TMA03: Exploring whether being a single parent changes an individual’s identity and sense of themselves

TMA03: Exploring whether being a single parent changes an individual’s identity and sense of themselves


The objective of the research is to analyse whether when people become single parents they change their identities and what they think of themselves. The paper has used several literature materials from past research in an attempt of trying to gain some knowledge within this scope. On the methodology section, the research uses semi-structured interviews for data collection. Two participants; a male and a female were involved in the interviews. Both of the participants are single parents. The research has used a phenomenological perspective. This perspective gives the participants the opportunity to give an account of their experiences without giving researchers an opportunity to exercise their biases. From the analysis of the interviews, the findings show that individuals do change upon becoming single parents. Among the changes that accrue include prioritising the needs of their children at all times, the way they interact with their friends tend to change to some extent, their attitudes and personality are altered and at times have to play the role of both parents.


  1. Background and Research Question

1.1 Introduction

The prevalence of single parent families is increasing significantly in different societies around the globe. Gaining some knowledge regarding single parents is beneficial since most of the relationship experiences that individuals have are shaped by the family system in which they have dwelled in. A family is an important institution since it provides a platform through which people develop socially, emotionally and physically (Hollway, 2007). Being a single parent places an individual in a certain group in the society. How people behave and think of themselves is sometimes determined by the social groups in which they belong to. This topic is important since it will aid the understanding of how being a single parent can feel like. The methods that have been used for research have ensured that the report is based on the experiences of actual single parents hence acting as a favourable source of primary information.

 1.2 Literature Review


“McLanahan, S. (1984). Single Mothers and Psychological Well-being: A Test of the Stress and Vulnerability Hypothesis. 26.”

This research aims at identifying how the aspect of being single mothers affects people’s well-being. The paper is based on two major hypotheses. The first one postulates that single mothers have the tendency of responding more negatively to life events and strain than married mothers. The other hypothesis postulates that single mothers’ well-being declines with time compared to that of married mothers. The research has used case studies for methodology purposes. Data used for the study was derived from the Panel Study of Income. The representative sample comprised of 5,000 American households. The study uses social psychoanalytic perspective since it makes use case studies and the data is derived from association narrative interviews. From the findings, the hypothesis that single mothers respond more negatively to life events and strain was rejected. However, the other hypothesis that their psychological well being declines with time was accepted. The research showed it declines by around 11%.


“Deal, R. (2008). Changing Attitudes for Single Parents: Some things tend to Change. 23.”

The research is based on how people tend to change once they become single parents. The researcher used semi-structured interviews as the method of obtaining the desired data. He interviewed four males and four females; of whom all were single parents. The research uses a phenomenological perspective since it gives the participants an opportunity to narrate their experiences. It was apparent from the findings that being single parents had changed the participants in one way or the other. Having to play the role of both the mother and father has made them to be more aggressive.


“Hanson, S. (2006). The Sacrifices that Single Parents Have to Make. 17.”

This research was conducted with the objective of identifying how single mothers deal with issues that bring a conflict between their needs and those of their children. The researcher used a focus group as the method of collecting data. This is a favourable method since the respondents involved provide checks and balances on each other hence curbing extreme and false views. The group involved 10 single parents of whom all were females. The findings indicate that these parents have put the needs of their children ahead of theirs. They postpone their own happiness for the sake of the children. This is triggered more by the fact they know that they are the only people that the children can look up to.


“Usdansky, M. (2003). Single Parent Families and their Impact on Children: Changing Portrayals in Popular Magazines. 44.”

The research tries to examine how the society views single parent families, based on how they impact children. Observation and case studies have been used as the methods of collecting data. The data has been obtained from stratified, non-proportionate random samples of articles. These were articles published in popular American magazines between 1990 and 1998 regarding single parent families. Social analytic perspective is more prevalent in this research because the respondents and authors of these articles give their views with regard to the topic at hand. From the findings, it was apparent that more people were not in favour of single parent families. They thought that the families lacked some attributes, something that would bring negative effects on children.

 “Paterson, W., & Brady, M. (2009). Single Parents and their Social Life. It is not everyone who understands, 37.”

This research was conducted with the objective of identifying whether single parents change how they interact with their friends or colleagues after attaining this status. The researcher used a focus group as the method of collecting data.  The participants comprised of six single parents; three of whom were males and the other three were females. The researcher postulates that the findings had mixed responses. There are those who have retained a good number of their friends and colleagues in their social circle and there those that have also lost quite a number. Most of the participants that lost most of the friends were the ones who became single parents as a result of divorce. This was more attributed to the fact they had several mutual friends with their spouses.


“Dowd, N. (2003). Being a Single Parent Encompasses Several Transformations.”

