Text: Monika Pedersen
In Denmark, May is the month when motherhood is celebrated. This year, Mothering Sunday is on 14 May. A lot of cards, flowers, and lunches will mark the occasion.
Why is it so celebrated?
Mothers are fêted so much, as they are the initial lifeline for a child. The maternal connection is intense, with nine months of pregnancy, childbirth, and, for some, breastfeeding. And this is only the beginning of the relationship!
One version of the family unit includes a mother and a partner. However, in a changing landscape, there are a variety of family units, and there is not always a partner. This often leads to a discussion about its impact on a child.
Can a child be raised successfully by a single parent?
The demands on a parent are enormous and endless. There are many aspects to handle, such as child rearing, family well-being, education, socialisation, work, and household chores, to mention only a few.
It is a challenge, for sure. This piece focuses on single mothers, as they form the majority of cases. There are approximately 112,000 single mothers in Denmark. Single-mother families comprise 29 percent of households, while single-father families only constitute 16 percent of households.
Research shows that a child with a mother with little formal education and a lack of appreciation for the need to capitalise on the formative years up to five years old does disadvantage a child. A child enters kindergarten with lower cognitive skills and then faces more ground to catch up, which is not always possible.
If a mother is working several jobs or hours, as women are typically in lower-paid jobs, and her child needs to be supervised by others, there is not always the time or energy to create learning activities after a long day. However, this does not mean that a mother is not invested, just challenged by economic factors.
Where there is acute economic hardship, a mother focuses on survival; there is no space for anything more. In this situation, the odds of a child having a positive upbringing are limited.
The reality of such a situation is that a child comes to school malnourished and in poor physical condition. These health issues make it hard for a child to focus, for s/he is struggling with the fundamentals of life.
And in homes where a child lives in a dysfunctional environment, a child cannot look after herself, a child cannot focus, yet again, on the usual things. Sadly, the roles are swapped, and the child becomes the carer and the 'adult'. In these situations, evidence indicates that children are far more likely to drop out of school, struggle to form stable relationships, and tend to act out. A child can not learn unless she/he is in a safe emotional space.
"There are approximately 112,000 single mothers in Denmark. Single-mother families comprise 29% of households, while single-father families only constitute 16% of households."
The other side of the coin
The picture painted so far is the gloomiest depiction. And it is often this perspective that hits the headlines. However, there are many examples of positive single-parent families. There are a few key factors which help make the difference.
Statistics show that mothers with a high school and/or college education are keen to provide their children with a solid academic pathway. They recognise that schooling is essential and that the additional investment in after-school activities, reading at home, and providing other learning opportunities significantly increase a child's learning potential.
Often mothers with further education can secure well-paid employment, which, in turn, provides a more stable home and lifestyle which allows a child to flourish emotionally, socially, and academically.
Nevertheless, it is not money alone that can nurture a child; it is the possibilities that can be accessed and manipulated by an engaged, proactive mother. The driving force is the mother and the relationship she develops with her child. Creating time and prioritising it to establish routines supports a child's evolvement, curiosity, and readiness for school.
Mothers who enjoy a strong, supportive family and friend network can utilise these resources to enhance their child's development. Each family member and friend can enrich a child's life and introduce them to exciting experiences as well as the security of a loving environment, which underpins a child's emotional and social well-being. As a result, the family broadens a child's social interactions and experiences.
The family is also a vital support structure for the mother. Many women comment on the lack of time for themselves. This is a serious consideration, as personal well-being is crucial. A failure to create this space, as tricky as it might be, can lead to severe consequences such as anxiety, fatigue, and depression. Research indicates that the percentage of young women with mental health problems is much higher than that of their male counterparts.
A child raised by a single mother enjoys a close, steadfast connection. There is strong loyalty, and a dual engagement in dealing with and resolving issues, which fosters a more independent and self-advocating child. As a result, a child's maturity level can be more advanced than a nuclear family's.
Single parenting is a complex topic, but overall evidence indicates that a child is not disadvantaged; thus, an applause for all single mothers is needed!