Question of the week: Can you help me understand boundaries that some single parents might need to develop?



There are many single parents that have always had problems setting boundaries for themselves. For some the lack of ability to set personal boundaries is the reason they are parenting alone. Other single parents develop boundary problems when they begin to parent alone. Maybe it is due to the shock of becoming a single parent or perhaps it is the stress involved in parenting alone.

In 1992 Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend published a book entitled “Boundaries”. What they realized is that many adults learned these patterns early in life and then continued with out of control patterns in their adult lives.

Following are some summarized boundary problems taken from the boundaries book.

  • Inability to say no to hurtful people or set limits on hurtful behavior from others
  • Inability to say no to their own destructive impulses
  • Inability to hear no from others and respect their limits and tasks
  • Inability to delay gratification and accomplish goals and tasks
  • Tendency to be attracted to irresponsible or hurtful people and then try to ‘fix’ them
  • Taking responsibility for other people’s lives
  • Ability to be easily manipulated or controlled
  • Struggles with intimacy and maintaining closeness with others
  • Inability to be honest with those they are close to
  • Inability to confront others and resolve conflicts productively
  • Experiencing life as a victim instead of living it purposefully with a feeling of self-control
  • Addictions and compulsions
  • Disorganization and lack of follow-through

I have observed and ministered to single parents for years. Lacking boundaries has caused them untold problems. I ministered to one single mom who was so hurt by the actions of her ex that she got herself into a lot of trouble by partying, drinking, dating excessively and eventually lost custody of her children. It took losing her children for her to turn her life around.

I ministered to another single mom and because she couldn’t set boundaries for herself had an out-of-control teenager. The teen ended up pregnant at fifteen, dropping out of school, getting involved in drugs and is set on the same destructive path that was modeled before her.

Examples of boundaries that cause the most problems for single parents

  • Inability to say no to their own destructive behaviors such as drinking, dating, sexual activities
  • Inability to delay gratification
  • Inability to confront others and or resolve problems and disagreements
  • Experiences being a victim and can’t get past the victim mentality
  • Disorganized in almost every area of life
  • Can’t set limits on people who are hurtful to them

What you can do

For some single parents once they get through grieving whatever brought them to the role of parenting alone they can move forward and begin to set boundaries for themselves and their children. Some single parents are in shock and until they heal they don’t have the ability to help themselves let alone their children.

Helpful tools like DivorceCare and GriefShare will assist them in the healing process. They will learn they are not alone in this process. I know when I went through my divorce it helped me to know and be around others who were on a similar journey. There is just something about knowing you are not the only person in the world who is hurting and that you will get through the pain and move forward in life.

Pray and ask the Holy Spirit to guide you. There are many times I am prompted to send a short text simply saying, “You are on my mind today. Praying for you.” Every time I get a heartfelt text in return. Usually it says something like, “I’m having a rough day. Thanks for remembering me.” Just knowing someone cares means a lot to someone who thinks no one cares.

Help the single parent with parenting by helping the children

  • Minister to the children.
  • Introduce them to a savior in Jesus Christ.
  • Develop a relationship with the child or find someone in the church that can take the time to develop a relationship with the child.
  • Love them unconditionally.
  • Mentor the children.
  • Find someone in your church that can spend time with the child.

While you can’t force someone to set boundaries, many times you can influence them to want to set limits and boundaries for themselves.


This article is updated and adapted from an article originally published on the Kids & Divorce blog on June 29, 2015.

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