Single parent


Single parent

Single parent is a term that is mostly used to suggest that one parent has most of the day to day responsibilities in the raising of the child or children, which would categorize them as the dominant caregiver. The dominant caregiver is the parent in which the children have residency with majority of the time,[1] if the parents are separated or divorced children live with their custodial parent and have visitation with their noncustodial parent.[2] In western society in general, following separation, a child will end up with the 'primary caregiver' (the main carer, e.g. in UK over 90% of the time the mother and a 'secondary caregiver,' normally the father.[3] There are many facets involving single parenting in the social spectrum of our world today. This article will discuss topics such as demographics, multipule debates, mother and father as primary caregivers, single parent adoption, and divorce.

The demographics of single parenting show a general increase worldwide in children living in single parent homes. Statistics from the United States, North Korea, and the United Kingdom all fall in line with this trend.

Multiple debates concerning single parenthood have come about over time. Debates concerning not only the single parents themselves, but also the children involved, support for the families in single parent households, and more have risen to the surface.

Divorce is one of the main events that leads to single parenting. Divorce can have many different effects on the children involved, and there are many ways to deal with it to try to make everything go smoothly.

Contents

Demographics

There has been a marked increase in the trend of children living with a single parent which is seen from changes observed in the U.S. Census report from years 1960 to 2000 when children dependent on a single parent jumped from 9% to 28% respectively. Two main reasons for this rise can be attributed to the increase of pregnancy in unmarried women, which 36% of all births were to unmarried women, and to the rise in divorces among couples at this time. In 2000, 11% of children were living with parents who had never been married, 15.6% of children lived with a divorced parent, and 1.2% lived with a parent who was widowed.[4][5]

In the entire world, data suggests that about 16% of children live in a home with only one of their parents. [6] The most recent information for 2011 from the U.S. Census Bureau states that 27% of children live with one parent, which is consistent with the trend 10 years ago in year 2000.[7] In 2006, 12.9 million families in the US were headed by a single parent, 80% of which were headed by a female.[8][9] In 2003, 14% of all Australian households were single-parent families. Since 2001, 31% of babies born in Australia have been born to unmarried mothers.[10]

In the United Kingdom, there are 2.9 million single parents as of 2009, with 3 million children [11] About 1 out of 4 families with dependent children are single-parent families, 8 to 11 percent of which have a male single-parent.[3][12][13] - General Household Survey; see table 3.6. UK poverty figures show that 52% of single parent families are below the Government-defined poverty line (after housing costs).[14]

In South Korea, where societal disapproval of unmarried mothers is strong, 1.6% of births in 2007 were to unmarried women, and, of those women, 70% are estimated to have opted for adoption.[9]

Countries located in Asia and the Middle East are the least likely to have children raised in single parent households. On the other hand, the 3 areas of the world that are most likely to have nonmarital childbearing are Latin America, South Africa, and Sweden. Along with this, the areas where there are an extremely high number of children living in single parent homes include Africa, Europe, Latin America, North America, and Oceania. It has also been shown that children living in areas of South Africa are the very most likely to live with a single parent.[15]

Debates

A focal point in public policy debate recently has been about whether or not government should be involved with giving aid to single parent households. Some believe it will reduce poverty and make situations better for these families, while others think that the government should just focus on more employment being available.[16]

Also, there is a debate about what sorts of family structures are good for children. The two sides question whether it is the effect of a whole family being together (including mother and father), or if all that is needed is the love and affection from one parent that considerably affects children involved. Also, a part of this, is whether or not these single parent families can be considered an actual family or not.[17]

Another issue brought up is juvenile delinquency and if it results from kids being in single parent households. The background ideas for this debate is that if children don't live with the parent that is the same sex as them, they may not have anyone to model appropriate behavior.[17] In addition, there is a debate on the behavioral effects of children with incarcerated parents and how losing one or both parents to incarceration effects their academic performance and social well-being with others.[18]

