Raising kids in a single-parent home has its own unique set of challenges that require confidence, resilience, and courage. It’s hard enough to raise kids with a partner, but it’s a different matter altogether when you’re alone, overburdened, and under-supported.

I was talking with a single mom recently who described her day like this:

“I rush home from work, dash off to the supermarket, pick the kids up from practice, go home, and try to get dinner on the table. The arguing begins when I ask the kids to help out, and they start fighting with me. Any time I tell my oldest ‘no’ these days, she screams, ‘I hate you – you are the worst mother in the world! I wish I could live full-time with Dad!’ I explode, then she runs out of the room, slamming her bedroom door. I’m so tired of playing out this scene night after night.”

And if you have a child with a learning disability, ADHD, or Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), you can feel isolated and hopeless without a partner to step in when you are overwhelmed and at the end of your rope. Single parents don’t have the luxury to take a break because there isn’t anyone to pick up the slack.

As a result of the stresses and strains, single parents may give in to their child’s demands from pure exhaustion and then lose it on their kids from exasperation. It might sometimes feel like you and your child have become bickering siblings rather than parent and child.

Or, as time goes by, you might look to your child as a source of support and then start to feel uncomfortable about displeasing them.

These dynamics can happen naturally over time, but they make it difficult to set limits with children and get them to respect you as the authority in your home. And a home that lacks legitimate parental authority makes life a lot more challenging in the long run.

So what does it take for a single parent to manage things successfully and raise resilient kids?

1. Expect Respect From Your Child

Expect your children to treat you with respect, even when they grow bigger and stronger than you. Never accept or normalize abusive behavior, and that includes verbal as well as physical abuse. You are their parent, and they need to treat you as the legitimate authority in the household.

If your child starts to argue with your decisions, you can give yourself some time to decide your answer. But once you say no, politely and calmly disengage. Do not allow yourself to get entangled in endless debates or arguments.

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You can give them a chance to negotiate with you if it’s appropriate, but once you have given their request some reasonable thought, end the conversation, even if they are not happy with your decision. Your answer is now final.

Explain limits clearly and honestly, and, again, disconnect and walk away if your child continues to engage you in an argument.

It’s important to remember that children naturally fight to get what they want. Not being worn down and giving in to your child’s demands can take a superhuman effort when you never get a break. Added to this, if you’re separated or divorced, your energy may still be sapped by ongoing conflicts with your ex.

2. Try To Maintain a Mature Relationship With Your Ex

If you are separated or divorced, work at being civil with one another. Ongoing conflicts often hurt children and leave them feeling bitter, frustrated, withdrawn, and stressed. Avoid discussing these issues in front of your child so that they’re not caught in the middle of your battles with your ex.

If you have a difficult relationship with your ex, the first step is to stop contributing to the conflict. It takes two to participate, but only one to stop. If your ex criticizes you to the kids, respond by saying the following:

“Thank you for your input, but I’m comfortable with how I’m handling things.”

You don’t need to defend yourself further or fight back. This way, your children don’t have to decide which parent is right.

Kids want to be free to have good feelings toward both parents, and they’ll appreciate you if you put your energy toward maintaining good relationships with them rather than trying to prove what a jerk their other parent is.

If you are widowed or have been abandoned, get the support you need to grieve so that you can move forward. Work to get back on your own feet so that your children don’t feel they have to hold you up. If you are having difficulty getting there after some time, consider seeking professional help or a support group.

3. Manage Your Expectations of Yourself and Your Child

Be realistic and reasonable about what it means to be a good parent. Your kids will do well and turn out “good enough” when you allow yourself to be “fine enough” as a parent. That means accepting your limits and imperfections so that your child can come to terms with their own.

You don’t need to be, nor can you be, a “super parent”—and if you try to be one, your stress will get in the way of that goal. Be compassionate and reasonable toward yourself and your kids.

It’s also important to listen to your children when they need to express their feelings about being in a single-parent home. There is no need to defend yourself. They are not blaming you, even if it feels like they are. They might just be unhappy with the situation. Expressing their feelings and being heard by you will help them come to terms with things.

4. Develop a Support Network for Yourself

Work on building a network of caring individuals around you and your child—I can’t state enough how important this one is. If you can, share holidays and go on day trips with family and trusted friends so that they get to know your children. Encourage your children to use them for support when necessary.

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Discuss with your friends any big decision you need to make. Vent your frustrations and share your joys with them. Developing strong adult relationships will help prevent you from leaning too heavily on your children for emotional support, too.

5. Spend Uninterrupted Time With Your Kids

Spend time with your kids, even if it is just twenty minutes a day. Get to know the important people in their lives, such as their teachers, coaches, and friends. Create routines and rituals with your family. Whether you vacation each year in the same place, have holidays with the same extended family, or have a special evening or Sunday routine, stick with it as best you can.

These routines provide tremendous support for kids after a breakup or loss in the family. The routines also provide kids with security, continuity, and family togetherness.

Incorporate these strategies into your life to continually build and maintain your resilience. Let your parenting principles be your guide rather than your moment-to-moment emotions.

