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Economic and Emotional Challenges Single Mothers Face


Single mothers who live in poverty deal with various mental health problems. Thus, they are more likely to suffer from stress, anxiety, depressions, and alcohol and drug abuse than single mothers who live in better economic conditions. Moreover, their children face mental challenges and have problems with behavior more often than children who live in two-parent families or better economic conditions. Such factors as homelessness, the absence of self-care, changes in safety nets, lack of social support, and inability to find well-paid jobs influence single mothers’ mental health negatively and lead to serious problems with their children’s wellbeing. The paper analyzes different factors that affect single mothers’ and their children’s mental wellbeing and provides recommendations on how to solve the problem.

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In the modern world, single motherhood is a quite common phenomenon. Teenage pregnancies, early marriages, and frequent divorce lead to the high growth of single mothers with dependent children. Some mothers manage to find good jobs and provide for their families, while some mothers live in poverty and suffer from mental diseases and disorders. Low income harms both mothers and their children. Women suffer from stress and depression and often lose their temper in front of children, hurting the children’s wellbeing. As a result, children’s psychological development is also affected negatively. According to Agnafors et al. (2019), children of single parents (90% women) “were found to be at increased risk for childhood psychopathology, suicide attempts and drug addiction” (pp. 1-2). One can see that poverty has a crucial effect on single mothers and their children, and this issue should be addressed immediately. Single mothers face economic and emotional challenges that adversely affect their mental health and hinder the wellbeing of their children.

Transition to Adulthood

The transition from adolescence to maturity is not easy because it is associated with different economic and emotional challenges. Teenagers have to adjust to the adult world and learn to earn money and provide for themselves. They need to choose their future profession and decide what they want to do in life. Frequently, many of them are not prepared for such challenges. Young people often believe that they have much time in reserve, so they often act haphazardly and do not think about the consequences. Moreover, when a teenager lacks self-confidence and does not know what she wants to do in life, she may become a diffident woman who gets married early, gives birth to a child, and gets divorced quickly. In such a way, women become single mothers, and they have to search for effective ways to provide for themselves and their offspring, which is not always easy.

Economic and emotional challenges are often present in single parenting. McKenzie and McKay (2018) conducted 23 interviews with single mothers excluded from the Parenting Payment Single, an Australian welfare program. The program introduced new changes in 2005-2006, according to which the “eligibility for new recipients of this payment would cease once their youngest child turned eight” (McKenzie & McKay, 2018, p. 305). At the same time, those who had already been under the program remained eligible until their child turned sixteen and would also be protected under “grandfathering” provisions (McKenzie & McKay, 2018, p. 305). However, in 2012-2013, the grandfathering provision was canceled, and all single parents whose children turned eight were no more eligible for the payment (McKenzie & McKay, 2018, p. 305). Since that moment, single mothers had to find new ways to reimburse their lessened income and adjust to harsh economic conditions.

Single parents excluded from welfare programs are more likely to face economic and emotional challenges than those who receive some financial support from the state. Such single mothers tend to search for some casual or part-time work, which allows them to combine employment with family responsibilities. However, such jobs are usually associated with low salaries and little or no career opportunities, so single mothers cannot meet all household expenses and begin to suffer from emotional and psychological burdens (McKenzie & McKay, 2018, p. 306). They begin to employ various strategies to make their ends meet. Some of these strategies include asking for and accepting help from others, using bartering systems, and finding cost-saving ideas (McKenzie & McKay, 2018). Moreover, single mothers use strategies for emotional survival, such as self-reliance and self-protection, but these strategies are usually effective for a short time, and women have to search for new ways to earn money and keep their peace of mind. All these struggles and endless efforts are emotionally exhausting and lead to constant stress and depressions, hurting the dependent children.

Single Mothers and Poverty

The number of single mothers has increased considerably over the past decade. Thus, for example, “women account for 86% of single parents with dependent children” in the United Kingdom (Stack & Meredith, 2018, p. 233). In the United States, the situation with single parenthood is similar. For instance, in 2009, among the 11.6 million single parents, “9.9 million were single mothers” (Lu et al., 2019, p. 1). One can see that single mothers are a large vulnerable group of the population whose financial and psychological problems should be addressed immediately to improve their wellbeing and socio-economic statuses.

Single mothers living in poverty is a critical issue in the modern world. In 2013, 25.2 million women lived in poverty in the United States, compared to 20.1 million men (Lange et al., 2017, p. 1). Women of a certain age and racial/ethnic groups are more likely to experience poverty than white women. Moreover, single mothers are more affected than married mothers, and single mothers with children suffer more and are in a more difficult position than women who have no children. Single mothers with disabilities or single mothers who have children with disabilities are at hazard of living in poverty because they have fewer chances to find well-paid jobs and work full time than those who are healthy and have healthy children (Lu et al., 2019, p. 2). In addition, research showed that single fathers received higher taxable income than single mothers ($56,458 vs. $35,287) (Lu et al., 2019, p. 5). Such discrimination against women puts them and their children in a more difficult position than men and makes females search for additional income sources, spending more time on work and less time on children and self-care. As a result, single mothers become more prone to mental illnesses, and they cannot break the cycle of the financial burden and emotional burnout.

