Mental Health

Doug Berger – Tokyo Psychiatrist on Single-Parent Homes

Dr. Doug Berger, a psychiatrist in Tokyo, has written before on marriage and divorce in Japan. Here we ask him to elaborate on a few questions.

1. How are children affected by living in a single parent home?
This will necessarily depend on a number of factors, the age of the child, the time and quality of the ability of the parent to provide love, affection, and a protective environment, the socioeconomic environment of the family, and the ability of the parent and child to be flexible and reasonable with this situation.

Naturally, the more time and quality of the parent’s ability to provide love and security, and the more inherent mental stability both the child and parent have, the better off they will be. The age of the child when the single-parent home was created, and the circumstances around this creation will be of importance, more on that below.

2. Are abandonment issues more prevalent in children from single parent homes?

I don’t think it is a valid use of statistics to make a blanket statement and say yes or no. For each home, there is either more or less time alone on the part of the child. One could argue that the chances of having a difficult parent are 50% less than a 2-parent home, and while being alone seems better than being with a difficult parent, we would not advocate single parent homes over 2-parent homes of course.

If there is a child that is alone or feels abandoned then we need to engage some kind of social intervention and help this child integrate with some social activities. If the community the family lives in has good infrastructure and a close-knit community with families that participate in many activities where many same-age friendships can be grown then this may be enough in of itself to make a child from a single-parent household feel social and happy. If it is not a community like this, then social services need to have a bigger role to provide some alternative.

3. Are children raised in single parent homes from birth less affected than children whose parents divorced in their teens?

It is common to meet children raised in single parent homes from birth who state they did not know any other kind of family structure so that the single parent situation seemed entirely normal to them and they had no problem with it.

Divorce of one’s parents in adolescence is usually not a great thing, but might be worse for a child who is between 5 and 12 years-old because they usually more connected to their parents then teenagers. However, this all depends on how bitter the divorce, how many friends the teen has, the inherent mental stability of the child and parents, and the ability of the parents to be reasonable in ensuring that divorce will lead to a smooth transition for the child to continue the same lifestyle and with frequent visits and access to each parent, and this is more important for young teens than older teens.

4. What are some tips for children that may blame themselves for their parents’ separation or divorce?

This is not easy to clear up and sometimes takes years to run its course because a course of events has already unfolded once the child has started to think like this. Coaching and psychotherapy may help these children, but probably the best way is to avoid this happening to begin with.

Reasonable parents who can continue to work together as parents and a family will help decrease the risk of this outcome. Sometimes, we recommend that the parents move to a partial separation where one of the spouses has a separate living space, but where the family is together often, or at least one parent is visiting the child’s living space regularly.

The partial separation may be enough to give the parents space but allow them to continue the family in some way. Then the parents can actually be divorced on paper without telling the children-depending on their age or the parents can go to full divorce in stages as the children get older. It may be easier to acclimate to stressful events unfolding in slow stages.

5. How can parents ease the transition into a single parent household for children?

Continuing the ideas presented in question 4, I would say that if for example the father is moving out, he can present the idea to his children that he is getting an “office” to stay in so that he can do work in a quiet place, but he will still spend time at the home and that the children can also visit him. The wife may take the opportunity to have her own social life on days the husband, or ex-husband if they have signed divorce papers, is at the home watching the children.

For many couples in conflict, one partner having a separate living space can be enough to decrease the stress in the relationship enough to the point where they can be reasonable with each other. As the children get older, they will not need both parents around so often and the parents can begin to build their lives independently from the ex-spouse both socially and occupationally.

Read more on Dr. Doug Berger‘s comments as it relates to single-parent households here: