Families across the world face different challenges. One such challenge is marital instability, which in a significant number of families, lead to divorce. Divorce is a legal process in which there is mutual agreement by a couple to end their marriage. As far back as 1983, there was concern that rising divorce rates especially in the US and other developing countries would lead to a social catastrophe.
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According to Bilge and Kaufman (1983), the foregoing concerns were informed by the social concept that families form the foundation of any society. Policy makers and social scientists were, therefore, concerned that rising cases of divorce would lead to a problematic society where juvenile delinquency and childhood dissatisfaction would eventually lead to wide-ranging social problems (Bilge &Kaufman, 1983).
Russ (2013) argues that most societies do not advocate divorce. Mostly, the idea that married couples should stay together in the good and bad times is encouraged as a way of safeguarding the welfare of the children and integrity of the family structure. Most such arguments are based on the traditional family concept, which assumes that a complete family includes a father, mother and children. Divorce is usually the last resort in case there are irreconcilable differences between the two parents (Russ, 2013).
Single parent families have been in existence since ancient times (Balswick & Balswick, 2014). In a single family setup, one parent takes full responsibility for the needs of the family while the other partner remains dormant or unknown to the children. People become single parents for various reasons. Divorce is one such reason; other reasons include the death of a partner, bearing children out of wedlock or adoption of children by an unmarried person.
Parents who are in single parenthood by choice, often choose this family setup to avoid the psychological burden that comes with sharing parental responsibilities with a person who, does not live up to their expectations of a responsible parent (Balswick & Balswick, 2014).
Other reasons may include behaviors in one partner that may seem intolerable including drunkenness and cheating in marriage. It has however been argued that couples need to resolve their differences in order to preserve the integrity of family unit (Balswick & Balswick ,2014) In such cases, instead of exposing children to a strained relationship, a couple may choose to separate and work out an arrangement on how to look after the children.
Divorce in Families
According to Sendall (2014), family settings contain unwritten rules, which are often followed by all family members and observing such rules helps improves relations in the home. The family rules introduce a system of harmony where parents and children respect, love and care for one another (Sendall, 2014). However, there are some situations where one or all the parties violate the family rules.
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Sendall (2014) argues that being the adults in a family setup; parents should provide guidance to their children in resolving any violations of the family rules. Sendall (2014) however acknowledges that parents do not always agree on how to approach a specific issue. With such disagreements, parents rarely agree on how best to advice their children. In some cases, different worldviews by parents become a source of conflict. If such conflict is not properly managed and resolved, it can lead to divorce.
Papps (2012) examines the causes of divorce and identifies marrying young, disagreements, domestic abuse, and unrealistic expectations from one or both partners as the most cited causes. Other equally cited causes include infidelity, the absence of commitment from one or both parties, and unequal powers in relationships that lead to dissatisfaction in marriage (Papps, 2012).
Interestingly, belonging to a religious group has been found to lower the incidence of divorce (Hawkins, Fackrell & Utah Commission on Marriage, 2009). The foregoing argument is perhaps because some religions (e.g. Christianity) do not accept divorce, except in very unique circumstances (e.g. unfaithfulness in marriage and abandonment in the Christian faith).
The Children’s Act in various jurisdictions in the US defends the rights of children in the event of a divorce. The welfare of each child needs to be carefully examined and evaluated based on the age and gender. In the event, the couple does not have children, financial and property disputes between them have to be resolved successfully before they are granted a divorce.
Another important aspect of divorce is that, for the court to accept to begin the divorce proceedings, evidence must exist to prove that the marriage did indeed exist. The foregoing requirement often requires a legal document to be provided (e.g. a marriage certificate).
Single Parent Families
Golawski (2013) explains that single parent families are settings where one parent assumes full responsibilities of the family needs. The other parent remains invisible and may be unknown to the children. In most cases, one parent entirely provides for the children. Divorce is a leading cause of single parent families, whereby; two people who previously had a family together choose to part ways and pursue different interests in life.
