How Society Views Single Parents
Throughout the past two decades, the structure of a “normal” family shifted greatly from a traditional “nuclear family” to a vaguer interpretation, including single-parent families, blended families, and unmarried couples living together. While the idea of a fairy-tale marriage is still held high in modern society, with current trends in family structures it only serves as a reason for misjudgments and shaming. Despite the fact that the majority of children live with two parents, this percentage has decreased from 88 to 69 between 1960 and 2016, with approximately 27% of families consisting of single parents (US Census, 2016). However, even today single parents often encounter adverse social judgment.
Understanding and resolving this problem is a crucial step in forming future generations. Being a single parent no longer equals failed relationships or an attempt to live off the government benefits, more often it is a conscious choice. The most common reasons are not only the death or abandonment of one parent, they include such scenarios as adoption, surrogate mothers, and artificial insemination. For many parents having a child is a symbol of belonging, it is more of an accessible dream, which can, in turn, generate respect and admiration in society (Ferris & Stein, 2018). Contrary to the popular belief that single parents tend to live off welfare, 80% of them are employed (US Census, 2018).
Due to increased responsibility, a single parent indeed faces more financial struggles. The stigma of poverty is a result of a misrepresentation, but the financial struggles of a single-parent family are evident. While legally married couples gain multiple benefits from the government, especially in a form of joint income tax returns, the bigger tax on a single person seems only unfair. The economic factor isn’t the only one that contributes to the stigma.
Open support and proper representation of single parents are still lacking in modern society. In the past, politicians used to vilify the image of a single parent, making them a prime target for media which portrayed them as a drain of resources (Carroll, 2017). Throughout the years, this image still adds to negative stereotypes, but the reason is no longer there. Single parents becoming more numerous and accepted by newer generations, but their portrayal in the mass media as having a lower level of happiness and being more stressed contributes to the negativity.
These stigmas and the stress that comes with them add emotional struggles to already existing financial ones, but if the government is to solve the financial part, it is up to society to overcome the prejudice towards single-parent families. The lack of a positive highlight discourages people from having a positive attitude toward already stressed individuals, which directly affects children’s well-being. Simply put, it is easier for tabloids to attract an audience with negative portrayals, with little regard to real issues about the subject.
Another issue comes from the difference in society’s views of a single mother and a single father. Brookhart (2019) claims that “Single mothers are viewed as mostly irresponsible and are accused of not taking responsibility for their actions, while single fathers receive compassion and support” (pp. 5-6). Thus said, society sees single mothers as better emotional support for a child, and single fathers as better financial providers. However, single mothers are blamed for their supposed failures and inadequacy that led to this type of parenting, while single fathers are blamed for simply lacking the skills required to properly raise a child. On the rise of feminism, one should expect such notions to be eradicated, nonetheless, these stereotypes still exist in modern society.
The negative view of children who come from single-parent families can hurt their future and the future of their parents. These children are often seen as lacking adequate parental guidance and control. Being a sole supporter, a single parent is expected to have less time to spend with their child, making it difficult to supervise their homework, monitor their social and educational activities (Brookhart, 2019). This stereotype adds to the list of problems single-parent children encounter, making them more vulnerable at school, which leads to lower performance levels, lack of adequate socialization, and increased chances of involvement in criminal activities.
It is counterproductive for society to develop a mindset that ostracizes such a large portion of subjects. Single parenthood is a difficult task itself, and added pressure does not help in this situation. Instead of judging and shaming these people, society should give a shoulder to lean on. Harmful opinions and views of past generations are slow to die off, but mainstream norms in modern generations shift toward a positive attitude, albeit slowly. The myths and assumptions around single parents were dispelled, and now it is time to help this information to reach the masses.
There are many examples of happy and prospering families with a single parent, who succeeded in their career, family relationships, and their children have grown into successful adults. However, even they still face stereotypes that negatively affect their lives. The number of single-parent families is rapidly increasing not only in the United States, but in many other progressive countries, and the stigmatizing of such families is destructive for society.
Brookhart, A. S. (2019). Peeling the label off: Narratives of single parent families overcoming stereotypes. (Master’s thesis, West Texas A&M University, Canyon, TX). Web.
Carroll, N.J. (2017) Lone mothers’ experiences of stigma: A comparative study. (Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield, Huddersfield, England). Web.
Ferris, K., Stein, J. (2018). The real world: An introduction to sociology (6th ed.). New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company Ltd.
U.S. Census Bureau. (2016). The majority of children live with two parents, Census Bureau reports. Web.
U.S. Census Bureau. (2018). Custodial mothers and fathers and their child support: 2015. Web.