent and sound communication with both parents despite living separately.


Children growing up in single-family backgrounds tend to be emotionally and psychologically affected dramatically depending on their unique characteristics, such as gender and surrounding circumstances facing them, like the time of the parent’s separation. It follows logically that there is the likelihood of such children turning out to be deviant due to the lack of moral support from both of their parents as well as the emotional vacuum within them. Such children also tend to find it challenging to create family bonding. Moreover, when they become adults, they have a high probability of forming emotionally numb families, thereby continuing the single parenthood cycle to the next generations.


Cashmore, E. (2014). Having to: The world of one-parent families (pp. 18, 176-259). Abingdon, England: Routledge.

Dronkers, J., Veerman, G. J. M., & Pong, S. L. (2017). Mechanisms behind the negative influence of single parenthood on school performance: Lower teaching 1and learning conditions?. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 58(7), 471-486. Web.

Everett, C. (2018). Divorce and the next generation: Perspectives for young adults in the new millennium (pp. 1-60). Abingdon, England: Routledge.

Honeycutt, J.0 (2018). Communication diversity in families (p. 32). San Diego, CA: Cognella Academic Publishing.

Silton, N. R. (2017). Family dynamics and romantic relationships in a changing society (p. 43). Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

Usakli, H. (2018). Behavioral tendencies of single-parent students. International Journal of Science Annals, 1(1-2), 21-27. Web.

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