"Mom and Dad." In our cultural fantasies, that team will always be #1 when it comes to raising happy and healthy kids. As for single moms and dads, well maybe some of them are trying hard, but they are up against it, forever trying to lure their children back from the brink of addiction, aggression, and crime.
Before I read reams of scientific papers comparing children who grew up in different kinds of homes, I probably bought what the prevailing narrative was selling - the belief in the supposedly overwhelming superiority of two-parent homes. There is a certain logic to the arguments. Don't children raised by two parents have twice the love, attention, and resources than children raised by just one parent? And isn't each of the parents in a married couple all the better at parenting for having the love and support of each other?
I first started studying the original research reports when I was writing Singled Out. I read the actual studies, not just press releases. I continued to keep track of that research long after my book was published. Far from finding that the children of single parents were doomed, I instead discovered that in most ways the vast majority of them are doing just fine, and in some ways, they are doing even better than the children raised by married parents.
Here are 10 examples of ways in which the children of single parents are doing just fine. I bet you have not read about any of them in the media. (Chapter 9 of Singled Out provides many more details and lots of references.)
But if two-parent households have twice of everything that adults have to offer children, then why don't the children in those households do far better than the children in single-parent households? And why would they ever do the same or even worse?
Here's how I answered those questions in the chapter on single parents in Singled Out:
"I think there are several ways around this dilemma. The first is to let go of the fantasy that all children living in nuclear families have two totally engaged parents who lavish their love and attention on all their children, and on each other, in a home free of anger, conflict, and recriminations. The second is to grab onto a different sort of possibility - that many children living with single mothers have other important adults in their lives, too. I don't mean just kids who have Grandma living with them. I also mean all of the kids who have grandparents, aunts, uncles, neighbors, teachers, family friends, and others who care about them and make sure they know it."
Sociologists who have studied single mothers of different races, classes, and sexual orientations have found that those mothers are rarely raising their children single-handedly. Instead, they have networks of friends and relatives and neighbors who care about them and their children, and have been part of their lives for years.
I agree with the traditionalists about stability: It is good for kids. So is the comfort of knowing that you can walk outside the door of your family home (or, in multi-generational households, outside the door of your bedroom) and find other adults who believe in you. Adults who have cared about you for as long as you can remember. Many children of single parents have the stability and security of a loving parent and a supportive network.
[Note: This is the first chapter (after the Introduction) of a brief new collection of articles, Single Parents and Their Children: The Good News No One Ever Tells You. If you are interested in reading more, the paperback is here and the ebook is here.]