Divorce aside; there are other reasons that explain increasing cases of single parent families. One such reason is where one parent (usually the male parent) fails to assume parental responsibility (e.g. in the case of absconding biological fathers). Atwood and Genovese (2014) note that the term ‘single-parent families’, does not fully reflect the actual reality of a divorce family situation (p.1). The two authors further argue that in a divorce, the two parents are present.
However, they “live in two different locations” (Atwood & Genovese, 2014, p. 1). Whether a child lives with the father, the mother or alternates between living with parents, Atwood and Genovese (2014) note that about 60 percent of teenagers in America today, live in single parent households.
Dickey, Greenberg and Bowden (2006) explain the disadvantages that children from single families face. One such disadvantage is the lack of attention from both parents. One parent may find it difficult to adequately balance between the physical, emotional and economic needs of the children. When children do not receive enough attention from their parents when growing up, their physical and mental development is affected.
For example, some children can be emotionally affected to the point of getting into depression. Other children may develop mental models that are arguably skewed. For example, a child may associate marriage with suffering and as such, may avoid marriage and commitment when he or she becomes a grownup. A girl child who saw the father move away from home and never come back may get the impression that men are irresponsible, uncaring and dishonest.
According to Yarber and Sharp (2010), single-parent families have to endure several challenges. Assuming that both parents were working at the time of divorce, children have to contend with single incomes, where they had been used to the combined income from both their parents. In such cases, children may have to learn to put up with lower lifestyle standards. Moreover, the burden of providing for the family solely, often strains the parent who has been granted the children’s custody.
According to Yarber and Sharp (2010), the emotional welfare of the children often suffers after divorce. Specifically, the parent in whose custody the children are in, may not have the emotional capacity to cater for the children’s emotional needs, especially considering that she or he too may have own emotional wounds to heal.
He or she may also be using work as an escape to manage their emotional hurt. Other times, the parent may spend long hours working in order to meet the needs of the family. The absence of a parent might lead children to social vises that negatively affect their growth and development.
Regardless of the challenges that parents face, they need to do what is “in the best interest of the children” once divorced (Balswick & Balswick, 2012, p. 304).
Interventions for Single-Parent Family
Several intervention programs are available from voluntary local organizations to assist in the management of single parent families. These organizations have programs meant to provide emotional support to parents and the children. The support programs are created to provide a social interaction platform where the affected families meet others for moral support. Single parents have a chance to socialize, make new friends and get new knowledge on how best to handle different situations as the only parent.
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The intervention programs provide helpful information regarding the various physical and emotional stages of growth and development of children. The information assists parents to be prepared to meet the various needs of their children. The programs also provide platforms that encourage open sharing of information about the absent member of the family.
Arguably, such platforms enhance the emotional healing of single parents and serves to encourage them that there is indeed life after divorce. Yarber and Sharp (2010) specifically note that open conversations, enable the parties to go through the pain and recover fully from the trauma of divorce.
In an example situation of the intervention programs, the single parents are taught about the possible effects of having frequent visits from members of opposite sex in the house in the presence of the children (Yarber & Sharp, 2010).
Yarber and Sharp (2010) suggest that single parent families need to have a well-organized way of utilizing the limited resources at their disposal. The parent and children have to plan carefully and create a list of all the expenditures of the household.
There is a need for the parents to help the children understand the importance of adjusting the family expenditure to fit the available income. For example, holidays and trips can be limited to avail more resources for education. The parent needs to be prepared to save more for education, health and other future needs of the children.
Different societies vary in their perception of single parent families. There are those who condemn and view single parents as immoral and irresponsible. Some churches purport that children raised from single families do not grow up with values and attitude of a two-parent household (Yarber & Sharp, 2010).
Rainey and Rainey (2010) point out that in some societies, single-family settings are acceptable. These societies are accommodative of members from single families because they understand that people have the right to choose the family setups that suit them best.
In the American society, for example, Barber and Eccles (1992) argue that single parent households are increasingly accepted as the norm. After all, there are at least 60 percent single parents at any one time. The foregoing statistics indicate that the majority of parents are in the single parenting category.
