Bookmark and Share

Online Dating Magazine > Columns > Office Hours with Dr. Jim > Single Parent, Disabled Child

Office Hours With Dr. Jim
by James Houran, Ph.D

In this column, "Dr. Jim" honestly and candidly answers your questions about dating, love and sexuality. He doesn’t tell you what you want to hear – he tells you what you need to hear. Dr. Jim is committed to offering you guidance based on responsible clinical practice and hard data from the latest scientific studies. Send Dr. Jim your questions today for consideration in an upcoming issue.

Finding a Partner - Single Parent with Disabled Child

Quick Access:
Can a Single Parent with a Disabled Child Find Love?

Can a single parent with a disabled child really expect to find love?


Single parents often have time and money constraints that make dating a difficult endeavor. For single parents with a disabled child, the constraints on relationships become even more significant. Throughout the last thirty years, the amount of information on disabilities has increased, resulting in new studies that address the influence of disability on nuclear and extended families.

When there is a disabled child in a family there is evidence of increased stress upon the family system. Indeed, these stresses are similar to the stresses that accompany any atypical household such as ethnic minority and multiracial families, and families headed by individuals other than the children’s parents. However, there is little research pointing clearly to a description of family responses to disabled children. For example, which parent within the family shows the effects of stress, and how the stress presents itself are issues that have not been clarified theoretically or investigated in depth enough to draw any firm conclusions.

Also, it has long been known that families with a disabled child are viewed as experiencing social isolation. Having a child who places special, and sometimes extraordinary, demands upon the couple may result in less time and energy for contacts with informal support networks. Worse still, parents and families are often seen in a negative light or even blamed for their children’s emotional and behavioral problems. Accordingly, there has been a long-standing interest in the empirical study of stress in families of disabled children. 

It has long been known that both mothers and fathers of disabled children experience high levels of stress-related symptoms. Much of this stress seems to focus on care giving responsibilities and demands that arise on a daily basis. While relatively few studies have investigated the impact of a handicapped child on fathering, there is an emerging sense that the stress experienced by mothers is greater than that for fathers and that maternal depression may be greater for mothers of older disabled children than of younger.

On a personal level, parents may feel the extent of this stress and exhaustion in a romantic or marital relationship. Investigators in one study6 followed 130 newlywed couples longitudinally for six years and identified factors of couples’ marital friendship in the beginning months of marriage that predicted stability versus decline in marital satisfaction over the transition to parenthood. Stable or increased marital satisfaction in the face of parenthood was associated with three main aspects of marital friendship:

(1) partners building fondness and affection for each other;

(2) being aware of what is happening in the spouse’s life and being responsive to it; and

(3) approaching problems as something both partners have control over and can solve together as a couple.

These conclusions seem to bolster the ideas of some experts5 who claim that couples can make the best of the situation at hand while maintaining a stable environment for both themselves and their children with the building of support and understanding.

Even with the creation of a stable environment, these couples are often not able to continue their lifestyle prior to the role of caretaker of a disabled child. Couples may even find that people whom they considered close friends are now distant. Research indicates that attitudes in the general population toward disability seem to depend on the type of disability being considered. For example, conditions that disfigure the body or affect the mind (and hence may lead to abnormal behavior) are usually considered more shameful than conditions whose symptoms are essentially invisible. Thus, when parents of disabled children are unable to find effective support within their own family network, they adjust by seeking support from programs or other parents that deal with similar situations.

In one of the most comprehensive studies of its kind3 mothers and fathers of 125 handicapped/ chronically ill children were compared with the parents of 127 matched control nondisabled children from three separate samples with respect to personal stress, marital satisfaction and the quality of parents’ social networks. Only mothers of disabled children experienced higher levels of stress than comparison parents. No differences were found in marital satisfaction, although differences between couples with and without handicapped/ill children were seen when mothers’ (but not fathers’) personal stress and marital satisfaction scores are considered together.

Few group differences were found for social networks. The study indicated that mothers of handicapped children had higher-density networks than comparison mothers. Moreover, higher-density networks were related to increased personal stress. Network density is the extent to which members of a parent’s social network know and interact with one another, independently of the parent(s)4.