A variety of viewpoints do exist, with different readings of the research possible: The Institute for the Study of Civil Society reports that children of single parents, after controlling for other variables like family income, are more likely to have problems. There are impacts of sole parenting on children, however the weight of the evidence it is suggested, do not appear to support a view that sole parents are a major cause of societal ills and are doing irreparable damage to their children. It is a debatable practice that it is in a child's best interest to have both parents involvement in their life. It's encouraged that each parent respect the other parent in the child's presence and to provide financial help through child support for the parent whose role is primary caregiver, when parents are not married or separated.[19] [20] The civil behavior among separated parents may have a direct effect on the child's coping ability, this is especially seen in younger children who might not understand the separation of their family, which stresses the importance of the involvement of both parents in a child's life; consequently, this requires both parent's to respect one another and possibly establish a limited friendship on behalf of the upbringing of their child.[20]

Mother as the primary caregiver

Harold Gilman's Mother and Child, 1918, oil on canvas. Depicts the the bond between a mother and child from early on in life.

There are multiple factors that contribute to single motherhood; divorce, desertion, death, imprisonment, and unmarried women with children which may have resulted from accidental pregnancy all are leading factors that contribute to single motherhood.[21] There are also a few options for women who want to mother on their own by choice. Some choices for them would be adoption, artificial insemination, or in vitro fertilization.[22]

The prevalence of single mothers as primary caregiver goes into traditional parenting trends we see between mothers and fathers. In her work Marriages & Families Benokraitis defines mothers as being generally viewed as the expressive role players who provide emotional support and nurturing qualities that sustain the family unit. Because of these nurturing aspects of a mother's role as caregiver, they outshine those of the father which tend to be more strict and distant. She goes on to express that one of a woman's expressive roles is that of kinkeeper which is defined as an important communication link among family members. Because of these nurturing aspects of a mother's role as caregiver, they outshine those of the father which tend to be more strict and distant. Children tend to drift towards preference of parent depending on how involved a particular parent is and a common problem in society today are absentee fathers; therefore, children are more likely to show preference for their mothers as they are more involved than the fathers who are not as involved in the daily activities of their offspring.[23]

Another contributing factor in the prevalence of seeing mothers as the primary caregiver is preference according to the cultural definition of a mother's role. Children will lean more towards mothers because of their protective, nurturing characteristics which could perhaps have been a long established mother-child relationship from early on attachment beginning at birth and continuing as the child grows up.[24]

In addition to their traditional protective and nurturing role, single mothers will have to play an excessive role of family provider as well. The nurturing support and socialization of parenting is primarily directed at women whether single or married. Since men are generally the bread winners of a traditional family, in the absence of the father the mother must fulfill this role being able to provide nurturing parenting while also providing for the financial needs. This can be difficult for single mothers to do in which it is common for single mothers to rely on childcare facilities to provide the nurturing care for their children while they are working. Good quality childcare has developed in recent years as the trend of single parenting has risen, and some wonder whether such childcare programs are beneficial, however, there have been findings of positive developmental effects that childcare has on children. Because of a single mother's increased need to work, it's not common that a single mother will become actively involved with the childcare program anyway, reducing the possible guilt that a single mother may feel leaving the children with the care of others.[1][25] Working single mothers may also rely on the help from fictive kin who assist in caregiving while the mother is working to provide for her children.[23]

Single mothers represent a dominant aspect of poverty levels in society as many single mothers who are the primary caregiver for their children lack the financial resources to support their children when the birth father does not provide helpful support to the mother. Although there is public support for low-wage single mothers, it does not make much difference because the benefits are so few. Poverty stricken single mothers seek assistance through living with another adult--perhaps a relative, fictive kin, or significant other--when single mothers who are divorced often re-marry and have less financial struggles than unmarried single mothers, who otherwise can not make up for their economic situation by working long hours when they are responsible for primary caregiving of their children, which explains why unmarried mothers are more likely to cohabitate with another supportive adult.[26]

Father as the primary caregiver

Single father holding his son for the first time.

