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Being a Successful Single Parent

Latter-Day Saints Perspective

Today, it's common to talk about single-parent family problems and their disadvantages to children. This can lead some single parents to think there is little they can do to have a successful family. That's not so.

Not all children growing up in single-parent families experience negative consequences, just as not all overweight people have heart attacks. More importantly, focusing on the weaknesses and problems doesn't help single parents and their children become strong.

The Family: A Proclamation to the World states that adaptations in family life become necessary when disability, death, or othercircumstances (such as divorce) make such adaptations necessary. God loves us and will bless us in these circumstances. While it isn't easy, single parent families can adapt and be strong families.

Some researchers have asked successful single parents how they succeeded. Here's what these parents said.

Acceptance of Responsibility. Successful single parents accept the responsibilities and challenges of single parenting. They neither minimize nor exaggerate problems but seek solutions. They acknowledge the difficulties (such as a lack of personal time, a restricted social life, sole responsibility for meeting multiple needs, and financial stress) without self-pity or bitterness.

One woman lost her husband to an auto-pedestrian accident. She was left with five sons to raise and little education or skills. She was devastated. Ultimately she made a plan and carried it out. She decided to establish a home-based business, and it became very successful in a large metropolitan area. She was able to provide well for her family.

Commitment to Family. Successful single parents make the family their highest priority. They focus on being the best possible single parent, which often means putting the needs of the child first. They genuinely like and enjoy children, sacrificing time, money, and energy for the sake of the children. They try to be supportive and patient and help children cope. Like other effective parents, they are consistent and not highly punitive. This discipline style gives children choices, uses natural and logical consequences, and provides structure.

Open Communication. Successful single parents foster open communication. These parents encourage clear and open expression of thoughts and feelings in the family as a key to developing honest and trusting relationships. They foster individuality within a supportive family unit. These parents strive to accomplish this individuality and independence by each member having individual interests and building individual skills.

Successful Home Management. Successful single parents manage the family needs well. They strive to be well organized and dependable, and they work hard to coordinate schedules. They take pride in their ability to financially provide for the family, although finances still remain a struggle. One single mother effectively organized her children to help with chores. She typed out the jobs for the day on 3 x 5-inch cards and expected a report before dinner.

Care of Self. Successful single parents take care of themselves. Despite lack of time, these parents recognize that caring for themselves is important. They attempt to do so through physical, spiritual, emotional, and social means. They are connected to others on whom they can call on for practical and emotional support. One single mother who managed a home-based business found time to get away on a vacation occasionally or go dancing with friends.

Maintain Traditions and Relationships. Successful single-parent families maintain traditions, whether bedtime rituals, special family times together, or holiday celebrations. A tradition is any event with special meaning to a family. When a family has been disrupted, maintaining traditions becomes a stabilizing force, something that can be depended on.

If the other parent is living, successful single parents encourage the child's involvement with the nonresidential parent, as long as the other parent doesn't present some danger to the child. When possible, the other parent shares responsibility for the children. Regardless of where the children live, they receive economic and emotional support from both parents.

Have a Positive Outlook on Challenges. Successful single parents have a positive attitude toward parenting and life in general. They see positive aspects in stressful situation and feel that they have succeeded despite many doubts.

It's common for single parents to take a negative view of the challenges they face. However, if single-parent families are willing to work hard and get help when they need it, they can benefit from their situation in a number of ways. Researcher Stephen Atlas has identified these possible benefits:

First, if there was high conflict before a divorce in a two-parent family, a change to single-parent family living can bring about a reduction in tension, hostility, and discord and an increase in family solidarity and consistency.

When tension is high between parents on their way to divorcing, children's emotional needs are often ignored. The parents do not enforce rules consistently, and children feel less secure. When that tension is gone, single parents can focus more on children's needs and return to greater consistency in rule enforcement.

Second, a single parent may have greater flexibility in planning time with children. Single parents aren't distracted by the expectations or time demands of another adult. With fewer schedules to negotiate, there may be greater flexibility to spend time with each child.

