Single parenting from a different point of view

This post could have been a  comment to  the important earlier post about “A Good Childhood,” the recent report issued in Britain, which takes individualistic striving for success to underlie a suppose link between single parenting and unhappy children.   However, the topic of choices in parenting is so important, and I didn’t want this opposing point of view, from the NY Times, to get lost.  The Times article  looks at  a kind of choice made by middle-class women to be single parents, and documents some of the ways in which they have coped. 

What is also adds is some knowledge of the economic dimensions behind the figures being reported in Britain; for example:

There are indications that in choosing platonic intimacy with female friends over the romantic version with male ones, Fran in New Jersey and Eileen in Atlanta may be making the better bet for their children. Sara McLanahan, a sociologist at Princeton, has been studying the effects of divorce and single parenting on kids since the 1980s. Fundamentally, her work reveals the risks of instability. The biggest reason that children born to unmarried mothers tend to have problems — they’re more likely to drop out of school and commit crimes — is that they tend to grow up poor. Children of divorce may also experience a drop in income, and their mothers are at a heightened risk for depression, which in turn raises the risk of mental-health troubles for the kids.

A number of researchers are quoted, and their conclusions do not seem to match those of “A Good Childhood.”  This discrepancy should be pursued.  It certainly supports the idea implied in the earlier post that the initial report is motivated by more than disinterested  research.

(The NYTimes article is by Emily Bazelon, a senior editor at Slate.)

9 thoughts on “Single parenting from a different point of view

  1. this illustrates the point perfectly. there are way too many factors at play to say that single motherhood full stop is problematic. (let alone working mothers. grr! the whole thing makes me so angry!)

  2. A child’s feeling shame at their family model is never going to help them thrive. Spreading knowledge of and pride about successfully functioning ‘non-standard’ models of parenting out there are, including those focussed on in this NYT article, can do nothing but good – even if it is also important not to dismiss those models that may not be functioning so well for extrinsic reasons.

    I wonder how often those who publicly disparage single mothers and other parental deviants ever reflect on the extent to which their remarks are potentially self-fulfilling. If there’s one thing we know about children, it’s that the have ESP. Societal hatred of a parenting model almost certainly filters through to the children raised within it. Okay, not via ESP – more likely via their peers. The shame I felt at my father’s absence evaporated sometime during adolescence (perhaps because by that time all my peers were in the same circumstance), but was quite real up to that point. I remember making a job up for him rather than admit that I didn’t know what he did (or that he stole and sold wild birds‘ eggs, which is what I suspected for a while).

  3. LPG – I couldn’t agree with you more. I am a single mother and we are on the lower-income side of things, but I often wonder if I would worry so much that my son does not get what he needs just from me if it had not been pounded into my head since his birth.
    And how will that affect him as he becomes more cognizant of these same assumptions?
    It makes me so very angry when I read articles or studies that list quite plainly “single parent” (which most read as: “single mother”) as a reason for kids entering into crime or having mental problems. Instead of listing “socities treatment of women in general and single mothers in particular, which can often lead to single mothers having a below-par income and lack of resources” as the real reason.

  4. As a mother, grandmother and midwife I know that it takes a village to raise a child and our villages have gone the way of the “nuclear” family ~ the A Bomb that has even made raising a child in an 2-parent family very difficult.
    I attended the birth of a Chinese family recently and they were far from their family of origin facing the same concerns.
    When will raising families be given the priority it deserves so that we can raise healthy, happy children.
    I don’t know about you but I raised my children in my “spare” time after working for a “living”.
    Blessings to all you parents out there, single or not.

  5. anonymous, you beautifully illustrate a point i was going to make to add to what lpg said: it’s surely not just the kids who are stigmatized by this anti-single-mum talk. this is cruel to the women who are working harder at parenting than any partnered parent. further, being cruel to mothers is a great way to damage kids. i think both sides (if we can imagine the debate as two-sided) agree that instability is bad for kids. what better way to make a child’s home life unstable than to make her/his single mum feel like crap!

