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Single-Parenting: Unfortunate Circumstance or Inspired Engagement?

Single-Parenting: Unfortunate Circumstance or Inspired Engagement?

Recently I had one of those conversations with a family member. The kind that you never anticipated getting into, as they slowly build from quip to response to statement to declaration to objection to a quiet and collective discomfort which threatens to suck all of the air out of the room. I suppose we have all been there.

Lacking a verbatim transcript, or even an accurate memory of who said what, I will just tell you that the conversation began with the subject of same-sex marriage and ended with the issue of single parent families. Anyone who has been keeping time with this column has heard me voice my support of same-sex marriage, so I will spare you the rehash of my opinions. The important nugget of information that I gleaned from this conversation with my anonymous family member, is that while she may theoretically support same-sex marriage, she is not convinced about the resulting parenting options, nor is she convinced that single-parent families (whether by choice or circumstance) is a “healthy” way to raise a child.

While you wouldn’t find me advocating single-parenting or same-sex parenting as preferable to conventional heterosexual two partner parenting (good parenting is just good parenting without any consideration for gender or head count), I do strongly believe that single-parents, as well as gay and lesbian parents, are just as likely to do a bang up job in parenting as anyone else that is committed to the responsibility.

However, upon reeling from that minor familial tussle, I came upon a report that confirmed that I am likely in the minority with my opinion. The Journal of Marriage and Family revealed a new study that essentially stated, while there has been a tacit acceptance of divorce in contemporary American society, there exists a longstanding ambivalence toward single-parent families.

While Europeans tend to form single-parent families at consistently high rates, Americans place much more emphasis on marriage as a personal goal and as the ideal setting in which to raise children, according to this study authored by Margaret L. Usdansky, Ph.D., of Syracuse University.

So as attitudes seem to change just about everything else regarding parenting, childhood, and coupling, single-parent families are still seen as relatively problematic and received with virtual ambivalence.

What does this say about the endurance of single-parent families? Is this an indirect commentary about our collective propensity to cast judgment on those struggling to parent differently, or against great odds? Is there something inherently right or wrong with single-parent families? I would love to hear more about your experiences as a single-parent, or the child of a single-parent, and I welcome the opinions and thoughts from those of you that are concerned, outraged, ambivalent, or all of the above.

Read more: Babies, Children, Family, Love, News & Issues, Parenting at the Crossroads, Sex, , , , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

75 comments

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12:02PM PST on Feb 12, 2013

Thanks for the article.

3:22AM PST on Feb 12, 2013

Thanks for the article

4:40AM PST on Jan 22, 2013

Sometimes you don't have a choice!

2:47PM PST on Jan 21, 2013

Interesting article. I find it sad though that we in America are still quick to judge single parents without knowing more about their individual circumstances.

9:23PM PDT on Aug 11, 2012

I too was a single parent--three children, each a year apart.
In some ways, I found it harder--I come from a rigid Catholic family, where everyone treated me as a "fallen woman", simply because I had left a drunken, abusive husband.
With less than no support, I will still say that it was better for the children that it was just the four of us--we were, and remain, a close-knit family.
It wasn't always easy, but my children always knew they were loved and treasured.
Kudos to all the single-parents out there--don't let anyone tell your you're wrong--you aren't wrong--"society" so often is!!

10:47PM PDT on May 18, 2012

It should never, ever take two parents to provide the basics and a nice life for children. Whenever that's the case, it truly is an indication that somewhere in the economy something is seriously wrong. Single parenthood, at least for me, is so much more stable and better for children. And so much easier and so much less work. One thing I noticed as a child was that children of single mothers always seemed to have so much more respect for people and women and often tended to be nice people. I think the sadness children feel about not knowing their father or seeing them regularly has been extremely over-hyped, and while I accept and appreciate that it would be there, I don't think it's fair to say that children are better off automatically having the system default towards the importance of fathers.

9:35AM PST on Jan 30, 2012

Given that societal trends are towards increased numbers of single parents (and could grow if efforts to restrict access and numbers of abortions succeed), we should be more focused on what makes/can make single parenting successful.

8:23AM PST on Nov 15, 2011

My mom was single when I was a kid, and I always assumed that I would be a single mom, too. I ended up married (happily now with my second husband) and I have to say that parenting is much easier with a partner than it seemed to be for my mom, especially in the U.S. where the concept of maternity leave relies on a second income. That said, I think there are a lot of advantages to a single parent family. A single parent may bond more deeply with their children, parental decisions are consistent and unquestionable, there is often less arguing and more stability, etc. My husband recently brought up a good point: I do not have complex issues regarding money because there were no "money issues" in my house growing up. My mom made all of the money and handled it herself and that was that. This has enabled us to have a relationship free of money issues now, and raise our kids with the same healthy attitude.

3:26PM PDT on Sep 19, 2011

I have been surprised at how many ways US society works to undermine the single parent family. We need more support not less.

11:58PM PDT on Apr 14, 2011

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