The Roles of Single-Parent Families

By Karen Hellesvig-Gaskell
More than 25 percent of U.S. children live with one parent, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
More than 25 percent of U.S. children live with one parent, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

A job description for a single mom might read: Must be proficient at multi-tasking, be highly versatile and never run out of steam. A single mom of a toddler or preschooler wears many hats. Her list of roles include breadwinner, playmate, disciplinarian, nurturer, teacher and chauffeur. Running a single family on your own can be rewarding -- because you make all the rules -- and challenging, as you are responsible for your little one's round-the-clock care.

Wage Earner and Money Manager

Moms run 7 out of 8 single parent households, according to the Women and Children's Health Network (WCHN). Whether you are a single mom by choice or the father is no longer in the home due to a divorce or death, chances are you’re the primary wage earner unless you're receiving child support or alimony. Even if you have a second source of money, you may be at least partially responsible for feeding and clothing your tots.

Your standard of living most likely took a nose dive after a divorce, so you may clock extra hours or work a second job to help replenish financial losses. More hours spent at work can mean higher day care costs, so you can add family financial planner to your list of roles as you'll no doubt be crunching numbers to see if extra time spent on the job is worth the effort.


Even Wonder Woman might have to stop and catch her breath were she to take on the many roles single motherhood demands. Picking your child up from day care or preschool and toting your tot to dance class or T-ball practice requires you to be a master scheduler who makes time when there isn't any. Your role of time juggler is oddly appropriate, as your life may sometimes feel like a three-ring circus.

Personal Time

Don't throw your role as individual person under the bus. Carving out personal time in your busy schedule to work out or have an evening out with friends is important. Sleeping in when possible or taking a Saturday afternoon siesta may be all you need to get a little bounce back in your step. Schedule a massage, facial or other relaxing selfish pleasure from time to time.


Chances are you have close friends or family members who can help out from time to time. Support groups for single parents are also available in many communities when you don't have personal contacts to rely on. Organizations like Big Brothers/Big Sisters can make your life easier and enrich your toddler's or preschooler's world.


Run-of-the-mill temper tantrums can be more burdensome than usual as you work to get your daily "to-do" list finished. Avoid giving in to your child's demands in the name of exhaustion or worse yet, lash out physical punishment, cautions, a website published the American Academy of Pediatrics.

If you're plagued with persistent lack of energy, insomnia and low mood, it's possible that you may be suffering from clinical depression. Talk to your doctor or a mental health professional who may recommend counseling.

About the Author

Karen Hellesvig-Gaskell is a broadcast journalist who began writing professionally in 1980. Her writing focuses on parenting and health, and has appeared in “Spirituality & Health Magazine" and “Essential Wellness.” Hellesvig-Gaskell has worked with autistic children at the Fraser School in Minneapolis and as a child care assistant for toddlers and preschoolers at the International School of Minnesota, Eden Prairie.