Related Content:
Estranged from Your Adult Child? 5 Things You Can Do
Flying Solo: Six Ways to Soar as a Single Parent


For more than 25 years, Debbie has offered compassionate and effective therapy and coaching, helping individuals, couples and parents to heal themselves and their relationships. Debbie is the creator of the Calm Parent AM & PM™ program and is also the author of numerous books for young people on interpersonal relations.

Comments (11)
  • MMA_Momma_of_5
    I found this article to be helpful. I am a single mother of 5. Ages range from the two oldest 15 and 9 both females, and a 3yr old and twins that are 2 that are boys. It is extremely hard especially when you stayed in an abusive relationship forMore too long. What finally forced me to realize I needed change was when I had my boys, for so many different reasons. Now I'm left with mentally helping myself be strong as well as creating a steady environment for my children. I'm beyond stressed, and my anxiety levels are high, started counseling a few months back because of depression, which had helped emensly with that. I was also blessed with a great counselor. I will use these methods along with what I'm currently learning and using. Thanks for the support through these awesome articles 😊
  • Rosalind

    A helpful article. I am also trying to 'reclaim' our flat from 2 teenagers (1is19 but still in school until July).

    It took a friend to point out that it shouldn't be me lurking in the bedroom whilst the children +/- their friends are gaming in the living room, nor me on an inflatable mattress in the living room when grandparents come to stay.

  • Natasha
    Your comment is even more useful that the article:)
  • Amandarb
    This article is too long to read for a single parent.  I have time to skim things and dash off responses here and there.  Lengthy articles don't stand a chance in my world.
  • KimHardly
    Very informative article,
  • KM12
    Yes - shared parenting may be a pain in the butt at times, but you can't beat a night off once or twice a week. Makes you feel like you can conqueror the world again.
  • Sjf
    We are all doin the best we can regardless of our circumstances no two are the same it's not a war to see who's worst off...we should be supporting one another not pulling each other down...being a parent is very difficult however you got to be alone it shouldn't matter!!!More I actually came on here for advice to pull me up not down and be made to feel seperate again...such a shame! Being kind and good to each other is what's needed life is not a game and strangely we are all doing it...why can't we do it together ?
  • April

    I have witnessed 3 women in my immediate family successfully raise children as single parents and maintain a professional life (real estate agent, attorney, and professional within Universal). One (real estate agent) went through years of torment and harassment by her ex who perpetually sued her for trivial reasons and even alimony (and she was eventually required to pay it)!! Long story short, all of these women successfully and gracefully maintained their households, children, and professional lives despite insurmountable odds. I believe the difference between them and others is that they had role models who were also successful and independent single mothers who allowed them to believe that "having it all" was realistic. They saw the victimized scraggly single mother as only an option- an option they refused to become.

    I would also add that these other suggestions that contributed to their success:

    -Make yourself a priority. Take care of yourself and give yourself breaks when needed to prevent burn out. This requires establishing strong boundaries. Be a little selfish and nurture your self esteem.

    -Maintain your mental health. Period.

    Having a regular counselor you can vent to helps.... alot (you can find resources for free counseling services). Get treated for depression, anxiety, or any other ailments. Single parenthood is a Mecca for mental health issues when stress and isolation mount.

    -Pursue your passions/ find purpose in your life. Your dreams, although more difficult to obtain, still can and must be pursued. It will be painful, but if you give up on your personal success and purpose in life, what do you have to live for? I see this is where so many go wrong- society tell us that our children are first and that we must sacrifice all for them. This will lead to the loss of oneself, cynicism, depression.....

    -Work out! (This will help you maintain energy, strength to go the extra mile, looks, and buffer stress).

    -Become resourceful.

    Look into and apply for the benefits you qualify for ;-) There is no shame in this.

    -Collect the maximum child support.

    -Surround yourself with positivity even if it's via YouTube self help videos.

    It seems paradoxical, but taking care of yourself = care of your children.

  • Single mum
    I am giving you my best regards. I do feel for you. I am a single parent myself. I had the worst evening of the year. It has been so exhausting on a daily basis that i dont find the energy now to type out my experiences and mentally goMore though it all.....
  • Mark
    Believe me being thrown into being a single parent the shock is barely wearing off.. I've even gone so far as to start a funding page. I quit my job of 20 years to try and Start a home business so I can stay home with my 4More sons.. If anyone is feeling generous https://www.gofundme.com/2jdy3f8
  • Venn
    single parenting is very exhausting!  knowing yourself is the key to success in doing this. First accept that you are a single parent and all that comes with it. Second, go at it while you are still afraid of anything and everything for whatever reason! Third, pay attention to everythingMore and adjust, adjust, and adjust! Look! it is mind over matter okay. Life is what you make it to be 100%. The bible says that your child or children will save you. So learn from them, love them, prepare for them, prepare them for everything, teach them, protect them, fight and die for them!!!!! That is all you can do until they come of age. Then and only then, you'll see the blessings of the decision you made to bring them into this world.
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