Making Single Parenthood Work

Not infrequently on this board, people bemoan the phenomena of single parenthood. They mention increased poverty, higher crime rates, potential psychological damage, etc. There seems to be a longing for a return to the 1950s style nuclear family. I also notice that a lot of the focus is on single mothers, and rarely about the fathers who almost always play an important role- and usually a decisive one- in why kids are being raised by one parent. Anyway, in my thinking, this ignore the fact that people generally have reasons for doing what they do. Few people make outright irrational decisions. There is some kind of motivation. For whatever reason, our society makes it make sense to raise children in single-parent situations.

I don’t think we can put the genie back in the bottle. We can’t return to the 1950s. Single parents are here to stay.

So I think it makes sense to stop putting so much of the focus on preventing single parenthood, and more into making single parenthood more viable. After all, society exists to serve the people in it, and if those people are deciding to be single parents, society better start serving single parents. Any number of systems- from the way we work, go to school, associate as communities, etc. work against single parents.

How can we fix that, and make it so that children of single parents can grow up just as likely to succeed as those in two-parent homes?

The premise of this book is that single parenthood by itself is less detrimental to children than the unstability of having multiple step-parents.

Are we going to fix it so that children who have households that make $30,000 a year are just as successful as children in households that make $60,000 a year?

Two parents are better than one parent, unless one of the parents is so toxic their contribution is actually negative. This is obvious. I agree that we shouldn’t make things harder for single parents on purpose. But we shouldn’t make it harder on two-parent households just to make it fair.

Are there any countries that are currently doing a better job? If so, let’s look at what they are doing.

However, given the culture of the US, I can’t see getting very far unless one of the key strategies is to get the fathers to fork over child support. How many single mothers are getting by w/o any child support from the kid’s father?

Aw, c’mon, Sven. I SAID I would marry you.

This is where I get stuck - instead of having two adults in the home shouldering the burdens it takes to raise kids, we have one adult and, with your proposal, society shouldering the rest of the burdens it takes to raise kids. How much should I pay for other people’s reproductive and relationship choices?

One person’s burden is another person’s investment in our country’s future.

The trouble being that “investment” in single parenting gives, on average, a higher risk with no corresponding higher return.


Won’t somebody think of the children?

Funny, huh? But really, that is the crux. There is a natural tendency to be reluctant to “reward” the parents, but the point is to make it so the kids aren’t punished.

So, the question becomes… how do we help the kids, but not reward the parents? I mean, I just can’t get behind the idea of society encouraging single parenthood myself. That’s why I started out with wanting to make sure we do everything realistically possible to make sure the fathers are ponying up for they’re fair share. I know there are a few single fathers by choice out there, but not many. If we need, we can make sure any deadbeat moms are covered in our efforts, too.

Well, you can’t stop parents from splitting up, and you can’t force single people to marry, so how can we realistically deal with this situation? I can’t think of a situation that has gotten better by someone saying, “What you should have done was…”, so how can we help the kids that have single parents?

I don’t think society necessarily has to “shoulder the burden.” I think there are probably some fairly neutral shifts that can make single parents a lot more effective.

For example, in the last ten years we’ve seen a large shift towards more flexible work hours and work-from home opportunities for jobs that don’t strictly require a fixed presence in the office. These changes have been enormously helpful in achieving a better work-life balance, and I don’t think they really hurt anyone.

I think it’s important to realize that our current society is not some sort of default. It’s not a Platonic form or something that was handed down by god. It was developed over time to suit certain needs. It’s become quite clear that our needs have changed quite a bit since the early to mid 20th century, which is where a lot of our model for working, living and raising kids comes from. No doubt society will catch up soon enough, but in the meantime it may be useful about how to speed up this transition.

I’ve given this a lot of thought, and have come up with ideas as mundane as coming up with a better, more affordable day care system (it can’t possibly actually cost $1,000 a month to provide daycare. There has to be a more efficient way) to urban housing co-op for singe mothers (rules: all relationship drama must stay outside the house, people can work together on meals and childcare as they find useful, everyone will have private space and access to shared, family-friendly public space that they probably couldn’t afford renting a house or apartment on their own.) I think it will take a lot of creativity to come up with solutions, and especially to avoid things that have been shown to be failures (communal dining halls are a universal failure- but cheap, fast, kid-friendly healthy restaurants? That could be a good use of specialized labor.)

I’m not sure I really agree with the premise of the OP. There are large numbers of programs set up to help single parents.

Require paid family leave.

Subsidize 100% of child care.

Mandatory pre-school (one year prior to Kindergarten).

30 hour work weeks.

Those are my proposals. :wink:

I’m not thinking so much of programs that cover a deficiency (like giving access to healthcare, or whatever, that they normally couldn’t afford) as much as larger shifts or new ways of doing things that can prevent those deficiencies in the first place. I

For example, does raising a kid have to be such a career dealbreaker?

If the workforce was all single parents raising kids, what would it look like? I bet it’d be totally different. We would have a totally different way of thinking about hours, career progression, benefits, etc.

