Even though couples trying to raise a family are often beset with difficulties, the single parent of either sex is likely to have to cope with added complications.

As with other realities of life today, such as the need for many women to work outside the home, the problems facing the single parent have still to be adequately overcome.

The single parents most pressing need is probably the lack of financial security. Adequate maintenance is not always forthcoming from the father of the child even if there has been a court order against him, and he is able to pay. Time-consuming and cumbersome court procedures may be necessary to compel him to comply, and to pursue them requires what the women lacks most, time and money. Laws are being modified to try to make things easier for the plaintiff, but they can only provide the machinery not the will to comply.

Welfare payments are available to single parents who are not in a position to support their children on their own. But many mothers are afraid that their children will be taken away from them if they allow welfare officers to inspect their homes. Although this is largely a mistaken belief, as children are only removed from their parents care in extreme circumstances or when requested by the parent or parents, it does mean that unmarried mothers or deserted women often battle along alone. (See pp. 300 and 305.)

Lack of adequate day care facilities is a nightmare that plagues women who must go out to work and leave their children. Often an inordinately large proportion of their salary is needed to keep their children safe, even if not stimulated, with the result that they become caught in a vicious cycle of poverty, precipitating emotional problems, ill health and insecurity.

For the child there is the problem of coping with being outside the norm of two-parent families and with remarks by children and even by teachers. It is important that the parent should visit the child’s school or nursery school and talk to the teacher at the beginning of the term. She should explain the situation to her and enlist her support in helping her child cope with possible emotional problems. A sensitive teacher can do a lot to help the child feel less different when home life is mentioned by including the children who have only one parent at home. Making cards addressed to Mummy and Daddy, when the child has never known a father can make her feel deprived and inferior. Tactful handling is even more important to the vulnerable child than the child with the buffer of a secure home life.

The other immense pressure on the single parent is simply that of being the only source of emotional and physical comfort to the child. It is at times when the mother feels particularly low that the child seems likely to become ill or difficult, prompting her to snap or feel guilty about the care she is providing. Some other person who can lend a hand and an ear is essential in the single parents life.

Combining with other parents in a similar position and sharing a house can offer company, emotional release and free evenings to the single parent. For the child, the chance to mix with children in the same position and to relate to other adults can provide a much needed outlet.

Happy is the child who has an extended family in which to grow. Relatives who live in or at least within hailing distance can mean an almost normal life for the single mother and her child. But since this is seldom the case today, welfare officers should make an organised effort to provide an approximation of these conditions for the sake of the single parent and her child.

Single parents often worry that their children will not develop an image of the parent who is absent. The boy who grows up without a father will not know how to behave as a man the girl without a mother image will not know what it is to be a woman. Certainly, children model themselves on their parents and acquire a sense of self through them. But if the remaining parent does not paint all men as villains, or all women as man-eaters, and there are enough opportunities for a child to observe and relate to suitable adults of the absent gender, there is no reason why they should not develop adequately. Keeping a bad marriage alive for the sake of the children is a sadly mistaken point of view – rather an absent father or mother than a rotten one in residence. Naturally, if visits to the other parent can be arranged and the children handle them well – some children dread visits to the absent parent – a happy relationship can be developed in which the children feel neither deprived nor particularly different.

In the first few months it is usually very difficult for a mother to tell whether her baby is ill because she may not have experience of what is normal and what is not. The whole issue is also confused by crying which may be due to colic, hunger or simply loneliness. However, as a general rule, the baby who is gaining mass regularly, is following the milestones and reflex patterns described in Post 5 and does not vomit or pass abnormal stools, is likely to be well – even if she does cry a lot at times.

See a doctor soon if:

Your baby vomits with great force after every meal and is not gaining mass.

There is blood in your babys urine or stools.

Your baby has large, frequent loose stools with vomiting or any of the other abnormal stools described on p. 116.

Vomit is stained green. It should be kept and shown to the doctor.

Your baby is listless and does not take her feeds well.

There is any swelling that does not appear normal; for example a lump that appears in the groin area when the baby cries could be an inguinal hernia.

There is mass loss or refusal to feed.

You should also contact your doctor:

If your child has a fever of 38,5 °C or higher. (Seep. 221 for how to treat a fever)

If she loses consciousness, even for a short while. (Breath holding is an exception. See p. 186)

If she has a convulsion.

If she seems to have trouble breathing. She could have breathed in some milk that has been brought up, or she could have croup. (See p. 251.) Call a doctor immediately.

If your baby screams with pain, seems to be trying to rub her ear against the blanket, and her crying subsides when you pick her up. She may have earache. (See p. 239.)

If your baby turns blue when she cries or often has a blue tinge.

For constipation with vomiting and swollen abdomen.

Excessive sweating.

The older child

When the child is older it is easier to know if she is ill because she can tell you, but the issue may be confused by psychosomatic pain (illness caused by the mind). The above reasons for seeing a doctor apply to older children as well, and the following symptoms should also be included:

Painful joints or bones.

Mass loss and prolonged loss of appetite.

Burning when passing urine, or discharge or itching in the vaginal area. (Some bubble baths contain detergents which can cause redness and burning in the vaginal area.)

Swelling in any part of the body.

A tendency to bruise very easily and the appearance of small bleeding spots in the skin.

Persistent cough.

Discharge from the ear.

Excessive thirst or hunger.

Recurrent stomach-ache.

Constant dribbling of urine.

Headache or stiffness in the neck.

Periods of breathing difficulty.

Psychosomatic illness of child

Even if you think your child is inventing an illness she still needs treatment. You must find out what is bothering her so much that she needs to express it this way. For instance, a child who is jealous of a new baby may develop a stomachache. To her the pain is real, even though the problem is jealousy. You must treat the symptom as well as the cause. She really wants you to fuss over her – even if she has to become ill to get her message across. This is a real cry for help and should not be treated as naughtiness. It is a signal to you to give her more attention and reassurance of your love.

Some children have problems outside or inside the home that cause symptoms of stress such as bed wetting, wetting their pants after being toilet trained, destructive behaviour or aggression, or symptoms of illness such as a sore throat, headache or stomach-ache. Being bullied or teased at playschool, jealousy of a new baby or simply a temporary feeling of insecurity due to a house move for example, can lead to these symptoms and others, like sleeping poorly.

Dont make such a fuss of her symptoms that she comes to rely on them as a means of getting your attention. Concentrate on finding out what is really causing them and try to put it right. If she gets a stomach-ache every day before school, visit the teacher and find out why. If she is unsettled because of a new baby, reassure her (213). If she is insecure because of a house move, try to keep the rest of her routine as stable as possible.

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