Single parents stigmas and stereotypes prove untrue when they are examined more closely—
Society attaches a stigma to the single parent. In fact, just 7 years ago, a Pew Research Study surveyed people about single parenting. Seven in ten said the trend of single women having children was “bad for society.”
Single Parent Stereotypes Prove Untrue
Who are Single Parents?
Parents may be single for a myriad of reasons. Single parents may choose to adopt, use a sperm donor or surrogate. Others face unplanned pregnancies. Still others are divorced or widowed.
There’s also some debate about the definition of a single parent. Are divorced parents with shared custody single parents? What about a single mother and a single father are both involved in the child’s life?
Single parents by definition are those who who raise children by themselves. When the other parents plays a role in the child’s life, their relationship is defined as coparenting. Regardless of the definition, parents who are uncoupled face stigma from society.
How Many US Households are Single Parent?
Although the American family has been changing, 69% of the approximately 73.7 million children in the U.S. live with two parents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The second most prevalent household is led by single mothers. Between 1960 and 2016, the percentage of children living in two-parent households has decreased from 88 percent. During the same time period, the percentage of children living with single mothers tripled from 8 to 23 percent. The overwhelming majority of households with two parents are married couples.
Stereotypes and Misconceptions
The typical American family is headed by a married mother and father and it is that formation that is often idealized. On the flip side of that, single parents are often stigmatized as less responsible or as “bad parents.”
Social scientist Bella De Paulo, PhD, Academic Affiliate, Psychological & Brain Sciences, University of California, Santa Barbara, has focused her academic work on the study of single life, as well as the stigmatization of singles.
De Paulo sees the following as misconceptions attached to children of single parents:
- Children in single parent households are more likely to be substance abusers. In a national survey of teens and substance abuse, the rate of substance abuse in teens from single households was about 5.4 percent, compared to 4.5% in for the children of married parents, hardly statistically significant, especially when accounting for margin of error.
- Children of single mothers and fathers do worse all the way around. Tracking studies of children from different types of households (two parent biological, adoptive, step-families, and single mother) have concluded that children’s grades, sibling relationships, and friend relationships were about the same. The children’s role in the family structure may be more important than the structure itself.
- Marriage is the most significant predictor of success in children. Children are more vulnerable when their family experience is marked by conflict or neglect, marital status of parents notwithstanding. Moreover, a global study concluded that children were better adjusted living with single mother than in a high conflict household with married parents. The same holds true for children raised by one divorced parent versus remarried parents.
The Myth of The Vixen Single Mother
A common stereotype attached to divorced mothers in particular is the barfly vixen barfly who lives on cocktails and downs bottles of wine while trying to seduce married husbands, desperate not to end up alone. Divorced mothers, even in shared custody situations, typically end up with the lion’s share of parenting responsibilities, juggling career with child care.
Sure, single mothers have lives outside of their children but all parents should do so. Hovering over children because you have no outside interests serves neither children nor parents.
Single Equals Without Support
It does take a village to raise a child but single parents, like singles, often surround themselves with supportive friends and family. We make our tribes. The lonely single stereotype just isn’t a reality. Healthy singles,whether parents or without children, create full lives with plenty of connections. In fact, singles are more likely to form social connections outside of their relationships than married or coupled people.
Single mothers and fathers are the target of numerous social stigmas. In my next columns, we’ll be taking a look at political and cultural stigmas attached to single parents.
Beth Cone Kramer is the author of the upcoming book “Digital Dating Detox.”