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  • Writer's pictureEric James

How a Child’s Development is Impacted by Living in a Single-Parent Home

Updated: May 25, 2023

Single-Parent homes has become for too common in today's society. The adverse effects on the child's development can be grave.

“Do you have a plan in mind for your child? Whether you prefer a holistic approach or a research-based approach- there’s a stunning parent inside of everyone.”

Eric James, October 2021, @DistilleXinc2021


Having a healthy and successful adult life usually tops most people list for goals to achieve. Whether you are a lawyer or a train conductor, how you develop as a child affects how you live as an adult. By definition, the developmental process of a child is the progressive change of a human being from birth to the end of adolescence, which leads from dependency to self-autonomy.

There are also three different areas of child development. You have the biological, emotional, and psychological developmental domains. All three of these phases of a child’s development are affected by all variables in a child’s life. One important variable is what type of family the child has. This can be divvied into many categories, but the one I find most important is a child living in an unconventional family.

The makings of an unconventional family can range from children having foster parents, a family with one parent to a family with no parents at all. I want to discuss how a a single-parent family negatively impacts the development of a child. A child raised in the family type only receives half of the needed resources in order sustain healthy development versus a child raised by both parents. Factors such as, a limited income, can lead to the child not having the proper resources needed to sustain a healthy development. During this process, we will also look at a child development theory, Urie Brofenbrenner’s Ecological Systems Theory, to help aid in illustrating how a child’s development is hindered because of the shortcomings of having a single-parent.

Ecological Theory

The first theory we will look at to help give us an explicit look how the child is negatively affected is by a constructivist Urie Brofenbrenner. Urie Brofenbrenner (1917-2005) was a psychologist who studied developmental psychology, child-rearing and human ecology and is famous for his Ecological Systems Theory. He is also well-known as the co-founder of the Head Start Program in the United States. His theory suggests that every child is at the center of surrounding circles of context in systems of time, which affects all the contexts and changes them continuously (Gonzalez-Mena 6).

Many educators and schools who follow a family-centered approach (which is the parents, family, and educators working together as community to support children), use the Ecological Systems Theory as a guide. Many educators respect Brofenbrenner because he was the first person to study child development and conclude environment plays a major role. Susan S. Lang, Managing Editor at Cornell University, writes “Bronfenbrenner’s bio ecological approach to human development shattered barriers among the social sciences and forged bridges among the disciplines”.

With The Ecological Systems Theory comes the Ecological Model designed by Brofenbrenner himself. The model was designed to show clarification of the Ecological Theory. The Model consists of four layers which in order are: Microsystems, Mesosystems, Exosystems, and Macrosystems.

We will now explore the Ecological Model in-depth. During this process, we will compare a child living in a single-parent home with each layer to show how the child’s development is being negatively impacted.


At the center is the child. The Microsystems embodies the first layer of the Ecological Model. This layer represents a context in which the child is embedded. It is comprised of the environment in where a child lives, moves, and interacts (Gonzalez-Mena p. 6). How does the microsystems guide us into seeing the negative effects a child face in a single-parent home? Single-parent households also have a high rate of poverty. A child living in this home only receives half the benefits compared to their counterparts who have both parents present. Mother-only families are more likely to be poor due to the lower earning capacity of women, inadequate public assistance and child care subsidies, and lack of enforced child support from nonresidential fathers (Kirby 3).

Regardless if the mother or father leads the single-parent home, financial restrictions plagues’ them regardless. These restrictions lead to the parent living in poor environments such as underdeveloped communities. The parent can’t afford to live in top notch homes in a top notch neighborhood. I was raised in an impoverished community on the west side of Chicago because at the time my mother couldn’t afford any better. Our home was small and barely livable by building code standards set by the state of Illinois. Something commonly found in our community is abandoned cars and buildings.