The paper tries to examine whether people do change when they become single parents. Dowd (2003) used observation as the method of data collection. He observed how his colleagues and friends that had become single parents tend to behave. This included those that were divorced and those that bore children, but opted to bring them up on their own. From the research Dowd (2003) concludes that people do change when they become single parents. They shift their priorities and spend even less time with their friends. More of their attention is usually focused on the children. It is even difficult for most of them to indulge themselves in romantic relationships since they are more focused on what is good for their children.


1.3 “Gaps” in Literature Review

There are some “gaps” associated with the above researches. To begin with, the first and fourth researches use case studies as their main source of data. It is not essay to ascertain their accuracy since the primary methods of collecting the data are not known. Another limitation is that data from these case studies does not emanate from single parents directly. This is a similar case with the sixth research since it is only based on the researcher’s observation. Through such methods it is not possible to tell the exact experiences of single parents.

This research transcends the limitations by ensuring that primary data has been collected from the single parents. It uses a phenomenological perspective, which allows for the use of semi-structured interviews in data collection. The approach ensures that the participants are given the ability to express their experiences without being limited.

Some experiences that I have come across in life have also contributed to my interest in this topic. I have explained them in the methodology part under the “researcher” section.


1.4 Research Question

Does being a single parent change an individual’s expression and conception of themselves and what they think of themselves?



  1. Methodology

2.1 Researcher

I am of Russian origin, currently residing in the UK. I was married to an English husband though we got divorced. After completing my college in Russia, I used to work for a kindergarten with children between the ages of 3-7 years. Most of the children in this institution were being brought up by single parents. These past experiences have somehow contributed to my gaining interest in this topic.


2.2 Participants and recruitment

The participants for the research included two single parents; of whom one was female and the other a male. The first participant is Eva who has been a single parent for the past 5 years. Ali on his part has been single for the past 6 months. Both of the participants had been married initially, but are currently divorced. I have used fictitious names for confidentiality purposes. I do not have any form of relationship with the participants. I recruited them via an online post. I signed in a forum called ‘single parents meet up group in London’ and introduced myself as an OU student who is looking for participants in an upcoming research. I outlined the nature of my research and the individuals I was targeting. After reading the participants contacted me via phone. We set up the date, time and place that we would meet for the interviews.


2.3 Method of data collection

The method used was interviewing two participants who are both single parents. The research involved a male and a female so that it can derive information from both sides of the gender divide before making conclusions. The interview questions were semi-structured. Using semi-structured interviews made it possible for the research to use the phenomenological psychological perspective.  The approach provides participants with the opportunity of describing their experiences in detail. It ensures that the research is based on the lived-experiences of the participants involved in the study. The phenomenological perspective encourages researches to “bracket” their own knowledge and assumptions regarding the phenomenon at hand by avoiding establishment of a static sense of objective reality for the participants being studied (Hollway, 2007).

The interviews were conducted on a one on one basis. I met with the respondents on different locations as we had agreed during the recruitment process. For the first participant, I met her at her workplace, after work. She works in a hospital so we used an empty room around there; which seemed to belong to the staff members. For the second participant we met at pub near his home at around 6pm. This was convenient for him because he would live his child with a friend and dash for a few minutes. I commenced by introducing myself, and shared some “chit chat”. I began by informing them that all the information was confidential and the final report would not include their actual names. After they signed the consent forms (Appendix 3) we began the interviews and I switched the tape recorders on.


2.4 Ethical Issues

Among the ethical issues that arose during the research process is not using the exact names of the participants that were involved in the process. This is aimed at maintaining confidentiality so that they do not become vulnerable in any way due to their participation in the research. Other ethical issues can be obtained from the ethics proposal form (Appendix 4)


2.5 Method of data transcription and analysis

For the data transcription, I had to first listen at the recordings twice while making some notes. I started to transcribe the interviews line by line while listening for the third time. I used a computer for this process. While transcribing I was listening at short pause (.), long ones (pause) and other actions such as (laughing) among others. For the analysis section, I analysed both transcripts separately using the interpretive phenomenological analysis. The focus was on first person account of experience. I identified various themes that emanated within the transcripts for analysis.


  1. Analysis

The analysis tries to show that individuals really do change as a result of becoming single parents. There are things about them that no longer remain the same. The two participants Ali and Eva all share a similar sentiment that being a single parent is a difficult task more so if an individual was initially used to  a two-parent family. Eva says “Um, I don’t , (.) I think it (repeat) difficult (.) I do find its — difficult (.) juggling work — you know, housework, cooking……….” (Transcript 1; line 14 & 15). Both were married before deciding to part ways with their spouses, a decision that was not easy to make.

The transcripts from the interview have four main themes. These include spatiality, intersubjectivity, embodiment and temporality. The themes run through the entire transcripts. However, due to the attempt of trying to ascertain the topic of study with entirety, the analysis has focused on four main sub-themes. The first one entails balancing one’s needs and those of children. The second theme revolves around playing the role of both parents. This is them followed by the interaction with friends and colleagues. Finally, there is the change of attitude and personality.


