Single parenting with teenagers

Image of a mother and daughter sitting on bed talking.

If you’re a single or sole parent, you’re not alone. The 2016 Census recorded 959,000 families, or 10.4 per cent of all households, where a single parent was the only, or primary, carer.

How does being a single parent affect you?

Many single parents have told us they feel proud that they’re raising their children on their own. Many also enjoy the freedom it gives them to make their own decisions about what they think is best for their families.

‘It gets lonely sometimes, not having someone to back you up… But it does have its pros and cons. You don’t have someone arguing with you about decisions.’ Single mum, Campbelltown, NSW

Being the sole decision maker also has benefits for your parenting style. For example, single parents are:

  • likely to use positive parenting techniques, such as problem-solving strategies, rather than punishment, when dealing with difficult child behaviour

  • unlikely to rely on traditional gender roles.

This means that your parenting style could adapt to be more encouraging of your child’s growth and development. Learn more about your parenting style here.

Parenting alone has its rewards, but can also be exhausting and difficult for some single parents, and that’s okay. While also common in two-parent households, many single parents experience challenges in areas such as:

  • Discipline. Disciplining a teen without having another parent to ‘back them up’ on rules and decisions made can be difficult.

  • Financial and career challenges. Not all single parents receive financial contributions from ex-partners or elsewhere. Some single parents have no difficulty raising their children on one income, but others find it challenging. Some single parents have to make career sacrifices because of their parenting responsibilities.

  • Emotional distance. Some parents who don’t see their teens struggle with feeling connected.

“I have [my daughter] 3-4 days out of the fortnight... And I'm finding that I'm always careful, because I don't want to upset her because I have her that short amount of time...I don't want her going home angry with me and then resenting coming back to see me again.” Single dad, Parramatta, NSW

How does being a single parent affect your teen?

A child from a single-parent home who is loved and supported has no more problems than a child from a two-parent home. The child has every opportunity to develop maturity, independence, responsibility and resilience, and to have a close relationship with their parent.

‘I love seeing the kids have pride in themselves. My son plays rugby league; he prides himself on if he's tackling someone and he’s hurt them and they're on the ground, he'll go over and he'll help them.’ Single mum, Orange, NSW

Some children from single-parent families experience challenges, which can also happen in two-parent families, including:

  • envying friends who have two parents at home

  • craving affection or having self-esteem problems if they don't see their parent enough

  • having less quality time for themselves, with their friends or with their parent, if there is a need for ‘extra hands’ around the house.

Looking after yourself while being a single parent

It can be tiring to keep on top of your teen’s schoolwork, social activities, sports and jobs, while also managing your own responsibilities. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed sometimes, but it’s important that you put time aside for yourself.

Practising self-care can help you to recharge physically, mentally and emotionally, making you better equipped to deal with the demands of everyday life. It also shows your teen that self-care is important, and encourages them to develop similar attitudes and habits themselves. It helps to make you a better carer, too, as you’ll have more energy and mental space to engage with your teen. Read more about the importance of self-care here.

You don’t have to do it alone

Whether you’re doing great at managing everything at the moment, or are going through a rough time, you don’t have to do everything by yourself. It can be hard to reach out and ask for help, and to accept help when it’s offered. Just remember: no one needs to do it alone.

You can tap into your support groups such as friends, colleagues, community groups and extended family. There is also a range of support services available, including online and over-the-phone support that you can access in your own time.

The ReachOut Forums are a great way to connect to other single parents and to share your experiences, while ReachOut One-on-One Support can give you professional guidance. Check out some of the other support services that are available.

With the right support and planning, you and your teen will continue to thrive. Have a go at some of the things you can do right now.