New Beginnings: Single-Parent
Families, Remarriages, and Blended
Created by divorce, births to unmarried
mothers, or the death of a spouse
Usually female headed
Many single-parent homes actually contain
two cohabiting adults, one of which is the
These can include homes headed by lesbians and
These families are often economically
Births to Unwed Mothers
Single-parent families created by births to unwed
mothers are more common than those created by
These families receive little social support.
Headed by Mothers (sometimes fathers)
Over 85% of single-parent families are headed by
Given the gender discrimination in wages and jobs,
single mothers are much more likely to be in
poverty than are single fathers.
African American single-parent families are more
likely to be in poverty than are Hispanic or
Female-headed single-parent families are
disproportionately represented among those in
Diversity of Living Arrangements
Single-parent families need greater flexibility with
child care and housing arrangements.
Diversity of Living Arrangements
Single-parent families can take many forms
including the parent’s outside romantic
partner or live-in partner.
Social Father – a male relative, family
associate, or mother’s partner who
demonstrates father-like behavior
Private Safety Nets – support from social
networks that they can fall back on in times
of financial need
Single-parent families tend to be a
transitional family form that can precede
marriage or occur after divorce.
Intentional Single-Parent Families
Some women who have not found a
suitable partner will intentionally become
Lesbian and Gay Single Parents
Lesbians and gay men may have become parents in a
previous heterosexual relationship or using donors,
artificial reproductive technologies or by adopting.
The lack of marriage rights in the majority of states
leaves gay men and lesbians as legal single parents
even though there is likely to be a partner present.
Children in these relationships only have one legal
adoptive or biological parent; second-parent adoptions
Children in Single-Parent Families
Research has found some negative outcomes for
children in single-parent families such as behavioral
problems, academic performance, and mental and
Children may need to cope with their parent’s
loneliness, depression, and increased stress.
Possible positive outcomes include a child learning
more responsibility, spending a large amount of time
with their custodial parent, and feeling less pressure to
conform to normal gender roles.
Successful Single Parents
Accept responsibilities and challenges for
Parenting as first priority.
Consistent, non-punitive parenting
Emphasis on open communication
Fostering individuality supported by the family
Recognition of the need for self-nurturance
Dedication to rituals and traditions
Single-Parent Family Strengths
Ability to take on expressive and instrumental
Growing as a person by accepting the
changes in his/her life.
Good communication skills can develop trust
and a sense of honesty.
Coordinating all of the family’s activities is a
normal daily occurence.
Persons may develop the ability to be
The binuclear family consists of two nuclear
families—the maternal nuclear family headed
by the mother (the ex-wife) and the paternal
one headed by the father (the ex-husband).
These families include both single-parent
families and stepfamilies.
Former Spouses as Co-Parents
Ex-spouses must put aside any anger and
resentment felt during the divorce and focus their
energy on working together to raise their children.
The Remarried Family
A remarried couple must navigate the complexities
of married life while also considering the ex-
A former single parent must renegotiate their roles
as they incorporate a new adult into parenting their
Sibling, Half-Sibling, and Step-Sibling Subsystem
Children must accept one another as family and
share the attention of their parent.
Courtship differs between first marriages and
Courtship may trigger old wounds, fears, or regrets
but the partners may have more realistic
expectations for this relationship.
Many divorced persons choose to cohabit with
their partner before remarriage or in place of it.
Single parents, however eager they are to find
a new partner, their children usually remain
the central figure in their lives.
A marriage in which one or both partners have previously
Men tend to remarry at higher rates than women.
Children lower the probability of marriage for both men
and women but even more so for women.
Initiators are more likely to remarry than non-initiators.
Women’s odds of remarrying decrease as they age
due to the cultural association of youthfulness with
attractiveness and their likelihood of being mothers.
Women and men who are employed and socialize with
coworkers are more likely to remarry than those who
Characteristics of Remarriage
People seem to be as satisfied in second marriages
as they do in first yet divorce is more likely in
Remarriages are “incomplete institutions” (Cherlin,
They lack societal social norms and behavioral
Remarriages are subjected to different stresses
than are first marriages.
These include children from previous relationships.
Commonly referred to as
families consist of two
adults and their children
attempting to blend into
one fully functioning
Almost all members have lost an important
One biological parent typically lives outside the
The relationship with the parent and his/her
children pre-dates the relationship between the new
Stepparent roles are ill-defined and lack models.
Many children are also part of a non-custodial
Children also have at least one extra set of
Fantasy Stage – new stepparents expect to
instantly love and be loved by their stepchildren
Immersion Stage - Reality sets in
Awareness Stage – Each family member must
understand that their family has changed.
Mobilization – Family members recognize
differences and openly resolve conflict.
Action – The family takes steps in recognizing
themselves as a family.
Contact – The relationships between family
members become genuine.
Resolution - The family becomes solid and
is no longer characterized by earlier
Research indicates that stepfamily life is more difficult for
women than for men due to the cultural expectations for
women as parents and caregivers.
Due to the likelihood of contact with the children’s
biological mother, child rearing becomes very difficult for
Fathers are not as likely to have custody of their children.
This can result in guilt that they are not parenting their own
Stepfathers tend to have more limited and less positive
relationship with their stepchildren.
Parental claiming – embracing stepchildren as if they
were biological children
Children in stepfamilies have a higher risk of
having behavioral, psychological, and
Favoritism, or preferring one child over others
Divided loyalties can force children to take
sides against one that they love
Discipline can be difficult to manage among
biological and non-biological parents.
Money, goods, and services can be divided
unequally among family members.
Strengths of Stepfamilies
Stepfamilies can successfully fill traditional family
functions (i.e. love, support, socialization, etc.)
Benefits for Children
Additional role models and exposure to new ideas
Gain the extra support of a stepparent and step- or
Gain an extended kin network
Improved economic situation
Happily married parents