In the United States today, there are nearly 13.6 million single parents raising over 21 million children.[27] While single-parenting as a father is far less common than a mother, 16% versus 84% respectively, it is not uncommon or unheard of.[28] Single Parent Magazine tells us that a father as the primary caregiver has increased by 60% in the last ten years and is easily the fastest growing type of family situation in the United States.[27] Single parenthood may come about in several different ways mentioned above (see Mother as primary caregiver); however, a single father is usually the result of divorce with nearly 60% of all single fathers falling into this category. While fathers are not normally seen as the primary caregiver in a single-parenting situation, statistics show that 90% of single-fathers are employed, with 72% of these men having a full-time job.[29]

Defining "father" may give us such words as provider, dad, and even sire[30], leading one to believe that father may be demanding, disciplinary, and even cruel in some circumstances. However, while fathers have been seen in this light, in this ever growing and ever changing world, we see males taking on both the responsibility of the mother and father. "...every father must take the time to be a dad as well as a friend, disciplinarian, shoulder to cry on, dance partner, coach, audience, adviseer, listener, and so much more." Armstrong Williams, the writer quoted above, goes on to say that he viewed his father as the driving force in his family and also someone who brought strength and compassion to his family.[31] In addition to these qualities, the single father must take on the role of the mother. A mother's role in the typical American family normally extends past household chores and cooking, extending deep into morality, devotion, and the ability to set up an educational yet nurturing play environment.[32] Thus, while difficult, it is the father's role to not only to be a source of resilience and strength, but also of love and compassion.[31]

Little research has been done to suggest the hardships of the "single father as a caretaker" relationship; however, a great deal has been done on the hardships of a single-parent household. Single-parent households tend to find difficulty with the lack of help they receive. More often than not a single parent finds it difficult to find help because there is a lack of support, whether it be a second parent or other family members. This tends to put a strain on not only the parent but also the relationship between the parent and their child. Furthermore, dependency is a hardship that many parents find difficult to overcome. As the single parent becomes closer to their child, the child grows more and more dependent upon that parent. This dependency, while common, may reach far past childhood, damaging the child due to their lack of independence from their parent. "Social isolation of single parents might be a stress factor that they transmit to children. Another explanation may be that the parents do not have the time needed to support and supervise their children. This can have a negative impact on the child."[33]

Single parent adoption

Adoption in the United States

Every state in the US currently allows single parents to adopt, and they were mainly deemed rare until the 1960's when the California State Department of Social Welfare first permitted it. Adoption as a single parent can be hard, and even next to impossible through some agencies.[34] When the process begins it is important that the adopter know what lays ahead; adoption agencies have strict rules about what type of people they let adopt, and they have been known to be "invasive, intrusive, and downright rude" in finding out information about the adopter.[35] There is a controversy that many believe kids should be adopted by a family: husband and wife, instead of by a single person. However, it must be noted that single parents are thought to be better for kids than divorced parents. The reason, being that single parents usually have a higher education and a higher income in comparison to the country's average and divorced parents cause an unnecessary stress on the family.[34] An estimated 5-10% of all adoptions in the U.S. are by a single man or woman.[36] In one study, the interviewers asked children questions about their new lifestyle in a single-parent home. The interviewer found that when asked about fears, a high proportion of children feared illness or injury to the parent. When asked about happiness, half of the children talked about outings with their single adoptive parent.[37] A single person choosing to adopt has to be mindful of the challenges he or she may face (if he or she is approved as a single adoptive parent and completes a Home Study): there are certain agencies that will not work with single adoptive parents. As a single parent there is often no relief/break. As a single parent he or she will typically only have their own income to live off of, and thus might not have a backup plan.[36] Traveling can be more complex.[38]

Single mother with child

Adoption process

It might be harder to adopt as a single parent due to the fact that some agencies may not approve it:[39]

  1. Decide if you want to adopt a child domestically or internationally.
  2. Decide the age of the child you want to adopt.
  3. Decide if you are looking to adopt a healthy child or a child with special needs.
  4. You then need to find an adoption agency that will help you with three things:
a Home Study.
an adoptive placement.
post-placement services.

It is important to note that many countries only allow women to adopt as a single parent; oftentimes when men are allowed to be single adoptives they are only allowed to adopt boys[40] .