Abandoned and boarded up buildings are often found in these impoverished communities. This is not safe for the child. Children love to explore their environments. One day, my friends and I found an abandoned building and tried to use it as our clubhouse. About a week later, a neighbor confronted us and told us it wasn’t safe to be in that building that was nearly collapsing on its own. Most children aren’t lucky enough to be steered away in time before terror occurs as in the case for 16-year old Jose Morales. During the summer of 2012 in Chicago, Jose fell from the second floor of an abandoned hospital onto the concrete ground floor (Zniemer 2). He died due to the severity of his injuries. A neighbor had reported he and his friends were using the hospital as a hangout spot.

A child can’t develop if they are dead. Even major injuries can deter a child’s development. One area is the child’s fine motor skills. Fine motor skills are developed by the muscle movements in the hand (Huffman 2). If a child injures their arm, shoulder, or hand, they're fine motor skills can be severely challenged. You need your fine motor skills to perform various tasks such as writing, painting, drawing, pouring soda, playing instruments and many more activities needed by the hand. Now the child can’t grow up to have such careers as a painter, writer or musician.

Often the school in these areas are underachieving and are in financial distress themselves. It is quite a challenge for the child to develop an earnest and steady network of people in their life. This is not to say that the friends, classmates, school staff, and fellow neighbors are all wicked people. But most likely, they too, are limited in their resources.


The Mesosytems makes up the second layer. This mesosystems consists of the same items as the microsystems, but instead how the items connect to each other. For example, how the child’s school and the parents’ job connect, or how the local activity center connects to the neighborhood. According to a study conducted by George Galster and Anna Santiago, a conclusion was derived stating the following, “consistently suggest that children, youth, and adolescents (“children” hereafter) living in disadvantaged, inner-city neighborhoods characterized by high levels of poverty and social disorganization have poorer health outcomes, lower levels of academic achievement, fewer employment opportunities, heightened vulnerability to gang recruitment, and greater exposure to violence relative to similar children living in more advantaged neighborhoods” (Galster & Santiago 1). This study demonstrates evidence that the dynamics of an impoverished community shakes up the growth of a child. From my personal experience growing up in a single-parent home, my neighborhood had a strong connection to the grammar school I attended.

As mentioned earlier, undesirable people have a stronger presence in impoverished communities so there will be a higher chance the child will have undesirable peers. A former neighbor of mine incurred an incident with her youngest child. She was told by the school that her child was bullying his cousin and others in class. It had turned out that her son was hanging around gang members. He was close to joining.

This reversed the progress of his social development. Instead of hanging around peers who would help him accomplish goals and dreams in his life, he was hanging around peers who would delay if not prevent those aspirations. This situation most likely arose because the parent couldn’t afford to live in more economically defined community. This leads the child to be more exposed to threats that can hinder the child’s social development.


The Exosystems makes up the fourth layer. The exosystems consists of a much broader community. Think of connections such as the extended family, mass media, workplaces, neighbors, etc… In this layer, environments indirectly affect the child. Think about a parent’s job. Even though the parent works the job, none the less, it still has a major influence on the child’s life. Most single-parents often work long, odd hours. This means the parent don’t have time to build strong bonds with the child’s teachers, friends, friends’ parents, church affiliates, etc...

If the parent has more time to bond with teachers, then they can work together to help the child perform better in school and society. The parent can learn their child weaknesses in the classroom and better help the child to get pass them. Since the parent work during key times in a school year, the parent can miss out such things as helping the child with homework, and attending key school events such as report card pick-up, award ceremonies, and field trips.

As for friends, if work occupies most of the parents time, then the parent can’t observe the peers interacting with their children. This prevents the parent from knowing their child’s friends parents well. They can’t plan events, such as parties, or play dates that can help their child develop socially. When I was young, I rarely had parties and hangout sessions with my friends because my mother was never home to give enough parent supervision for such things.

Since my mother worked odd hours, attending certain events became difficult even impossible. I couldn’t go to my peers birthday parties because I didn’t have anyone to take me or pick me up. If my father played a bigger role in my life, then he would have been able to take me and pick me up. Living in a single-parent home prevented me from having better social experiences because I wasn’t able to attend events that would have nurtured relationships as quick as everyone else during my adolescence.