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Single mothers living in poverty form a high percentage of the US population. According to Radey and McWey (2021), out of 40 million people living in poverty in the United States, 28% are single mothers (p. 687). Low-income mothers face such problems as “lower rates of school completion and employment […], higher levels of harsh parenting strategies, parenting stress, and poor physical and mental health” (Radey & McWey, 2021, p. 687). Their children, in turn, suffer from a lack of attention, dissatisfaction with their lives, and have behavioral and educational problems. With the increase of divorces and economic challenges, the number of single mothers living in poverty will grow, and they will have to deal with such problems as a lack of stable jobs and living below the poverty level.

Poverty and financial hardships have a negative impact on single mothers and their children. Recently, there has been inflation presenting economic difficulties. Such economic challenges are more likely to impact single mothers than other groups. Thus, their physical health suffers due to a lack of rest and sleep. Research showed that even though single parents were ill, a need to do everything did not leave them, and they were constantly exhausted and run down (Stack & Meredith, 2018, p. 236). The mental health of single mothers living in poverty suffered too. Some participants of Stack and Meredith’s (2018) study reported that they often felt anxious, and some of them had a feeling of paranoia (p. 237). Some mothers felt entrapment and desperation, and the others felt unable to get out of their situation that they had diverse suicidal thoughts (Stack & Meredith, 2018, p. 237). The biggest problem of such mothers is the sense that no one can help them, and there is no way out of poverty. One can see that single mothers’ financial status and physical and mental health are interrelated, and the more problems a woman has with money, the less healthy she will become.

Single Mothers and the Wellbeing of Their Children

A lot has been said about the impact of poverty and single parenthood on women, but the wellbeing of their children has not been analyzed yet. Thus, research showed that parents’ emotional state affects their children’s health and behavior (Lange et al., 2017, p. 2). For example, those single mothers who experienced stress and depression during pregnancy gave birth to infants with lower weight, shorter gestation, and adverse effects on fetal and infant development (Lange et al., 2017, p. 2). In addition, such children often have problems with their behavior and tend to compare themselves with other children. As a result, their education suffers, and such children have higher chances to repeat their mother’s fate and have similar lifestyles in the future.

In addition, children living with single parents often feel alienated from their mothers and friends. Such children have no role models because their mothers are “at higher risk of role strain than two-parent families,” and they find it difficult to cope with their domestic role, parenting duties, and the effects of poverty (Campbell et al., 2016, p. 3). Teenagers have no pride in their way of life, and they may even feel ashamed of their mothers. Consequently, the relationships between a single mother and her children suffer, but the cycle repeats since the situation cannot be changed. As a result, the whole society endures changes because single mothers’ health determines the wellbeing of society (Campbell et al., 2016). One can see that poverty and single parenthood negatively affect the mental health and wellbeing of mothers and their children.

It is important to understand why single mothers are prone to poor mental health that affects their children’s wellbeing negatively. Hence, they have challenges while meeting their basic needs, such as food, shelter, and health. A large number of dependent children is another factor influencing women’s mental health. The more children a single mother has, the more money she has to earn, and it is often not easy to achieve. Lack of help from societal entities adds a sense of despair, while the absence of government intervention encourages women to look for additional ways to make money. Social pressures and negative media that promote perfect motherhood and judge those mothers who cannot provide for their children negatively impact single mothers’ mental health and their children’s well-being. Such mothers are socially excluded from society’s economic, social, and health benefits, which leads to adverse outcomes (Benbow et al., 2018, p. 1). All these factors should not be ignored while examining the effect of poverty and single parenting on children.

Wellness and Self-Care

Single mothers often find it challenging to practice self-care. For example, one participant of McKenzie and McKay’s (2018) study said that her self-care practices changed after she became a single mother (p. 313). She had to learn how to save money on self-care procedures, so she became a hair model, received treatments for free or at a lower cost (McKenzie & McKay, 2018, p. 313). Nevertheless, not all mothers can be as inventive as the one mentioned above. Many women refuse to practice self-care, and their well-being suffers.

However, single mothers should not underestimate the value of self-care. Self-care has been deemed beneficial for women’s health due to many factors. For example, it shields against mental challenges and limits such psychological issues as stress, depression, severe mental disorders, and substance use disorders (Pujar et al., 2018; Roze et al., 2018). If a woman manages to find time for self-care, her mood will improve, and her wellbeing will benefit. On the contrary, the lack or absence of self-care aggravates mental challenges and other difficulties.