I think we’d see a shift towards the “critical career period” being earlier or later, rather than in the mid-twenties to mid-thirties when people are occupied by kids. I imagine on-site childcare would become a standard part of the benefits package, and office blocks would start incorporating daycare in just as they provide space for lunch restaurants and parking lots. I imagine there would be changes in the public school schedule to make it more compatible with work, and ways of making work more comptable with schools. Who knows? Maybe it’d become normal to start doing your master’s degree (and have a couple years of flexible work, on-campus childcare, and an automatic peer group in approximately the same point in life) when your kid is a baby. Anything can happen.

Obviously making all of these changes would be too radical, but what lessons could we learn from the theoretical “all single parent” workforce? In some ways, a lot of these changes are already happening. What can be done to make them smoother?

This goes in all aspects of life. I don’t think the suburban home model is as idea for a single parent with one kid as it once was for a family of five. A lot of single parents rent apartments, but there are disadvantages to that to. Can we come up with something better?

We’re not talking about single parents we’re talking about single mothers as they account for 82% of the single custodial parents out there. I suspect that the reason people focus so much on single mothers is because they’re the ones who have the babies and they’re the ones who are usually stuck with the consequences. That might not be fair but the squeaky wheel gets the grease.

A basic question is what sort of education and job skills does the average single mother have? Because things like flex time and working from home isn’t a good option for most people without some sort of education. Day care is problematic if you don’t have a trusted relative to take care of the kid while mommy is at work. I’ve known married couples who had one parent stay at home for a few years because working and paying for childcare just didn’t make a whole lot of economic sense.

There is already - we call it the “two parent family”.

This is like discussing how to find ways that one person can paint a house. It’s possible, and some people would do a good job at it. But two people are going to be more efficient at it.

Plus, you haven’t addressed Cat Whisperer’s point - you want a kid but you don’t want a spouse. Bully for you. Why do I have to subsidize your poor choices?

And we are not talking about denying tax deductions for single mothers. We are talking about the extra social services that single parents and their offspring tend to use at higher rates than two-parent families do.

[Fatherless children are at a dramatically greater risk of drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, suicide, poor educational performance, teen pregnancy, and criminality.
Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center for Health Statistics, Survey on Child Health, Washington, DC, 1993.

Psychiatric Problems. In 1988, a study of preschool children admitted to New Orleans hospitals as psychiatric patients over a 34-month period found that nearly 80 percent came from fatherless homes.
Source: Jack Block, et al. “Parental Functioning and the Home Environment in Families of Divorce,” Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 27 (1988)

Emotional distress. Children living with a never-married mother are more likely to have been treated for emotional problems.
Source: L. Remez, “Children Who Don’t Live with Both Parents Face Behavioral Problems,” Family Planning Perspectives (January/February 1992).

Uncooperative kids. Children reared by a divorced or never-married mother are less cooperative and score lower on tests of intelligence than children reared in intact families. Statistical analysis of the behavior and intelligence of these children revealed “significant detrimental effects” of living in a female-headed household. Growing up in a female-headed household remained a statistical predictor of behavior problems even after adjusting for differences in family income.
Source: Greg L. Duncan, Jeanne Brooks-Gunn and Pamela Kato Klebanov, “Economic Deprivation and Early Childhood Development,” Child Development 65 (1994).

In a longitudinal study of 1,197 fourth-grade students, researchers observed “greater levels of aggression in boys from mother-only households than from boys in mother-father households.”
Source: N. Vaden-Kierman, N. Ialongo, J. Pearson, and S. Kellam, “Household Family Structure and Children’s Aggressive Behavior: A Longitudinal Study of Urban Elementary School Children,” Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology 23, no. 5 (1995).](


Thank you ever so much for solving the problems of those who are already single parents.

Let’s continue to discourage it through education and available birth control. But that obviously isn’t enough, even if some non-single mothers will become single.

The best thing I can think of is subsidized childcare, and this can be a winner if it is made available to married parents also. Not 100%, since it is fair for there to be sharing, and perhaps there would be more contribution with greater income. This would tend to raise the income of poorer married couples also, making it more feasible for the parent to work. It would employ lots of people, and would be perfect for single mothers, in fact. Offering the subsidy only to certified facilities would keep children safer. Making it available during school holidays and until some reasonably late hour would improve the productivity of women in the workforce (and some men.) With a guaranteed market, we might get more businesses involved at higher levels, and perhaps get some innovation which goes along with competition.
While it wouldn’t be free, it would increase tax revenues by putting more people to work and could decrease the welfare rolls.

Isn’t it amazing that people like Shodan say pure Communism can never work because it goes against human nature (which is correct) while saying that the problem of single parenthood can be solved by basically changing human nature.
I hope John Hodgman is reading this - he can use Shodan’s post as the basis of an episode of “You’re Welcome.”

I think, even with our recent Doper cautionary tale, encouraging cohabitation between sets of single parents and their assorted children might be one way to go about it. Simply increasing awareness of organizations which screen and make matches would be a help. It’s something that honestly never occurred to me on my own when I was a single parent - finding another single parent to share living expenses with! Kids get the benefits of siblings and another adult around, and parents get the advantage of lower rent and utilities and the possibility of sharing childcare without paying cash.

Not a panacea, of course, but perhaps one piece of the puzzle.