Lower-density networks have been associated with more successful adaptation in studies of college students and divorced women1,2,7. Thus, results suggest that it may not be social isolation per se but the underdevelopment of particular types of relationships that characterizes these couples. Indeed, it may be that couples with and without disabled children use social networks differently and these patterns relate differentially to adjustment.

The bottom line is that it is realistic for a single parent of a disabled child to find love, but it’s a real challenge given certain lifestyle constraints. Keep these lessons in mind to help overcome the challenge:

» Accept that increased stress is a normal part of a family with a disabled child, especially if you’re the mother.

» Be proactive in handling this stress via any resources available to you.

» Be open and honest about the situation with any potential partners – while maintaining proper boundaries in the beginning.

» Actively seek out friendships and a support system outside your immediate family, and don’t ignore these bonds.

1Hirsch, B. (1979). Psychological dimensions of social networks: A multidimensional analysis. American Journal of Community Psychology, 7, 263-277.

2Hirsch, B. (1980). Natural support systems and coping with major life change. American Journal of Community Psychology, 8, 159-172.

3Kazak, A. E. (1987). Families with disabled children: Stress and social networks in three
            samples. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 15, 137-146.

4Mitchell, R., & Trickett, E. (1980). Social networks as mediators of social support: An analysis of the effects and determinants of social networks. Community Mental Health Journal, 16, 27-44.

5Pueschel, S. M., Scola, P. S., Weidenman, L. E., & Bernier, J. C. (1988). The special child: A source book for parents of children with developmental disabilities (2nd ed.). Maryland:

6Shapiro, A. F., Gottman, J. M., & Carrere, S. (2000). The baby and the marriage: Identifying factors that buffer against decline in marital satisfaction. Journal of Family Psychology, 14, 59-70.

7Wilcox, B. (1981). The role of social support in adjustment to marital disruption: A social network analysis. In B. Gottlieb (Ed.), Social networks and social support in community mental health (pp. 97-115). Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.

> - The best approach to find the one. <

All Online Dating Magazine content, including the content on this page,
is © copyright by Online Dating Magazine and may not be
republished or reused in any form. You do have
full permission to link to this article.

Do you agree or disagree with this article? Have
more to add? Submit a Letter to the Editor today or post a comment below.


blog comments powered by Disqus

Privacy Statement | Code of Ethics Statement
Bookmark Online Dating Magazine at

>View Online Dating Magazine Singles Travel Adventures<

Online Dating | News | Columns | Features | Dating Services | Niche Dating
Online Dating Directory | Dating Humor | Quick Tip Articles | Online Dating Industry
Industry History
| Online Dating Reviews | Reader Reviews | Dating Videos | Book / DVD Reviews
Reader Letters | Self Improvement | Experiences | Newsletter | Interviews
Top 10 Lists | STD Info Center | About Us | Advertise
Media Center
| FAQ | Search | Contact | Dating Promotions

Dating Cartoons | Dating Jokes | Funny Dating Videos | Dating Games

Online Dating Magazine Needs Your Help!

All content on this Website is ©copyright by Online
Dating Magazine. All Rights Reserved. The content
on this site may not be reused or republished.

Are you an online dating site Webmaster? If so...
If you are looking for free dating content you can republish, click here



Advertise on
Online Dating Magazine



Stay Up to Date:

Follow Us on Twitter

Follow Us on YouTube

Follow Us on Facebook


10 Most Viewed Articles:

Online Dating Tips
Opposites Attract
Online Dating Safety Tips
Rose Colors
Guys are Weird
Dating Games
Online Dating Reviews
Creative Date Ideas
Long Distance Relationships
Dealing with a Breakup

Other Resources:

These links will take you away from Online Dating Magazine.

Google (Google Your Date)
Research Dating Service)

MailOrderBride Guide

Note: Online Dating Magazine does not sell text links anywhere on the site, so please don't email asking about text links. Any links we have are affiliate links, resources we find useful, links to other sites we run or long-time magazine sponsors. We do have graphic ad options in our Advertising section.