Tuesday, January 9, 2007

For the Good of the Children

Many people believe that a two parent family is better for children to grow up in than a single parent family. Similarly, many of these same people also believe that it's best for children if one parent stays at home full time while they are growing up.

However, these beliefs vary somewhat depending on why a parent is single, and, in the case of two parent families, the gender of the stay at home parent.

There are those people are quick to judge someone who is a single parent by divorce, or never having been married. They point to higher rates of juvenile delinquency, mental illness, diminished grades, poverty, reduced opportunities, etc, as being the typical fallout of growing up in a single parent family. These people sometimes imply that people are selfish for having children without being married or for getting divorced when one has young children. Those contemplating divorce are urged to stay with their spouses "for the children's sake" and those already divorced or never married are advised to marry so that the children can have two parents.

Many people today are under the mistaken impression that single parent families were uncommon before the 1960s. This is a misconception; there have always been a reasonable percentage of one parent families. What has changed is the typical reason why the parent is single. Years ago, most single parent families existed because one parent had died. Nowadays, most single parents are either never-married or divorced.

But it's rare for those people who disapprove of single parent families to criticize those who are single parents by death. Widowed parents get more support and generally are not urged to remarry as quickly as possible. In my own experience, I can't remember anyone advising my father to remarry because I needed a mother, but I was told many times that my son needed a mother and that I was selfish to remain single

It would seem, though, that all the supposed disadvantages of growing up in a single parent family would hold true regardless of why one's single parent was single. The fact that single parent familes by divorce or out of wedlock are often viewed more negatively than single parent families by death would indicate to me that the real issue for these people isn't so much the children's welfare, per se, but rather their disapproval of divorce and having children out of wedlock.

Similarly, many people believe children do better when they have a full time parent at home. By parent, 99 percent of these people mean mother. Many of these same people would take a dim view of a father, single or married, who does not work outside the home for money. And if a mother is single, especially if she's never been married or is divorced, then these same people will call her lazy if she wants to be a full time mother.

Again, whatever benefits there are to having a full time parent or drawbacks of being a "latchkey" kid should be the same regardless of the gender of one's full time parent or why one's single parent is single. This difference in judgment indicates more of a disapproval of wage earning women and unemployed men in two parent families, and being on welfare for single parent families, more so than what is really best for children.

It would be easier if people would state their prejudices openly, rather than trying to disguise them behind a less than altruistic concern for the welfare of children.


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