History of single parent adoptions

Statistically, single parent adoptions have existed since the mid 19th century. Men were rarely considered as adoptive parents, and if they were considered then they were far less desired. Oftentimes, children adopted by a single person were raised in pairs rather than alone, illustrating that many adoptions by lesbians and gay men were arranged as single parent adoptions, whether they were or not. During the mid 19th century many state welfare officials made it very hard, if not impossible for single people to adopt. Agencies were looking for "normal" families: families of married men and women; men who provided for the family and women who took care of the home. In 1965 the Los Angeles Bureau of Adoptions sought out single African-Americans for African-American orphans for whom married families couldn't be found. In 1968 the Child Welfare League of America stated that married couples were preferred, but there were "exceptional circumstances" where single parent adoptions were permissible.[41]

Divorce

Divorce statistics

In 2009, the overall divorce rate was around 9/1000 in the United States. It was also found that more influence came from the south, with the rates there being about 10.5/1000, as opposed to the north where it was around 7/1000.[42] This resulted in about 1.5% (around 1 million) children living in the house of a recently divorced parent in the same year.[43] Along with this, it has been shown that for the past 10 years or so, first marriages have a 50% chance of ending in divorce. And, for other marriages after a first divorce, the chance of another divorce increases.[44] In 2003 a study showed that about 69% of kids in American living in a household that was a different structure than the typical nuclear family. This was broken down into about 30 percent living with a stepparent, 23 percent living with a biological mother, 6 percent with grandparents as caregivers, 4 percent with a biological father, 4 percent with someone who was not a direct relative, and a small one percent living with a foster family.[45]

Children and divorce

Children are affected by divorce in many different ways. Every situation has different circumstances that produce different outcomes. However, in most divorces the parent usually has to give some guidance to the children to get them through everything. One important thing that has been suggested is to tell the kids right away when you make the decision. Sometimes, it's helpful for parents to plan out these conversations and practice them, because it's often a very hard thing to do. This will keep personal feelings out of it and let the kids make their own opinions. One of the most important things to make sure the kids understand is that the parents will still love them no matter where they are living or what is going on. The amount of information the children need varies with age. A lot of older kids need a more thorough explanation, but with younger ones it can usually be kept simple.[46]

Sometimes the news about divorce can be shocking to kids, and they will need help coping with the new changes to their lives. Single parenting after divorce can be stressful, however it can be helpful for parents to talk to family members and friends, instead of placing additional stress upon the children by talking to them. If this isn't possible, a therapist might also be a good alternative. Negative thoughts about the other parent being expressed directly to children are often another source of discomfort. Children can easily feel stuck in the middle of making both parents happy, interfering with their own coping. Children can be made to feel a responsibility to "spy" on the other parent that can be distressing. One thing that has shown to be very helpful is making their lives as normal as possible. Special attention just because of a divorce can be damaging because it will counteract the normalcy. A lot of children can tell when people are just doing things to make them feel better, and would benefit more from just talking about everything. Another thing that slows the coping process is keeping the children from talking to the other parent. Leting them talk to both parents whenever they want, and about anything they want, will help kids get all their questions answered. Also, if something important happens regarding the children, both parents knowing about it will make it easier to handle. Going along with this, if something comes up and the children need help the parents may need to work together to find out how to come up with an appropriate solution. There's lots of resources to help parents with these sort of things, and once they deal with things it will be easier for the kids to cope. If the children are still having problems, there are plenty of outside sources that provide help, such as a therapist or even a counselor at school. Also, parents getting help for themselves and moving on with their own lives will help children do the same. Sometimes, a professional can help parents with this to make it easier. Ultimately, this will make everything better for the kids too. [47]

There are some things that may make certain children adjust to divorce easier, and others harder. There are a few factors that play a huge part in putting kids at risk for having a hard time. Gender is the first one. Possibly because mothers get more custody, the lack of male interaction might be the reason boys react worse than girls. Another thing that can be influential is socioeconomic status (SES). If families are lower in SES, that may mean they have less resources to help kids get everything they need. Also, if a child is a central part of the conflicts of divorce, that will probably also make it harder to cope. One last important thing is that children aren't completely taken away from one parent. This may make them feel abandoned or neglected, even though parents may not mean to, resulting in having an even harder time accepting the divorce.[48]