3.1 Balancing one’s needs and those of children

The theme can be encompassed in the main theme of intersubjectivity since it extrapolates experience of relationships with other people. This theme tries to showcase how people change once they become single parents with regards to their priorities. As it is the case with Ali and Eva, their perspectives have really changed when it comes to dealing with their children. According to them, there are sacrifices that ought to be done for the good of the children.


She postulates that if there was someone else with whom she is sharing the responsibility of taking care of the children with, it would be easy to balance both needs. However, based on her status as a single parent that is different now. Eva says, “You want to do something and you feel guilty, because I feel — I should be with children — do what children like” (Transcript 1; line 37&38). This shows that how she thinks of herself has really changed. It has become difficult for her to have fun at the expense of her children. She feels the urge of giving the children what they need at all times. Having time for herself is no longer that important.


Ali says, “It is a bit difficult actually but (pause) because I decided this way of life…..”(Transcript 2; line 24&25). About working he says, “I decided to wait like 1 or 2 years before he will be more — independent, so I will be able to get – a new job” (Transcript 2; line 30&31). This is an indication of the sacrifice that he has to make in order to see that his child thrives in the best way possible. He has to wait until his child attains a certain age so that he will embark on satisfying his own needs. If he was still married, they could have worked something out with his wife in order to bring about some balance.


3.2 Playing the role of both parents

On this respect, the participants tend to share different sentiments. Being a single parent has affected them differently. One of them has experienced changes while the other does not think much has changed with this regard. The difference in attitude has been attributed to the different settlement agreements they had while they were divorcing their spouses.


During their divorce with his wife, Ali took full custody of their child. This was an important aspect since he is of Asia decent and that is required of him by his culture in case of such an occurrence. For him things have had to change since he has to play the role of both parents for his child. He has to take the responsibility that a father would take and at the same time that of the mother. He thinks that if he was in two-parent family things would be different. He says, “The thing will be easier and more comfortable to have someone to share this moment with you (.) and not to be alone.” (Transcript 2; line 56-58).


According to Eva, on her part she has not had to play the role of both parents. They decided to share the custody of their children with her husband. She says, “They are with me 3 days a week (pause) and 4 nights a week. And the rest of the week they are with their dad” (transcript 1; line 46&47). She feels that their father has a role to play and she should not take that away from him. “I don’t feel that I have to replace their dad — or I have to be like their dad……” (Transcript 1; line 92 & 93).


3.3 Interaction with friends and colleagues

The main theme of temporality manifests itself in this sub-theme since it brings about the experience of time. It showcases how a phenomenon changes with time due to some inducement. The way people interact with their friends and colleagues seems to change once they become single parents. According to both Ali and Eva, it does not necessary change to the worse. There is a tendency of losing some friends while gaining some on the other end. To some extent there is also a change of the nature of activities that you do with your friends. Some become extinct so that they can pave way for new ones.


Eva does not think being a single parent has affected how she interacts with her friends and colleagues. However, she admits that she has lost some of her friends. “You know my ex-husband’s friends, sort of a (pause) somehow — you lose being in touch with them all the time” (Transcript 1; line 114-116). With her new friends, most of them are also single parents. It is like she has undergone some transformation whereby her social circle is being filled with people she shares something in common with. This is change seems like it is warranted since she wants to be with people she feels comfortable around, and they understand her. “I think it’s easy to (repeat) talk to a single mum, because she — she just knows what (repeat) we are going through” (Transcript 2; line 125-127).

Ali asserts how he interacts with his friends has changed since he became a single parent. He outlines that his friends are now trying to fit in since everything is not what it used to be due to the added responsibilities. The activities that they used to undertake together have also changed. Ali says, “I’m not being able (repeat) to do staff like that (.) So my friends have to suggest (pause) new ideas to be able to have fun with me” (Transcript 2; line 67-70).


3.4 Change of attitude and personality

From the interviews it is vivid that both participants have changed their attitudes and personalities in a way after becoming single parents. There is some form of aggression that seems to emanate from within. Maybe this might be attributed to the idea that things have not been the way they had expected them to be once they embarked on their journey towards this path.


For Ali, it is evident when he is responding to how the people around him are helping out in taking care of his child. He outlines that initially he used to enjoy the feelings and compassion that people gave him. It was a sign of them showing that they care. However, the situation is quite different right now. His attitude towards the compassion has changed completely. Now it irritates and annoys him. Ali thinks that the compassion that is being shown to them is because people consider his family as incomplete, and thinks that he is missing something. “After a while I started — to be annoyed with those feelings (.) Sometimes I feel like people don’t see (repeat) me and my kid like a family” (Transcript 2; line 96-99).


