No More Broken Homes

There are many men and women raising children on their own, either by choice or because a partner has died or left them. Many single parents eventually remarry; in fact, one out of every three Americans, adults and children, is part of a stepfamily. The step-family is now the most common type of family in the United States.

Divorce and remarriage may be more common (and more widely accepted) these days, but that does not necessarily make it easy to live in a “different” family. Single parents and stepparents must deal with all the usual issues of raising a boy, but they must also learn to cope with the challenges unique to single-parent and stepfamily life.

What Is Normal?

A number of years ago, researchers interviewed people across the country to discover what they considered a “normal” family to be. The answer, not surprisingly, was that a “normal” family consisted of two parents, never divorced or separated, and two children. In this so-called normal family, Mom does not work outside the home.

The researchers then reviewed the statistics to determine how many American families are “normal.” Their answer? Approximately 7 percent. Despite what you may believe about the way it ought to be, families these days come in all shapes and sizes. And with love, thoughtful planning, and education, all families can be wonderful, healthy places for parents and children to live. While boys will grieve a missing parent or a family that has dissolved, they still can grow up capable, competent, and happy.

Alert

Single-parent families and stepfamilies are often born out of pain and loss. In fact, the step in stepfamily and stepparent is believed to come from the Old English term steop, meaning bereaved. Life in a single-parent family or a stepfamily is more rewarding when adults can recognize their child's emotions, as well as their own, and offer empathy and encouragement.

Divorce and separation are serious matters, however. You have learned just how vitally important connection and belonging are to a growing boy. Unfortunately, when parents separate, families become disconnected. Parents have strong emotions to deal with, as well as anxiety about money, living accommodations, visitation, and other details. A boy whose parents have separated may find himself in a no man's land of worry, wanting to protect and love each parent and having few choices about the huge changes in his family's life.

Where Is Home?

For some children, there is no other parent. Mom or Dad has died or disappeared; some children never know their other parent. For most children, however, there is another parent out there somewhere. Children have a wired-in need to connect with and to love both parents, a situation that presents obstacles to mothers and fathers who no longer get along.

In her excellent book on divorce, separation, and remarriage, Mom's House, Dad's House: Making Two Homes for Your Child, Isolina Ricci, PhD, says that divorce should be approached as the reor-ganization of a family, not its destruction; the parents' goal should be to create “two homes with no fighting” for children.

The details of this process are beyond the scope of this book, but it is essential that even the most wounded and angry adults learn to put their children's needs and feelings ahead of their own. Yes, you must take care of yourself and do your best to heal, but your son depends on you to make his world a safe and stable place. He cannot do it for himself.

Regardless of what has happened to your relationship with your son's other parent, your home is not “broken” unless you decide that it is. Boys can grow up healthy, happy, and capable with single parents, married parents, or remarried parents.

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