Ability to Love, Impulse Control, Moral Reasoning
Parenting the At Risk Child

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A Special Message to Single Parents

“You go to war with the army you have, not the army you want.” –Donald Rumsfeld, Former Secretary of Defense.

Experts are unanimous in the conclusion that it takes two loving parents in the home to optimally raise a child. That being said, the optimal situation is not available for many of America’s children. We are left with having to strengthen the “army” of parents we have. I use the military analogy to make another important point. Even those who disagree with the war, still have to support the troops!

Just as we have to do everything possible to avoid war, we have to do everything possible to avoid single parenthood. Once, war (or single parenthood) is declared, we have to fight to win! Single parents need all the love and encouragement we can give them. The consequences of losing with our children are misery, crime and addiction.

Many single parents have guilt over their situation. If you are struggling with guilt consider this: An impaired mother or father can be a negative force in a child’s life. In families where there is one mentally healthy parent and one impaired parent, the healthy parent also has to care for the dysfunctional partner. Caring for the dysfunctional partner takes time and energy away from caring for children. This problem is especially tragic when the dysfunctional parent refuses to make better choices and is abusive.

I would argue that in cases where the dysfunctional partner repeatedly refuses to get help or follow professional advice, children are better off with only one parent. There are studies that support this position.

If you are in the very difficult position of choosing between saving your child and trying to save your dysfunctional partner, I would suggest the following: If your child is still small, you have a great likelihood of raising him to be a healthy adult. You may not be as lucky when it comes to saving your partner. For older children, being constantly vexed by an angry, abusive or addicted parent is very bad. In most cases, it makes sense to opt to save your child.


Single Mothers and Single Fathers have their own special challenges to face.

Some tips for single parents (Warning! these words may not jive with popular opinion):

1. Balance caring for your at risk child and caring for yourself. At risk children can be very demanding. There are many articles in the popular press which advise parents, "Care for yourself first!" This advice may be good for a crisis situation. (If the airplane loses air pressure in flight, parents are advised to secure their own oxygen masks before helping children. Parents who are unconscious are not in a position to care for their children!) However, parents who put themselves first often fail with at risk children.

Raising your child may demand sacrifice. It may not be possible to have it all. Priorities for yourself should include eating right and exercising. Poor health will impair your ability to keep up with an active child. Learn to find joy from being a parent and sharing hobbies with your child.

Your at risk child needs to have a close relationship with you. Shared interests and hobbies form the basis of this relationship, especially for older children. You and your child are a unit, a we. You are no longer just an I.

2. Keep your romantic relationships from harming your child. Beginning and maintaining a romantic relationship takes time and energy away from your child. Is it realistic for you to expect to be able to devote yourself to a romantic relationship while supporting your child financially, caring for your child emotionally, keeping house and caring for yourself? Those who have said that single parents should be able to have it all, have done us a disservice. It is better to be realistic about what is possible and learn to be content with the blessings we have!

It may be possible for you to have a romantic relationship and care for your child if: 1) The relationship does not cause you distress and your partner is mature, understanding and supportive. 2) Your partner understands that your at risk child's needs have to come first. Your child did not ask to be born. He/she is needy and vulnerable and should receive all the loving care you both have to give.

3. Try to remain positive, hopeful and joyful even when you are stressed by providing for your child's emotional, physical and spiritual needs. The emotional tone you set while you are with your child will affect him a great deal. (See The Parent's Pledge) If you are anxious, upset, sad and/or angry alot, your at risk child may be harmed. For more tips on staying positive see The Child Well-Being Workbook. Consider finding a therapist who can help you learn how to stay on the right path. If you suffer from depression please see your doctor. Depression is a treatable medical condition.