The final layer, the macrosystems contains the attitudes, ideologies, values, laws and customs of a particular culture or subculture (Gonzalez-Mena p. 8). The theme of the Ecological Model expresses that every aspect in the child’s life directly affects every other aspect in the child’s life. The Ecological Model suggests nothing stays the same; the child is ever changing over time. Brofenbrenner concludes in his theory that not only does a person affect the child but the child affects the person also.

In this case, not having both parents around limits the child interactions. As mentioned earlier, I couldn’t go to certain places because I had no one to take me. This limited my social and cognitive development. As any other child in this situation, if both parents were available, then the child would have someone to take them to various places to help them gain valuable experiences that will aid the social and cognitive development.

The social interactions you experience assist in aiding and constructing an individual's values' and beliefs. The child whose limited resources limit their interactions in society doesn’t get the opportunities to be around other races, ethnicities and cultures. This can lead the child to being less diverse. Biases can form. Diversity is important to a child’s growth because it allows the child flexibility to learn about experiences, beliefs, cultures, ideas, and perspectives from other people. The result is a more intelligent, well-rounded individual with a deeper understanding of the world.

Diversity also allows the child to reach out to other people outside of their comfort zone leading to better success of their work. As a result of the different languages and varied experience of its staff, the company will be able to market its products more easily (Armache 59). For example, an artist being able to sell paintings that relate to multiple groups across the world will have more success than an artist who only relates to a couple groups within their geographic location. Any deterrence of the child going out, meeting other people, learning about them; ultimately limits the quality of work they produce in school and eventually in the workforce.

Diversity also helps to destroy stereotypes. It allows the child to think critically about various subjects. When it comes to race and ethnicities, children who are diverse can reach out and communicate well with others who come from different backgrounds. A child not able to visit places outside of their community develops more deep-rooted biases and stereotypes. The single-parent child stuck in one area, introduced to only one race and one culture, only have connections to a set number of beliefs and values they take in. This immensely impacts the child's development due to the child weakly developing socially and cognitively. Thus, leading to a lack of understanding of society, people roles within a society and an overall insufficient perception for how to operate themselves in society.

First-Hand Knowledge

After attacking Urie Brofenbrenner’s Ecological Model to help illustrate how a child living in a single-parent home plays a negative role on the child’s development; I will take the schedule of a single parent to give a more graphic approach. Ms. Williams is a single-parent raising four children. Her youngest child is five years of age. I will focus on the youngest child, Travis, since the other children are adults. His father left the picture when he was born. He has only seen him twice. Ms. Williams has struggled to provide for the family. She and Travis are faced with the same issues we looked at earlier.

She lives in an impoverished community. Her job gives her sufficient pay, but since she raises her child alone, she foots every bill in the household still making her poor. The community school struggles both academically and financially and might not exist due to possible closure in the near future. Gangs roam the area. Travis's development is being hindered based on all the factors that we went in-depth with earlier. Now, we will take a look at her weekly schedule from the November 26, 2012 to December 2nd, 2012 to find the holes and issues that currently plagues her son’s development.

Job Commitments (Italics)

Monday: Off-Day

6am-awakened teenage girl for High School (Monday-Friday)

7:30am- Help dress her mother whom is sick with cancer (Monday-Friday)

8am- Awaken and dress Malik for school

8:40am- Take Malik to school

9am- Take her mother to doctor for treatment of cancer (Monday-Friday)

11am- Clean house, feed cats, laundry, take care her & her mother personal needs (bills, friends,etc..)