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Other Factors Leading to Single Mothers’ Mental Challenges

Homelessness is one of the factors leading to single mothers’ mental challenges. Nowadays, many women who live in poverty are homeless due to a lack of rent and social support and no inheritance from parents. According to Duke and Searby (2019), homeless mothers are more likely to experience such mental problems as depressions, “anxiety, psychosis, personality disorders and drug and alcohol abuse” than those women who have a home (p. 605). Moreover, such women usually have poor physical health and become victims of crime. At the same time, homeless women who have children experience fewer mental illnesses and problems with alcohol and drugs than homeless women without children (Duke & Searby, 2019, p. 609). Nevertheless, other research showed that homeless women with children had higher mental health conditions, especially if their children lived separately (Duke & Searby, 2019, p. 609). Unfortunately, poor political and legal representation of the problem is a great obstacle to its solution.

Another factor leading to single mothers’ mental challenges is changing availability of safety nets. According to Radey and McWey (2021), safety nets can be formal and informal (p. 687). Informal safety nets are support from family and friends, while formal safety nets are public programs assisting single mothers, such as “Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Supplemental Security Income (SSI)” (Radey & McWey, 2021, p. 687). Safety nets are subject to change in line with social and economic changes. Therefore, informal safety nets are beneficial to single mothers because they can help them receive social support and deal with depression and desperation. At the same time, as families’ incomes and wellbeing change, informal safety nets weaken too, and single mothers experience troubles with support.

Many single mothers live in cities, and they have problems with jobs and living conditions. Inability to find a well-paid job, poor living conditions, changes in safety nets – all these factors lead to single mothers’ and their children’s mental challenges. The study showed that 18% of children from low-income families demonstrated “clinically significant mental health problems” (Radey & McWey, 2021, p. 695). Those children and mothers who have minimal safety nets or healthy burdens have more problems with mental health than those whose safety nets are healthy and strong. As children grow up, informal safety nets are extremely important to their wellbeing, and if they receive no support from their family and friends, their mental health will suffer significantly. One can see that homelessness and safety nets greatly impact single mothers’ and their children’s mental wellbeing, so these issues should be addressed immediately to minimize their negative outcomes.


Although single mothers’ poverty and mental challenges are not easy to solve, some recommendations may be given to improve the situation. Thus, the role of higher education should not be underestimated because women with higher education have better access to employment opportunities, knowledge of economic options, and confidence (Greenberg & Shenaar-Golan, 2020). Moreover, better education encourages women’s involvement in various economic activities, may lead to changes in economic conditions for their children, and enables easy interaction on the local and international avenues. Single mothers who become college students and succeed academically are effective role models for their children. If the government developed more programs allowing single mothers to access higher education, women’s lives would become more successful and healthier.

In addition, social support through human services should also be increased. Martin (2018) emphasizes the importance of mental health services and child welfare services. Such services help single mothers deal with serious mental disorders, such as depressive, psychotic, bipolar, anxiety, and personality disorders (Martin, 2018, pp. 185-190). Moreover, they assist single mothers with child care and teach them how to foster care in different living conditions. Human services are crucial to those women who have weak safety nets and receive no social support from friends and family.

Governmental support is also significant to single mothers and their children. Thus, the government plays a vital role in the construction of affordable houses for such families. For example, it could develop free housing for the poor and mentally challenged single mothers, thus solving homelessness. In addition, the government should foster homes for children whose mothers have mental and psychological illnesses, giving them a chance to have a better future. Free medical check-ups and treatment for single mothers would decrease physical and mental health problems. Access to hospitals should also be free or affordable for such mothers.

Increasing awareness about homeless and poor single mothers would also be helpful. First, the media should change its portrayal of the issue. Social media should be used to create social awareness, not to judge or mock single mothers. Different seminars for single mothers and their children who live in poverty should be incorporated into school programs to increase awareness and help such families. The state should establish global partnerships for social and economic wellbeing and formulate policies to promote employment (Roze et al., 2018, p. 319). All these recommendations will help single mothers deal with their problems and reduce mental health challenges among them and their children.


Single mothers often face economic and emotional challenges that affect their and their children’s mental wellbeing negatively. Homelessness, poverty, unemployment, and lack of education – all these factors increase the risk of mental illnesses among single mothers and their children. However, these negative outcomes can be decreased with the help of social and economic policies and governmental support. Moreover, informal safety nets should also be promoted to help single mothers deal with their problems. Suppose such women get access to education and health care, receive shelter, and find good jobs. In that case, they will experience fewer physical and mental health problems, and their children will have higher chances to break the cycle of poverty.

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