One major study in Sweden, which is in line with other research on the subject, looked at the health records of nearly a million young people and found that children from single-parent families had twice the incidence of psychiatric illness, suicide attempts and alcohol abuse problems compared with those from two-parent homes [source: Meikle]. Other studies have shown that kids living with single parents have lower self-esteem.
What factors tend to trigger these psychological problems? Divorce remains a common reason why a parent ends up single. It's not unusual for children to be exposed to -- or even drawn into -- the conflict that happens between parents before, during and after a breakup. Some parents may pressure children to choose sides, which can leave them feeling guilty or abandoned [source: Bromfield].
Another risk factor is lack of family stability. Single parents are more likely to move or experience other disruptions that can affect children. A parent may remarry, for example, or live with a succession of partners. Children thrive on stability. Uncertainty and emotional turmoil can increase the chance of psychological pitfalls.
Here are some things a single parent can do to protect kids from these risk factors:
- Talk (and Listen) to children. Explain any changes that are taking place. One study showed that in only 5 percent of cases did parents explain to their children why they were divorcing or listen to their questions [source: Parenting 24/7].
- Shield kids from parental conflict. Don't ask them to take sides. Try to find a way to work with your ex-spouse.
- Pay attention to your own feelings.You may be burdened with guilt and self-loathing because your marriage or relationship failed. These attitudes can be contagious. If necessary, see a counselor to work through issues.
- Accentuate the positive. Children in a single-parent home often take on more responsibility, which can teach them independence. Be sure to recognize their contributions and be generous with praise.
The risks of raising kids in single-parent families go beyond just psychological effects. To learn about the potential developmental effects children in single-parent homes face, read on.