3pm- Pick up daughter from school (Monday-Friday)

3:45pm- Pick-up Malik from school (Monday-Friday)

Tuesday: Off-day

Wednesday: Off-day

5pm- Grocery Shopping

Thursday: Work from 9am-7pm

Friday: Work from 6am-7pm

Saturday: Work from 6am-7pm

Sunday: Work from 1pm-11pm

As one can view from this schedule, there isn’t much time for Travis. I enquired about activities he partakes in. He does none! She doesn’t have the time to take him many places. He doesn’t have any play dates, or much social participation's due to her challenged availability. He only goes out when she takes him places to run errands or to take care of business. For instance, she takes him with her when she goes shopping or to do laundry.

Most of his leisure time at home consists of him playing unaccompanied. This hampers Travis's social development. It’s not being done on purpose. She doesn’t have the time to aid him in exploration. She is also restricted financially. She can’t afford to take him many places due to the hits it would be on her financial stability. She pays all of her bills by herself. Travis misses out on improving his social and cognition skills because he is not given many opportunities to explore his environment and people in general. The impoverished, gang infested community also restricts his ability to explore.

The presence of gangs and lack of resources doesn’t allow him to develop the necessary skills needed to become a polished adult. Her high-demand schedule and inability to be home during certain hours, brands her stress due to spending ample time worrying about her child’s safety. She begins to overcompensate by with-holding Travis from activities and events. An article from The National Center for P.T.S.D. (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder ) states the following, “As a parent, you might blame yourself for not being able to keep your child safe. You may even become too protective. Parents sometimes use harsh discipline when the child acts out, even though the child's behavior is related to a trauma.

Relations among family members can become strained. Parents are trying to comfort their child while at the same time trying to handle their own fears” (PTSD 8). We learned earlier what can entail if they aren’t exposed to the general public. Ms. Williams recently rejected Travis from attending an after-school program that encourages student’s artwork. Her reasons were because she wouldn’t have anyone to pick him up in the evening. She also didn’t feel comfortable with him traveling down the street at night. She also felt he was in school too long from the regular school day. He attends school from 8:45am to 3:45pm; it’s too overwhelming for such a young child to be away from home that long during the day.

I wasn’t able to join sports after school while I attended High School. I had to get up at 6am in the morning in order to get to school on time. I left school and went straight home, I would make it in at around 4pm. During the winters in Chicago, It starts to get dark at that time. So if I stayed out any longer, I would basically have missed the whole day away from my family. So I understand why Ms. Williams wouldn’t let her child stay away from home that late.

Development wise, her son loses out on bondage time with her and his siblings. Attachment plays a big role in development. Attachment creates love, trust and dependability. If a child doesn’t have that bond with their parents at a young age, it can lead to the child mistrusting and losing touch with their parents. This can have terrible consequences. The child can stop listening to the parent because the bond needed for the child to be loyal, respectful, and obedient wears thin. As we’ve learned, living in a single-parent home heavily weighs in on the child’s development.


We have looked at many instances and situations that show how a child’s development faces horrible consequences by living in a single-parent home. But what if living in a single–parent home doesn’t play a negative role in a child’s development. What if this makes the child a better adult? Maybe growing up in this type of home has no negative penalties at all. Maybe a single-parent home promotes independence, resiliency, and self-reliance. A child can still develop appropriately. Maybe the child matures faster because they are put into the world sooner than their counterparts in a conventional family. Maybe they are more successful due to the character traits of these children such as independence, self-reliance, and self-autonomy. These mighty traits allows the child to understand the world much sooner which leads them to live more sufficiently and independently.

A child living in a single-parent does more chores and performs independent tasks in the household. The child becomes more of an adult because the parent includes the child in the daily activities they participate in. An article from “Single-Parent Center” states that the child builds a stronger relationship with one parent (Single-Parent Effects 9). The article also states that the child has a stronger sense of responsibility; the child also learns how to handle stressful situations, conflicts, difficult emotional situations and disappointment much better than their peers (Single-Parent Effects 11).

Growing up in a single-parent has made me much stronger than most of my peers who lives with both parents. I am more independent and responsible. I used to get teased in Grammar school for being a momma’s boy because I spent a lot of time near my mother. Since my mother didn’t have access to a baby-sitter, she took me everywhere she went. When she took care of business, I was there. I learned how write letters, pay bills and handle conflicts at a very young age. When she went grocery shopping, she would show me her list. She showed me how to shop for certain items; how to compare prices and products.