Third, members of single-parent families may become more interdependent, working together to approach problem solving and daily living. Single parents depend more heavily on the voluntary cooperation of their children. Single parents can encourage cooperation by holding family councils where children are involved directly in making decisions and solving problems. When children are thus involved, they are more likely to help carry out the decisions.

Fourth, single parenting provides many challenges that are opportunities for growth and sharing. Single parents often need to develop new skills and obtain additional education. While it isn't easy, pursuing the task of balancing a full-time job with full responsibilities for housework and parenting can help make us stronger people.

Fifth, children have wider experiences because they may go between two differing spheres of influence. Each single-parent family will have its own unique influence. This can be a broadening experience for children.

Sixth, the extended single-parent community can provide support. Single-parent families are not necessarily isolated or cut off from the broader community. Nor do they necessarily lack support. Groups for single parents such as Parents Without Partners ( be a valuable resource for activities, sharing, personal growth, and new relationships.

Seventh, young people may feel more needed and valued as contributing members of the household. One son of a single mother still remembers her "duty lists" she gave out each Saturday. He said, "All five of us were expected to fulfill our responsibilities. Failure to do so only placed increased burdens on Mom." In two-parent families, parents typically share the major responsibilities. In single-parent families, each child's help is needed and vital in day-to-day living. As a result, children may feel more valued.

Identifying Your Strengths as a Single Parent

All of us have strengths or positive characteristics that help us succeed. Think about the section on the characteristics of successful single parents. How are you doing? Take a moment and complete the "Succeeding as a Single Parent" chart below to identify your own strengths as a single parent and areas where you'd like to improve.

After you have completed the chart, go to the Goal Setting Worksheet. Set goals that will help you build at least one of your areas of strength. In addition, choose one or two areas you believe need improvement.

My Strengths as a Single Parent

Strength Area
Very Strong
Some Growth Needed
Much Growth Needed
Acceptance of Responsibility
Commitment to Family
Open Communication
Successful Home Management
Care of Self
Maintain Rituals and Traditions
Maintain Relationships With Nonresidential Parent
Positive Outlook

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My Goal Setting Worksheet

Strength Area
My Goals
What I Will Do
Acceptance of Responsibility
Commitment to Family
Open Communication
Successful Home Management
Care of Self
Maintain Rituals and Traditions
Maintain Relationships With Nonresidential Parent
Positive Outlook

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Your positive characteristics and leadership are contagious and will spill over into your family life. See Family Strengths: Identifying Your Family's Strengths at this website for additional ideas on ways you can strengthen your family.

Written by Stephen F. Duncan, Professor, School of Family Life, Brigham Young University.


1. Richards, L. N., & Schmiege, C. J. (1993). Problems and strengths of single-parent families: Implications for practice and policy. Family Relations, 42, 277-285.

The Family: A Proclamation to the World affirms that "the family is central to the Creator's plan for the eternal destiny of his children" (¶ 1). Some families may not fit the traditional mold of a father, a mother, and children who live together in covenant relationships. Due to situations of death, divorce, or never marrying, some families may find themselves in less then ideal circumstances. The Proclamation instructs that "disability, death or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation" (¶ 7). Single parent units are still families, and the true principles contained in the Proclamation still apply. Elder Ben B. Banks teaches, "even in single-parent families, the family continues on, for families are forever".1 The Proclamation and statements from leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints provide comfort and give guidelines for adaptation of gospel principles to single-parent families.

Unique challenges of single-parent families

Single parent families face challenges that are uniquely theirs. Without a partner or help-meet, a parent must attend to the physical and emotional needs of the children, deal with financial difficulties, and maintain a social life with other adults. Bitterness, feelings of disappointment, and a sense of failure may plague single parents, but President Howard W. Hunter warns that these feelings should be avoided so as not to "color your perception" on life.7 Happiness in family life is still an option and a blessing, due to the good news of the gospel.

