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.