Eventually, when she wasn’t able to do inventory of the kitchen due to time constrictions, she would have me develop a grocery list of things we need. By the time I was a freshman in high school, I was grocery shopping by myself for the household. This brought me closer to self-autonomy because these experiences made me independent and self-reliant. Watching her handle conflicts first-hand, allowed me to mature much faster than my peers. Now my peers joke around and call me “old man” because I speak wisely and approach life with a maturity ahead of my time.

Watching her take care of personal business has led me to do the same. I am also much stronger than most of peers. I have been through many negative experiences that have made me tougher. Growing up in bad community has given me thick skin. I grew in a community with gangs and violence. I have witnessed murder and fights in my presence. Now when something bad occurs, I am the person who calm and leads the group to safety. I have now become a natural leader because of the experiences I had growing up. Growing up in a single-parent home can create harsh penalties for a child’s development but it can also birth self-reliant, dependable individuals.

Anyone can do anything when become adults, but for some people the challenge is a little tougher. Children growing up in a single-parent have a steeper road to climb than children being raised in a home with both parents. The developmental process for the child is hindered in many areas and causes a slower development in certain areas. Children in these homes are often impoverished and live in impoverished communities. They have access to limited resources. The are often restricted from venturing out and exploring because they don’t have another parent in their lives to take them places.

Also, the impoverished communities they live in can restrict them because of gangs and undesirable people that often live those communities. Urie Brofenbrenner’s Ecological Theory/Model guided us in seeing some unique ways a child development is negatively impacted by living in a single-parent home. It is too many children growing up and not able to achieve their goals because they are being hindered by limited resources. Even so, it’s possible growing up in this type of home can lead to the child becoming more independent, responsible and self-reliant. The child forced to experience life alone in many situations can aid the child to reaching self-autonomy sooner.

With that said, I still believe the child faces more negative outcomes than positive. I believe the restrictions single-parent children face outweigh the positives. The lack of a mother or father makes the one parent available responsible for everything in the household which leads to less time spent on helping the child develop into a healthy and successful adult. If you are a current parent or plan to have children, wouldn’t want your child to have access to best resources whether it’s psychical or emotional resources? Don’t you want your child to grow into a better adult than you?


Works Cited

Administration. “Single-Parent Effects”. Single-Parent Center. 3 August 2011. Web. 12

Armache, Jalal. "Diversity In The Workplace: Benefits And Challenges." Journal Of

International Diversity 2012.1 (2012): 59-75. SocINDEX with Full Text. Web. 2 Dec. 2012.

Galster, George C., and Anna M. Santiago. "What's The 'Hood Got To Do With It? Parental

Perceptions About How Neighborhood Mechanisms Affect Their Children." Journal Of Urban Affairs 28.3 (2006): 201-226. Academic Search Complete. Web. 3 Dec. 2012.

Gonzalez-Mena, Janet. 2006. Child, Family, and Community: Family-centered Early Care and Education. New Jersey. Jeffery W. Johnston

Huffman J, Fortenberry C. Helping Preschoolers Prepare for Writing: Developing Fine Motor Skills. Young Children [serial on the Internet]. (2011, Sep 1), [cited December 8, 2012]; 66(5): 100,. Available from: ERIC.

Kirby, Jacqueline. “Single-Parent Families in Poverty”. Web. 28 November 2012.

Unknown. “Community Violence: The Effects on Children and Teens”. National Center for

P.T.S.D. 01 January 2007. Web. 3 December 2012.

Williams, Nanette. Personal Interview. 2 December 2012.

Zniemer, Peter and Zniemer, Sofia. “Falling From an Abandoned Building Causes the Death of a Teenager on Chicago’s North Side”. 4 July 2012. Web. 8 December 2012.



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