Single parents should strive to do their best in their situation. President Gordon B. Hinckley acknowledges: "Your burdens are heavy. We know this. Your concerns are deep. There is never enough money. There is never enough time. Do the very best you can and plead with the Lord for his help".6

The Savior is always there

Loneliness may be a symptom of single parents. However, there are many who are concerned about and who pray especially for those who are single parents; thus, single parents should never feel that they are left alone and forgotten in their trials. Church leaders are mindful of the great worry and strain that plague single parents. President Hinckley has said, "Our hearts reach out to [single mothers]" and "great is our obligation to you".3,4 Single parents are encouraged to counsel with their priesthood leaders for help and guidance in their lives. Church leaders can provide assistance in many ways, such as assisting in the job search for a mother who has been out of the workforce or simply offering prayers on behalf of the member.

Rear children in righteousness

A constant concern for any parent is the upbringing of his or her children: Will my child become a functioning adult member of society? How can I best help my child to succeed? Will this trial adversely affect my child? Single parents are not exempt from this worry; in fact, for them, the concern is magnified because they must shoulder the responsibility of child-rearing alone. Although children in single-parent homes may face unique challenges, there are still ways a single parent can buffer against the effects of having only one parent at home. President Hinckley mentions setting an example, teaching children to work, and encouraging sons to prepare financially and spiritually to serve missions.3

Ancient scripture instructs that the teaching of a child must begin at a young age: "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it" (Proverbs 22:6). Modern prophets have reaffirmed the importance of all parents striving to raise children in righteousness. Elder Banks, himself a child of a single parent home, offers a number of suggestions for parents to strengthen families and foster unity. Some of his suggestions include effective communication, doing things together as a family, disciplining with love, and establishing a house of God.1

Children face special challenges with an absent parent. However, President Hinckley has said, "The more surely you rear your children in the ways of the gospel of Jesus Christ, with love and high expectation, the more likely that there will be peace in their lives".3 Living and teaching the principles of the gospel can assure single parents that their children will not be lost.

Live the principles of the gospel

The peace that comes from righteously living the gospel is available to any single parent. Though burdens are heavy and wearisome, "The light of Jesus Christ is stronger than any darkness we face in this life, if we have faith in him, seek after him, and obey him".8 Living the gospel brings a peace that is not available from any other source. Living the principles of the gospel that are emphasized in the Proclamation, such as faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, and love, will bring strength and unity to single-parent families.

Trust in the Lord

President James E. Faust recognizes that "each of us has problems that we cannot solve and weaknesses that we cannot conquer without reaching out through prayer to a higher source of strength".2 The Lord stands ready to hear our prayers. "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him and he shall direct thy paths" (Proverbs 3:5-6). Single parents are not left to struggle alone, and when trials come there is always one who knows our struggles better then anyone else ever could. "God our Eternal Father . . . and His Beloved Son can come to the weary and the lonely by the power of the Spirit to comfort and sustain, to nurture and to bless".6

Church leaders offer prayers on the behalf of single parents, and "Many hands stand ready to help you. The Lord is not unmindful of you. Neither is his church".4 He invites all, single, married, divorced, or otherwise, to "come unto him and partake of his goodness" (2 Nephi 26:33).

Written by Kristi Tanner, Research Assistant, and edited by Stephen F. Duncan, Professor, School of Family Life, Brigham Young University.


  1. Banks, B. B. (1993, November). Take time for your children. Ensign, 28-30.
  2. Faust, J. E. (2002, May). The lifeline of prayer. Ensign, 59-62.
  3. Hinckley, G. B. (1995, November). Stand strong against the wiles of the world. Ensign, 98-101.
  4. Hinckley, G. B. (1996, November). Women of the church. Ensign, 67-70.
  5. Hinckley, G. B. (1997, March). A conversation with single adults. Ensign, 58-63.
  6. Hinckley, G. B. (1997). Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book.
  7. Hunter, H. H. (1989, June). The church is for all people. Ensign, 75-77.
  8. Jensen, V. U. (2000, November). Lead, kindly light. Ensign, 62-63.