  6. just to follow up on lpg’s suggestion that the tone of discussion in the media about single parenting is actually the source of problems for the children parented: a related problem is that all this anti-single-parenting propaganda may play a role in causing people to stay in terrible relationships, just so their children won’t be “traumatized” by divorce and being raised primarily by only one parent. my evidence is only anecdotal– e.g., a friend of mine stayed in a very bad relationship for much longer than she should have just so her daughter wouldn’t be a “child of divorce” etc. etc. i was somewhat offended when my friend offered this reason for staying with her husband– she knew full well that i was raised in a single-parent household, and i’m pretty sure i turned out rather well. in fact, i turned out well not in spite of the fact that my mother left my father when i was very young, but rather (in part) *because* of it– at the time, my father had quite a drinking problem. i worry that many people take the (alleged) negative consequences of single-parenting for the children parented too seriously, without realizing that their situation may be an exception to the rule (if there even is such a “rule” to begin with). of course, it’s much better to be raised by one caring, stable parent than by two people in an unhealthy relationship. this seems obvious to me, but unfortunately it doesn’t seem to be to many people choosing between these situations. and i think the incessant media droning-on about the so-called shortcomings of single-parent households is partly to blame for this.

  7. OK folks lets not all be in denial. First, lets accept the existence of statistics and of grouping and benchmarking from which we form objective measures that stand up to scrutiny. The statisics are simply information gathered to produce a set of “general” statisicics this general set is then broken down into subsets from the general set, to enable comparissions to be made between the sets created and also general set or average. ( Are you stll with me!) Having created these statistics for comparrison the debate can start for why there is or is not a difference between them. Now, please lets remember, that the statics should be compiled by statiticians not “interested parties” as it enables a pure statical grouping without bias.
    Once we have the statisicswe can then look at the seperate issue of cause and effect. For example: comparing British, statisics to USA statics may not be as valid as first appears. Just as an example: From an ecconomics consideration the UK has 1. a Welfare state with Family allowance for each child, free education to the age of 18, Income support for those earning belows varying thresholds, accomodation fully funded if there is insufficient money and a minimum of 15% of the non-livingin parent income up to £2000 per week plus National Health free at the point of service. (Note: the UK has the highest single parent, teenage pregnancy rate, in Europe, possible because of all this ongoing support which is what makes the UK different to the rest of Europe) However the divorce rate in the UK is down to 10.5 per 1000 per year down from its peak in 1992 of 13.9 per 1000. The average marriage in 1992 was 9.9 years with owmen being 33.4 years and men 37.2 where as in 2009 the figures have changed to 10.5 per 1000 getting divorced with the average age of men being 43 and women 34.4 and the duration of the marriage 11.4 years. It would seem that in the UK it is normal for a child to be brought up as in a single parent environment including life, for those teenage years which bring about complications in mental and physical growth.

    Conclusion: The fundemental cause will always be there so statisics may vary but the overall cause and effect will remain a constant.
    There will always be differences in one set of statisics against another thats the way statisics work or there would be no statisic. So, society has deemed that women have the right to choose to keep a child once they are pregnant be they single, married , in a relationship or out of a relationship, be it with the opposite sex or the same sex, it does not matter, to their basic right to retain the child and bring that child up (excluding the extremes of child abuse, safety etc where the state generally steps in to help protect the child). Of course by agreement the male in a relationship, may also take responsibility to bring the offspring up as well on a day to day basis but the end result is still a single parent family. Therefore all all of theses statisics come about by having or not having a relationship that can endure living together in a tolerable way day to day with our partner and this more often than not produces the nuclear family. Unfortnuately, nuclear families breakdown from time to time and that is human nature. From the beginning of time there is a history of relationships that endure and ones that do not endure. This seems to be an undeniable fact of the human condition that facilitates change or no change and this is a strength and a weakness depending on the situation and triggers at work, as it is part of the ongoing development or lack of development of each individual. Human relatshionships form, sometimes break down, sometime repair, somes endure endure or fail to coninue in as close a bond as they once did and this seems to be all part of human nature. Basically, some of us mate for life while others do not and this is a fact of life for us all be past, present or future. As a society we then look at the consequences of these changes in relationships and look to protect and try to provide basic support for the offsping and make changes enforced in law to help protect those offspring – time and time again we prove statisically that the best environment for offspring is with a loving, caring family of two parents, providing an equality and hopefully a balance or bias of male and female perspectives on life and relationships, caring and sharing and nurturing but by its very nature this is always capable of breaking down by only one party. This is an inescapable fact that we constantly ignore when we staart to make comparisions and look to find reasons why group X. behaves differently to group Y, etc.

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