Today, traditional families constitute barely one in five households in the United States, according to census statistics. And nearly 40% of all births are to unmarried women. Yet a recent study by the Pew Research Center for Social and Demographic Trends shows most Americans still view single mothers as detrimental to society.
The poll asked 2,700 people about their attitudes regarding modern trends that affect the traditional family: This included people’s attitudes about unmarried parents raising children; gay couples raising children; single mothers; partners living together outside of marriage; working mothers; interracial marriage; and women who never bear children.
The responses fell into three nearly equal groups. Approximately one-third said that the new trends had no impact on society or are positive. A second group (one-third) considered most of the changes harmful to society. The third group (one-third) tended to accept the changes, except for single motherhood. More than 98% of those whose responses fell within the second and third groups said that single motherhood is bad for society.
This view is surprising and illogical. It lays the blame at the feet of the wrong person. It isn’t single mothers who are bad for society – if anything, it is absentee fathers; it is parents who abuse or neglect their children; it is teens who weren’t taught how to avoid pregnancy; it is mothers and fathers who don’t set reasonable limits for their children or who are too busy to properly supervise them; or parents with drug or alcohol addictions. It is parents to fail to provide the love, care, attention, and support that every child needs.
There many reasons for the modern shift away from the traditional family, and not all of them are bad. There was a time (in the not-to-distant past) when divorce was considered shameful; when interracial marriage was illegal; when gay marriage was unthinkable; when a man and woman living together was considered immoral; when “blended” families were considered abnormal and unhealthy; when children born out of wedlock – through no fault of their own – were referred to as “bastards” and forced to live lives filled with derision and prejudice. Society’s views have changed over the years, and we have become more tolerant. Yet, according to the Pew Research Center study, Americans continue to see single mothers as being bad for society. Why?
Many single mothers are not single by choice. Some are widowed. Some are divorced. Some are raising children alone because the father has shirked his responsibility and abandoned the family. Shouldn’t the blame in many of these cases be placed where it belongs – on absentee fathers?
Single mothers are doing what every parent should do – they are standing up and accepting responsibility. They are caring for, and providing for, their children – even if they have to do it alone. This is a courageous and selfless act. Single mothers deserve our praise, not our condemnation.
Then there is another category of single mothers: mothers who elect to become single parents by choice. Not everyone finds, or even wants, a life-partner. But being an excellent parent does not depend on having a partner. It depends on love, commitment, a willingness to spend time with the children, to put their needs ahead of your own, and to work hard to assure that those needs are met.
Some people haven’t found a soul-mate and elect not to settle for marrying just for the sake of being married. Yet they have so much to offer a child – love and devotion, a stable home, an extended family, a bright, happy future. These single parents are not the cause of society’s problems. Not by a long-shot. Rather, in some small way, they might be part of the solution.
In Arizona, for the third year in a row, certain legislators are trying to pass a bill which would make it more difficult for single parents to adopt children. Under this law, a married couple would be given priority to adopt just by virtue of the fact that they are married. Thus, a single woman who is, for instance, a successful pediatrician and wishes to adopt a child will be declined in favor of any married couple, even if that couple is less responsible, less stable, and not very compatible. This makes no sense. There are thousands of children in foster care waiting for adoption. Many of those children have special needs. In the past, adoptive placement of children with single parents has resulted in positive outcomes. But if this law passes, single people will be shoved to the back of the line; many will remove their names from the list of prospective adoptive placements, or they will simply not sign up to adopt. This will lead to children being forced to wallow in the foster care system – children who would otherwise have been placed in stable, loving homes.
Some might argue that a child is best served in a home with a father and mother. But how many people do you know who are married to a partner that is too busy to help with the children; who ignores them, or – worse yet – mistreats them? How many parents are forced to shield the children from another parent’s drug problem, or alcoholism, or anger. How many parents are unable to make responsible decisions without interference from a spouse who is less knowledgeable or doesn’t place the children’s needs as a top priority? (This is the cause of countless divorces and, in the end, a child in this situation is better off with one parent having the power to make responsible decisions.)
Single parents deserve our respect and admiration. They are not the cause of the breakdown of the traditional American family. Instead, they are the ones who stood up and shouldered the difficult responsibility of caring for the children. One cannot legislate the perfect family. Maybe there are many types of “perfect” families. And what is a perfect family, anyway? It is any family where a child receives stability, support, encouragement, and unconditional love.
Gary Frank has thirty years of experience as a Family Law Attorney and mediator, dealing with divorce, custody, and all matters pertaining to families and children. If you are in need of a consultation, you can contact Gary by telephone at 602-383-3610, through our website, or by email at [email protected].