Throughout my work with minority youth I have come into contact with a variety of families. In particular I found it astonishing how many African American children were members of a single mother household. The prevalence of African American single mother homes in the United States is astounding. African American women whom undertake the role as a single parent are faced with significant challenges, considering the fact they are the sole economic and parenting provider within the home. The daunting task these women face include a complicated and stressful balancing act between ensuring economic stability for the home while also providing quality parental care and attention to their children. Unfortunately, the stress of this overwhelming responsibility can be too much to handle for some, which can ultimately affect the psychological wellbeing of children raised in a single mother household.
Examining the condition of single mothers further, it is evident that there are a number of factors that can both positively and negatively affect the role of a single mother. Specifically, Kotchnick, Dorsey, and Heller (2005) found that the degree of neighborhood stress is associated with both parenting quality of single African American mothers and psychological functioning of their children. In the context of a neighborhood that is ridden with crime and negative influences coupled with inadequate parenting can lead to difficulties in children’s psychological functioning. Kincaid, Jones, Cuellar, and Gonzalez (2011) found this to be especially true for girls who lack a positive female role model due to inadequate parenting and the absence of positive role models in their community. Consequently, the difficulties in psychological function oftentimes lead to externalizing behaviors, especially with the comorbidity with anxiety and depression (Garai, Forehand, Colletti, and Rakow, 2009).
Beyond the influence the neighborhood can have on the psychological functioning of African American children raised in a single mother home, the mother’s psychological also plays an important role. Kincaid, Jones, Cuellar, and Gonzalez (2011) found that a high degree of maternal psychological control is positively correlated with child maladjustment problems. On the other hand, optimism expressed by single African American mothers can have positive effects on child adjustment and lower internalizing symptoms. Chester, Jones, Zalot, and Sterrett (2007) examined a sample of single African American mothers and found that positive parenting practices were associated with lower externalizing behaviors, and the opposite for negative parenting practices. These studies exemplify the importance of maintaining a high quality in parental care despite the challenges experienced by single mothers, which include a mother’s attitude and approach to life.
Support from adult figures other than mothers in a single parent household also has the potential to affect the wellbeing of a child. Choi and Jackson (2011) found in their study that in cases when fathers spent more time with their child, problem behaviors were less likely to occur. Although fathers may not be romantically involved with the mother of their child, the partnership that they share is an influential factor. However, it is not uncommon to become absent in process of raising a child, leaving room for others to step into a parental role. However, the presence of an additional parental figure does not necessarily lead to positive outcomes for children. Shock, Jones, Dorsey, and Brody (2010) demonstrate the quality of interactions between African American single mothers and their parent can affect a child’s competence and maladjustment behaviors. Similar to two parent households, a child will have difficulty managing stress and building healthy relationships if they consistently witness their mother fighting with her partner.
Other than support from fathers or the partner of a single mother, family and friends can also help alleviate the significant stress of single African American mothers. Family and friends who demonstrate support both financially but more importantly psychological improve positive outcomes for children raised in a single mother home (Woody & Woody, 2007; Jones, Zalot, Sterrett, and Chester, 2007). Delivering the message through support that a single mother is not alone can decrease feelings of isolation and feeling overwhelmed. Knowing that support is available can help ease the mind of a single mother, which contributes to her attitude, energy, and quality of interaction she has with her children.
I remain hopeful regarding the outcome for African American children raised in single mothers, as in both my experience and research of the topic it is clear that a number of positive factors can truly make a difference. In programs working with single mothers, the emphasis on support and community are critical influences that can significantly ease the challenges for single mothers. Encouraging single mothers to maintain positive relationships with family, friends and romantic partners is an approach I believe to be effective. Hopefully through continued dissemination of research analyzing the role of social support for African American single mothers with also lead to an increase in positive outcomes for children raised in these families.
Chester, C., Jones, D. J., Zalot, A., & Sterrett, E. (2007). The psychosocial adjustment of African American youth from single mother homes: The relative contribution of parents and peers. Journal Of Clinical Child And Adolescent Psychology, 36(3), 356-366.
Choi, J., & Jackson, A. P. (2011). Fathers' involvement and child behavior problems in poor African American single-mother families. Children And Youth Services Review, 33(5), 698-704.
Garai, E. P., Forehand, R., Colletti, C. M., & Rakow, A. (2009). The role of anxiety/depression in the development of youth high risk behaviors: An examination of two competing hypotheses in a sample of African-American, single mother families. Journal Of Psychopathology And Behavioral Assessment, 31(4), 340-346.
Jones, D. J., Zalot, A. A., Foster, S. E., Sterrett, E., & Chester, C. (2007). A review of childrearing in African American single mother families: The relevance of a coparenting framework. Journal Of Child And Family Studies, 16(5), 671-683.
Kincaid, C., Jones, D. J., Cuellar, J., & Gonzalez, M. (2011). Psychological control associated with youth adjustment and risky behavior in African American single mother families. Journal Of Child And Family Studies, 20(1), 102-110.
Kotchick, B. A., Dorsey, S., & Heller, L. (2005). Predictors of Parenting Among African American Single Mothers: Personal and Contextual Factors. Journal Of Marriage And Family, 67(2), 448-460
Shook, S. E., Jones, D. J., Forehand, R., Dorsey, S., & Brody, G. (2010). The mother–coparent relationship and youth adjustment: A study of African American single-mother families. Journal Of Family Psychology, 24(3), 243-251.
Sterrett, E., Jones, D. J., Forehand, R., & Garai, E. (2010). Predictors of coparenting relationship quality in African American single mother families: An ecological model. Journal Of Black Psychology, 36(3), 277-302.
Woody, D., & Woody, D. J. (2007). The significance of social support on parenting among a group of single, low-income, African American mothers. Journal Of Human Behavior In The Social Environment, 15(2-3), 183-19.
Zalot, A. A., Jones, D. J., Forehand, R., & Brody, G. (2007). Self-regulation and conduct problems among low-income African American youth from single-mother homes: The roles of perceived neighborhood context and child gender. Journal Of Black Psychology, 33(3), 239-259.