When someone is asked to give examples of heroines in society today, the picture that immediately comes to a mind is that of renowned athletes, authors, or politicians; rarely would anyone include single mothers in their list of heroines. One could then ask, how would one describe a person who is a nursemaid during the day, a mother by night, and the sole breadwinner who has to attend to the bills and ensure her kids have something to eat, as well as "decent clothing so they can go to school and look like they belong to somebody" (Huda, 2001, p. 341)? Single mothers are heroines in their own way, but sadly, they also happen to be a vulnerable population that runs a high risk of poor physical and mental health. Their lifestyle forces them to take up the role of a mother as well as that of a father. This, coupled with society's negativity, imposes significant psychological, emotional, and spiritual setbacks - the effects of which have been enumerated in the subsequent sections of this text.
i) To the Single Mother
Empirical literature suggests that, compared to mothers in two-parent households, single mothers seek out professional mental help four times more (Atkins, 2010). This is, most obviously, a result of the stress and depression that comes with bringing up a family as a lone parent. As mentioned elsewhere in this text, a single mother acts as a mother and a father at the same time; she has to juggle the responsibilities of parenting, housekeeping, and financial provision, without "a supportive spouse to turn to for counsel, cooperation, and support" (Bronniman, 2008). On a typical day, a working single mother with young children would have to "rush to get to work on time, race to pick up the kids at daycare and juggle an endless list of household chores before falling into bed at midnight" (Hittner as cited in Bronniman, 2008). Most single mothers actually find it difficult to engage in such female tasks as cleaning and cooking (Lleras, 2008). This need to cater for the family's financial requirements, and at the same time perform responsibilities such as disciplining the children - which would under normal circumstances be assumed by the father - exposes single mothers to great stress, which most times advances to depression (Atkins, 2010). Moreover, single mothers often have minimal funds and almost "half the adult time resources available" (Bronniman, 2008). For this reason, most single mothers rarely have free time to spend with their kids, help them with their homework, or even just take an afternoon out with them (Falana, Bada & Ayodele, 2012). Atkins (2010) expresses that as a result of this kind of pressure; most single mothers begin to feel that they are inefficient, and that day care facilities are playing a greater role in the development of their children, than they themselves are. The interplay of these factors affects single mothers' self-esteem, and makes them "less optimistic about the future than their counterparts in two-parent settings" (Falana, Bada & Ayodele, 2012).
Single mothers live under this kind of pressure every day; and it gets more intense as the cost of living goes up since social assistance most times often remains constant, or rises less than proportionately (Bramlett & Blumberg, 2007). It is for this reason that single mothers are often "found to have poorer health than married mothers" (Atkins, 2010, p. 162). Moreover, most single mothers resort to smoking due to the psychosocial stress imposed by the aspect of dual responsibility (Sperlich, Maina & Noeres, 2013). Research indicates that a massive "44% of single mothers smoked daily, whereas only 26.2%" of their married counterparts did (Sperlich, Maina & Noeres, 2013, p. 1). This kind of behavior not only brings about serious health complications to the smoking single mother, weakening her health even further, but also places her children at a higher risk of becoming smokers.
ii) To the Children
There are notable differences between "children who have fathers, and those who do not" (Falana, Bada & Ayodele, 2012, p. 160). The social stress theory postulates that "various adult stressors affect family interaction, which in turn affects various emotional and cognitive outcomes in children" (Lleras, 2008, p. 1271). Children in female-headed households lack the masculine influence of a father, find it difficult to develop self-control and are, hence, more likely to be delinquent than their counterparts in either two-parent, or male-headed families (Falana, Bada & Ayodele, 2012).
In an attempt to earn the authority that a father would normally posses, single mothers often "use more dominating, hostile, and punitive disciplinary styles than do mothers in two-parent families" (Murry et al., 2001, p. 136). This kind of parenting style often creates a rift between a mother and her children, making it more difficult for her to exercise control (Murry, et al., 2001). This explains why adolescent pregnancy, gang activity, academic problems, depression, lying, cheating, fighting, and temper tantrums are more prevalent in female-headed families (Murry et al., 2001).
Children need the nurturing care of a mother as they grow (Falana, Bada & Ayodele, 2012). With a single mother having to balance between work and family, attention and care - both of which are crucial to child development - are somehow withdrawn, leaving the child vulnerable to poor physical and mental health (Atkins, 2010). Bramlett and Blumberg (2007) express that, generally, children in single-mother households often "have poorer health than children living with two biological parents" (p. 549).
These effects are only secondary to the emotional effects imposed on a child from a single-mother family by society (Bramlett & Blumberg, 2007). This impacts negatively on a child's academic performance, self-esteem, and personal development, and it is no wonder that "neither boys nor girls in mother-headed homesteads do as well in school as children from intact families" (Falana, Bada & Ayodele, 2012, p. 160).
The emotional effects of single motherhood are mainly brought about by social pressures. These often differ depending on the circumstances that lead one to becoming a single mother. In cases involving divorce for instance, most single mothers find themselves in legal battles with their children's fathers over such issues as child support and custody (Bronniman, 2008). Those who are freshly-divorced may find the loneliness unbearable, but even so, the thought of seeking a new partner to, at least, provide a father-figure to the kids, in itself poses a challenge, because it instills guilt and people may see it as a self-centered act (Bronniman, 2008). Loneliness and the lack of companionship give rise to feelings of restlessness and, at times, inferiority. Most single mothers "say that it is more difficult for them to become single than to become a single parent" (Falana, Bada & Ayodele, 2012, p. 160). This kind of inferiority may dig so deep that, as one single mother points out, it becomes difficult to even contemplate an outing with the kids (Falana, Bada & Ayodele, 2012).
Then, there is the other element of societal expectations. Society often "expects single-mother families to be more susceptible to problems than are two-parent biological families" (Bronniman, 2008). Such expectations often give rise to public discourses that despise against single motherhood in terms of access to social welfare programs, race-stereotyping, or family form success - all of which give rise to feelings of discontent, aggression, and inferiority in the single mother, as well as in her children (Lleras, 2008).
Researchers have put forward conflicting findings with regard to the spirituality of a single mother and whether or not this spirituality is affected by their condition. Lleras (2008) expresses that single mothers are often more spiritual than their counterparts in intact families because the loneliness pushes them closer to God. This may, however, not always be the case because there also…