For Eva, she seems to have toughened up in a way. When she first got divorced she thought that she had gotten rid of her problems. She is not used to being alone hence not used to facing problems alone. However, this has not deterred her from moving forward and shaking off the woes.  “It was a relief, but at the same time (.) a new problem arrived. Problems you are not aware of, and you have to deal with them as they come” (Transcript 1; line 85-87). Her attitude towards parenting has also changed. She now views it as work. “It’s — just horrible to say, being with children it is like a work — because you have to cook for them, you have to tidy up after them, do the laundry, and things never (repeat) ending, it’s just go round (repeat)” (Transcript 1; line 56-59).


  1. Discussion

The research question of the study was “Does being a single parent change an individual’s expression and conception of themselves and what they think of themselves?” From the findings it is apparent that several things change once an individual becomes a single parent. This includes how they conceive things, how they express themselves and what they think about themselves.

From the findings after interviewing the two participants, it was evident that both of them had changed the way they perceive their needs. They prioritise their children’s needs to extent that their own happiness does not matter so long their children are happy. One participant now thinks of himself as both a father and a mother to his child. This notion is portrayed in his day to day actions.  The way they interact with friends and colleagues has also changed. They have a different criterion of selecting friends since they want people who understand what they are going through in life. They also have to change the nature of their relationships with their friends in order to fulfil their obligations to their children. Their attitudes and personalities have also changed to some extent. The second participant has started to get annoyed when people show him compassion. Initially he used to like this, but currently he thinks that the people doing it think that his family is lacking something. The second participant on her part has developed the ability of dealing with problems on her own without relying on anyone.

Most of the findings in this research support the findings of the studies analysed earlier in the literature review. To begin with, the first research in the literature review concluded that the psychological well being of single mothers declines with time (around 11%). This seems to be the case with Eva since she has started to strain. She now views taking care of her children as work. She compares the task with her daily job, something that she never did when she was married. The third research in the literature review, which involved a focus group of 10 single parents concluded that they tend to postpone their own happiness for the sake of the children. This is triggered more by the fact they know that they are the only people that the children can look up to. This has been among the findings in this research whereby the needs of the children are given the priority regardless. The second article in the literature review postulates that when individuals become single parents, their attitudes tend to change. They become aggressive in various areas. From this research, it is apparent that Eva has changed her attitude with regards to dependence, and now she is solving her problems independently. Ali on his case has also changed his attitudes with regards to the people showing him compassion.  The fourth article in the literature review concludes that when people become single they tend to lose some of their friends. They tend to search for new friends that fit into their circle of activities, and have an understanding of what they are going through. The aspect has been evidenced in this study.

The strengths of this research emanate from the method used for data collection. Use of semi-structured interviews ensures that the participants had the freedom to express themselves in depth hence provide as much information as possible. Using phenomenological perspective also ensured that all the information derived is based on the experiences of the participants, and not assumptions and biases of the researcher. Despite the strengths, the research also has limitations. Among them is the fact that both participants were single parents who had been married previously. Maybe if the single parents used were not married previously, the findings would have been different.

The research has several implications. Among them is that it can act as a source of information to people dealing with single parents. It informs them that some things do change once an individual becomes a single parent. Having such information would help in improving their relationships by giving the relevant individuals the understanding that they deserve.

If I was to conduct a research again on this topic I would use a focus group to derive the desired data as opposed to interviews. The reason behind this would be to confirm whether the findings remain the same. For future study in this area, I would like to see a research conducted on how single parents cope with the changes that accrue.





  1. References

Cho, K. (1984). Philosophy and science in phenomenological perspective. Dordrecht: M. Nijhoff ;.

Deal, R. (2008). Changing Attitudes for Single Parents: Some things tend to Change. 23.

Dowd, N. (2003). Being a Single Parent Encompasses Several Transformations.

Hanson, S. (2006). The Sacrifices that Single Parents Have to Make. 17.

Hollway, W. (2007). Social Psychology: past and present’, in Hollway, W, Lucey, H. and Phoenix, A. (2007) (eds) Social Psychology Matters. Milton Keynes: The Open University Press.


Bottom of ForMcLanahan, S. (1984). Single Mothers and Psychological Well-being: A Test of the Stress and Vulnerability Hypothesis. 26.


Paterson, W., & Brady, M. (2009). Single Parents and their Social Life. Its not everyone who understands, 37.


Seidman, I. (2013). Interviewing as qualitative research: A guide for researchers in education and the social sciences (4th ed.). New York: Teachers College Press.


Usdansky, M. (2003). Single Parent Families and their Impact on Children: Changing Portrayals in Popular Magazines. 44


6.1 Appendix 1

Transcript 1: Eva’s Interview


6.2 Appendix 2

Transcript 2: Ali’s Interview


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