Divorce brings about a change for everyone involved. Parents really need to consider who will make which decisions, and how much they need to discuss things with each other. There are things such as food, clothing, school, friends, dating, extracurricular activities, doctor visits, and religion, that will need to be talked about. Parents need to make sure they communicate with each other, and the children involved, about all of these things listed and who to talk to about them. When parents don't agree on these topics, first, they should try to have a civilized conversation with each other. However, if this isn't working, then they could consider revising the custody over the children, and coming up with some new ground rules.[49]

Single parents in the Media

Top single mothers:

Top single fathers:

See also

References

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Further reading

  • Bankston, Carl L. and Caldas, Stephen J., Family Structure, Schoolmates, and Racial Inequalities in School Achievement, Journal of Marriage and the Family 60:3 (1998), 715-723.
  • Dependent Children: 1 in 4 in lone-parent families," National Statistics Online, National Statistics, United Kingdom (July 7, 2005) . Accessed at: http://www.statistics.gov.uk/cci/nugget.asp?id=1163 on July 17, 2006.
  • Geographic Distribution: London has most lone-parent families," National Statistics Online, National Statistics, United Kingdom (July 7, 2005). Accessed at: http://www.statistics.gov.uk/cci/nugget.asp?id=1166 on July 17, 2006.
  • Hilton, J., Desrochers, S.,Devall, E. Comparison of Role Demands, Relationships, and Child Functioning is Single-Mother, Single-Father, and Intact Families. Journal of Divorce and Remarriage ,35(?) 29-56.
  • Mulkey, L.; Crain, R; Harrington, A.M. One-Parent Households and Achievement: Economic and Behavioral Explanations of a Small Effect. Sociology of Education, 1992, 65, 1, Jan, 48-65
  • Pong, Suet-ling The School Compositional Effect of Single Parenthood on 10th Grade Achievement, Sociology of Education 71:1 (1998), 23-42.
  • Quinlan, Robert J. Father absence, parental care, and female reproductive development. Evolution and Human Behavior, Volume 24, Issue 6, November 2003, Pages 376-390
  • Richards, Leslie N.; Schmiege, Cynthia J. Family Relations, Vol. 42, No. 3, Family Diversity. (Jul., 1993), pp. 277–285.
  • Risman, Barbara J., and Park, Kyung. (1988). Just The Two of Us: Parent-Child Relationships in Single-Parent Homes. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 1988, 50, 4, Nov, 1049.
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  • States News Service. (2005 July 20). “America’s Children: Family Structure and Children’s Well-Being

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • single parent — noun A mother or father bringing up children alone (hence single parent family) • • • Main Entry: ↑single * * * ˌsingle ˈparent [single parent] noun a person who takes care of their child or children without a husband, wife or partner …   Useful english dictionary

  • single parent — single parents N COUNT: oft N n A single parent is someone who is bringing up a child on their own, because the other parent is not living with them. I was bringing up my three children as a single parent. ...single parent families. ...a single… …   English dictionary

  • single parent — n a mother or father who looks after their children on their own, without a partner = ↑lone parent …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • single parent — noun count a parent who raises their children alone, without a partner …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • single parent — ► NOUN ▪ a person bringing up a child or children without a partner …   English terms dictionary

  • single parent — UK / US noun [countable] Word forms single parent : singular single parent plural single parents a parent who raises their children alone, without a partner …   English dictionary

  • single-parent — adj. Single parent is used with these nouns: ↑family, ↑home, ↑household …   Collocations dictionary

  • single parent —    a parent living with dependent offspring without an adult partner    A variant of lone parent and no longer referring for the most part to someone who has lost a spouse. Also as single mother:     The papers are always complaining about single …   How not to say what you mean: A dictionary of euphemisms

  • single parent — noun A parent who is the only guardian of an offspring. See Also: single father, single mother …   Wiktionary

  • single-parent — having only one parent …   English contemporary dictionary


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