Biblical Views on Divorce and Single-Parent Families
The Bible does not support divorce. In Malachi (2:16 New American Standard Version), the Bible states that God hates divorce. Specifically, the Bible states that “I hate divorce, says the LORD God of Israel”. Christians further quote Matthew (19:6) as further proof that their religion does not support divorce.
In the first book of the New Testament, it is indicated that “…therefore, what God has put together, let no man separate” (Mathew 19:6). The foregoing quoted verse is often interpreted as an indication that marriage is meant to be a long-life commitment. Christians further argue that God gave clear instructions on how the family settings must be. In Hosea (3:1), God directed his people to go and show love to wives and families.
Christians interpret the foregoing verse as instructions by God to married couples to remain together despite the challenges. In recognition of the challenges that the marriage institution faces, most religious institutions, especially in the Christian religion offer marriage counseling among other support services. Such services are arguably meant to ensure that Christians do not divorce.
The Bible however gives two grounds for divorce between two married Christians. The first cause is sexual immorality as indicated in Mathew (19:9; 5:32). The second ground for divorce in Christianity is abandonment as indicated in Paul’s second letter to Corinthians (7:15). Notably, even where sexual immorality and abandonment are cited as reasons for divorce, Christianity encourages its followers to consider divorce only if they cannot resolve the differences that exist among a couple.
The Bible is notably silent about single parent families. The only incident where a single parent is mentioned is in the Old Testament where Hagar, had been sent away by Sarah from Abraham’s household after bearing an illegitimate son with her mistress’s husband. Alone in the wilderness, with a child, and no water or food, the Bible indicates that God helped Hagar when He told her “Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him” (Genesis 21: 18). For Christians, Hagar’s story shows that though single parenting is not ideal for either the parent or a child, there is still hope that God will still look after them.
The Christian teachings aside, this paper will conclude by noting that “many children and families recover from the initial distress and resume normal functioning within a few years if there is not continued stress and adversity” (Barber & Eccles, 1992, p. 104). The foregoing quotation shows that there is still hope for single parent families because once they recover from the challenges of losing a loved one through divorce, separation or death, they can function normally once again, albeit after a period of suffering.
Divorce and single parent families are part all societies. As argued in this paper, divorce is one of the main courses of single parent households in the US. The implication that divorce has on parents and children are far reaching. Sometimes, the effects of divorce compromise the emotional and social wellbeing of adults and children alike. As indicated in the latter part of this paper, however, the effects of divorce eventually wane, and the affected parties (i.e. parents and children) are able to function normally.
Notably, policy makers need to address the issue of single parent families in the US as a weighty societal issue. If the statistics discussed herein are anything to go by, there are more single parent households in the country than there are two-parent families. The foregoing means that more policy action need to be directed towards the creation of institutions and policies that make the society more accepting and fair to the children and parent from such family units.
Arguably, the integrity of single parent families needs to be protected just as much as the integrity of two-parent families. It is, therefore, advisable that policymakers and other interested stakeholders create institutions that look into the needs of all types of families represented in the American society.
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Balswick, J. O., & Balswick, J.K. (2014). The family: a Christian perspective on the contemporary home (4th edn). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing.
Barber, B.L., & Eccles, J.S. (1992). Long-term influence of divorce and single parenting on adolescent family- and work-related values, behaviors, and aspirations. Psychological Bulletin, 111(1), 108-126.
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Papps, T. G. (2012). The ei8ht reasons for divorce: Why marriages fail and how to ensure that yours doesn’t. Wilkes-Barre, PA: Kallisti Publishing.
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Russ, D. (2013). Flesh-and-blood Jesus: Learning to be fully human from the Son of Man. Michigan, FL: Baker Publishing Group.
Sendall, J. (2014). Family law handbook. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Yarber, A. D., & Sharp, P. M. (2010). Focus on single-parent families: Past, present, and future. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger.