Periodically a new study is published about the affects of single parenting on children. The results (either pursued or emphasized) are pretty much tied to the times. Studies today often highlight the economic hardship and handicap of single parenting. When pop-psychology was king (I’m okay, you’re okay, anyone?) the happiness of the child and later social adjustment were measured. The common thread in most of these studies is; “How does the child fare later on?” Very few studies, whether looking to support the researcher’s thoughts on money and happiness or not, ever looked beyond a headcount. It is rare to see a study that takes into consideration (or has any interest in) what the actual parenting situation is for the child.
“Child of a single parent” can have multiple meanings, among them are; 1) the parent could be recently widowed and the child was raised by two parents at some point or 2) the parent might be divorced and there is a non-custodial parent very much involved in the child’s life. There are studies that might even “overlook” the fact that non-married people (of the same gender or not) are raising a child together, and consider the child to be of a single parent. Certainly many researchers reporting on the permanent scarring and emotional handicap of parents’ divorcing never discuss remarriage. “A child of divorce” could easily be raised by two parents in the home if there is a remarriage. The actual details of a child’s upbringing and parentage seem too complex for these studies. A cynic would deduce that these studies exist to reinforce a researchers’ interest in making people feel badly about their life. A less cynical person would theorize that these broad generalizations are useful to someone somewhere.
There is a recent trend of people intentionally parenting alone. Tragedy has not befallen them nor has abandonment. These people, for various reasons have pursued single parenthood. Within this category alone, are variations that might boggle the average social researcher. These single parents may be men or women of any and every socio-economic background and age. They may have adopted babies or hard to place children. They may have become pregnant (more than once) with a partner they did not marry. They may have orchestrated a pregnancy (either genetically related or not) with medical assistance. Clearly there are more meaningful factors in these child’s future outcomes than how many adults are in the home. Should the biological child of a single 16 year old parent be seen as “starting from the same place” as the adopted child of a 50 year old? Maybe.
As a culture we’ve progressed in how we define ‘family.’ At the same time marriage is becoming more inclusive it is also becoming less relevant for others. Remarriage, blended families, birth parents, and donor parents are all in the mix now. Is there a way to talk about children of single parents in any meaningful way? Is it even meaningful to try? I think we’d all agree that the more caring, consistent and attentive adults in a child’s life the better. Most of us would also agree that a child who grows up in a home with an emphasis on education will do better in school. Money will always matter, and a child whose families’ financial life is precarious will probably not do as well as one raised in a financially stable home. What more do we need to know?