One-parent families are the fastest growing type of family in Australia. Over 20% of all families with a child aged 15 years or under are parented by a lone mother or father. Although some single parents have worries about money, child care and relationships, others report enjoying special closeness with their child. Read about one single parent, and the challenges faced by parents raising children alone all over Australia.
Claudia* is a single mother raising her two-year-old daughter, Amelia, in Melbourne, Victoria. Amelia’s father lives on the other side of the world.
‘One of the good things about being a sole parent is that I get to do most things my way. I don’t have to argue with anyone (except for Amelia!) about what sort of food I feed Amelia, or about when she should have a sleep. Likewise, I don’t get to blame a partner for not doing their share. This might sound ridiculous, but I’m kind of glad that these days I get to avoid all the stress that comes when the parents’ relationship is tested by having kids.
‘On the other hand, when I’m really exhausted or sick, or when I simply want a break, I really wish there was someone I could hand her over to. And I often fantasise about being able to pop out at night to see a movie while my (nonexistent) partner stays at home to babysit. Exhaustion is a big issue – especially when Amelia’s waking up for the brand new day at 5 am and I can’t say to my hubby, “Your turn”. There are financial challenges, too, and I do miss adult company.
‘I never intended to be a single mum. I was in love with Amelia’s dad and thought he would do the honourable thing and shack up with me. Instead he did the opposite and abandoned me in my hour of need. I will never really understand how he could be so cold-blooded. I’ve agonised a lot about how to involve him in her life, and it’s been complicated, given that he lives on the other side of the world. But I’ve always felt very strongly that Amelia should be given the opportunity to know her father, no matter how he and I are getting along or what obstacles lie in our path.
‘In bringing up Amelia I try to balance the indulgences with the setting of limits so she won’t end up being a spoilt brat. I try to offer her healthy and interesting food (though I must admit it’s sometimes mashed potato). I work very hard to maintain a safe, comfortable, stable environment at home and to also fill her life with new experiences. Simple things like catching the train can make her happy for a week. Taking a trip to Greece to meet her father earlier this year was very wearing for me but Amelia blossomed beyond all expectations.
‘I like to give her room to surprise me, to give her freedom where I can. And I try to be happy when we’re together – to let her light up my life. If I’m grumpy, she gets grumpy, and then it’s no fun for anyone. She is growing up to be a fiercely independent and confident young thing, and I hope some of that comes from my mothering.’
Video Single parents
In this short video, single parents talk about their experiences of raising children alone. Parents share strategies for coping, being good role models, and getting support and reassurance from family and friends. Your parenting circumstances are less important than your ability to be there for your child.
At a glance
- One-parent families are the fastest growing type of family in Australia.
- In 2012, there were 492 336 single-parent families with at least one child aged 15 years or younger.
- Of those families, 85% are single-mother families and 15% are single-father families.
- In Australia, 19% of all children aged 15 years or younger are living in single-parent families.
- A quarter of children born to an intact couple experience their parents’ separation by the time they are 18.
- Families with one parent have, on average, half the income of families with two parents.
More and more Australian parents are raising children alone.
You might be alone because your partner died or because your relationship broke down. You might be grieving the loss of your partner, or sad because your dream of a happy two-parent family is gone, or you might be glad you’ll never have to spend much time with your partner again. You might be arguing with a former partner over how often they see the children, or how much they pay towards their upbringing. You might never speak to your former partner, or you might still be friends but hope for more.
Whatever your situation, being single is bound to affect your experience of raising children. More than likely, you are a little (or a lot) short on money. You could be stressed because you’re arguing with your former partner about their relationship with their child and with you. You might not be able to spend as much time with your child as you want to, either because of custodial arrangements or because you have to work more often than you’d like.
You might feel isolated, lonely and sad that you don’t have the chance to get out and meet new people. You might wonder if you’ll ever be in a relationship again.
Being alone has its disadvantages but also has its benefits. Your relationship with your child might be closer than it would be if you were in an adult relationship. You can make your own decisions about your child’s sleeping, eating, discipline and child care without arguing with another adult. And there’s no-one else demanding that you pay less attention to the baby and more to them.
Most single parents report that having a strong network of support – relatives, friends or professional help – can tip the balance, making the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. You can turn to other people if you:
- have too much to do
- need a break
- want someone to vent to
- need financial assistance
- want your child to have more than one adult role model.
For further help
* Names have been changed for privacy reasons.
This short video shares the story of Ricky. After the birth of his child, Ricky found himself an 18-year-old sole parent living with his own parents. Ricky describes how he learned to be a single father and adjust to family life.
This short video shares the story of Grace, a single mother of two young children, both of whom have a chronic illness. Grace talks about some challenges of being a young mother, and managing health care for her kids. Her mother has provided support, and this has helped Grace finish her studies.