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What Do We Really Know About Why Children Need Two Parents?

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The House budget passed early Saturday would cut funding for family planning, which could increase unplanned pregnancies by one-third.

That would likely lead, among other things, to quite a few families headed by single mothers, the most unacceptable form of parenting to many Americans, based on the latest Pew poll.

Of the 2,691 adults who were asked whether it was good or bad for society that there are "more single women having children without a male partner to help raise them," about two-thirds said it was bad. The same adults found it more acceptable for unmarried heterosexual partners or same-sex couples to raise children together.

A similar Pew survey conducted in 2007 suggests attitudes toward single mothers have not changed much in recent years. At the time, the same percentage -- about two-thirds of respondents -- said single women having children was bad for society.

And yet about 22 million children are living with single parents, according to the most recent Census Bureau statistics. That's about 25 percent of all U.S. children under the age of 21.

Many of those children are raised by divorced or never married working women, who did not graduate from college.

The Pew surveys don't tell us why single parenting is so distressing to so many Americans. But this belief may be based on some scientific research about how children fare in different types of families.

An article published last year in the "Journal of Marriage and Family" explores research results that reveal how children do when parented by lesbians, gay men, heterosexual couples, single mothers and single fathers.

Authors Timothy J. Biblarz and Judith Stacey synthesized the findings from 33 studies of two-parent families and 48 studies of single-parent families. They conclude: "Compared to all other family forms, families headed by (at least) two committed, compatible parents are generally best for children."

Their conclusion is consistent with research published in 2005 by sociologist Paul Amato, who "shows that compared with other children, those who grow up in stable, two-parent families have a higher standard of living, receive more effective parenting, experience more cooperative co-parenting, are emotionally closer to both parents, and are subjected to fewer stressful events and circumstances."

This benefit accrues whether the two parents are the same sex or opposite sex partners, according to the research compiled by Biblarz and Stacey and by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Although the Pew survey question does not ask about single parents or single fathers, the research shows children of single mothers have an advantage over children of single fathers.

Even though single mothers typically have lower income, lower status jobs and less support than single fathers, their children were more likely to have better grades, behave well in school, and steer clear of substance abuse problems.

Single mothers were more active parents than single fathers. They spent more time with their kids than single fathers, showed more affection, knew the names of their friends, monitored their homework and set supervised limits.

In some ways, single mothers behaved more like married mothers, and so did single fathers who "displayed some 'maternal' capacities that seemed to remain latent in married dads when women were around to provide them," the researchers say.

Single fathers parented better than married fathers, by some scales, while two women together parented best. Here's how the researchers summarized the differences:

"Based strictly on the published science, one could argue that two women parent better on average than a woman and a man, or at least than a woman and man with a traditional division of family labor...Married heterosexual fathers typically score lowest on parental involvement and skills, but...they improve notably when faced with single or primary parenthood. If parenting without women induces fathers to behave more like mothers, the reverse may be partly true as well. Women who parent without men seem to assume some conventional paternal practices and to reap emotional benefits and costs... Every family form provides distinct advantages and risks for children."

However much we love our children, the work involved in raising them can be exhausting. Even in a two-parent family, the responsibility is overwhelming. Single parenting is heroic and there are noble, loving, devoted mothers and fathers who these statistics can't fully capture or reflect.

I wish the Pew survey results meant that Americans recognize the challenges single parents face without judging them. But I fear they do not.

Mothers have made a cottage industry of judging one another -- married vs. single, working outside the home vs. staying at home, breastfeeding vs. bottle-feeding, co-sleeping vs. Ferberizing. There is no end to the differences that divide us and the ways we use them to validate our choices.

The Pew results show that more than half of those surveyed are optimistic about the future of American families. But that future will not arrive until we accept that the best families are the ones with happy, healthy children, however many parents they have at home.
Filed Under: Woman Up

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I am a single mother. I was raised by 2 very awesome parents. Lived in a good neighborhood growing up went to a good school. Both my mother and my father died when I was nearly an adult. I didn't have nice aunts to take me in or any other family (people probably much like your self) to help. I dropped out of high school and got a job. Married a decent guy had a child 2 years after we were married. I got pregnant while on the pill (which for some reason my body was not absorbing properly). When our child was about a year old my spouse got around a bad crowd started using drugs. I didn't know about his drug abuse till it was too late and he was too far gone. When our child was 6 I left my husband and got a divorce. I never saw him again. No one can find him I don't receive any financial help with our child and he never contacts our child. I wish I and my daughter could have that perfect world. That's just NOT reality. So many of you who down all those you cannot identify with, seem to think it's the single parents fault for being single. Wake up single minded people! So statistics are just "statistics". Do not judge those around you. Your opinion is just an opinion just like mine and that's fine. All those who don't like their tax dollars to go that type of thing is fine too. I don't really like my tax dollars having to go to prisons where I am sure my dead beat ex - spouse is or will end up. Just do not judge a person. You have no idea what their situation is and stereotyping single mothers, fathers, or 2 parent homes is silly. For every person in this world there is a unique situation. Life is hard. No doubt about it. Some things you can control and some things you can't. Hopefully for society's sake single minded people with bad attitudes and unhappy lives will get hit in the face by karma. Do the best you can regardless your upbringing or current situation and something good can come out of it.

February 20 2011 at 9:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Blessings Dottie

Well you can't tell a woman, or a man that they can't raise their kid in a good way being single but every single parent must admit that to have a partner to help take on the responsibilities of parents would be a blessing. Yes, single parents CAN turn out good kids but the kids go through very rough teenager years because of the lack of supervision and parental support. Not because the single parent doesn't care but because they are at work and I can tell you that kids will do as they dare when their folks are not at home. It is far better to have two parents actively involved in raising the children than one. I wish that couples took their child rearing responsibilities a lot more seriously.

February 20 2011 at 7:40 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

the thing that scares me is that some of you peole think that parents need to be together no matter what have any of you considered why there is a single parent? or do u just judge for one I was raised be my single mom .because my so called excuse for a wanna be dead beat drunk gambling abusive father is now is vegas. I have no seen or heard from him since I was in first grade. well guess what I don't do drugs. i'm not on welfare. I pay bills I have a a great job 2 degrees and going on my last one. if you ask me its not jsut the single parents that have mesed up kids there are alos ones who came from loving families. its not always the single parents fault or the loving families fault sometimes it is but most times its the kids faullt. I have a good family minus the paternal one. and I am not messed up for not having him in my life. I am better off so while you all are bashing single parents . why not realize its not always for the best to have both in their lives.

February 20 2011 at 7:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

There is overwhelming evidence that children living with two parents are far less likely to grow up in poverty than are children living with single parents. And while single parents can and do great jobs raising their kids, most objective studies find that children do benefit from having a loving mom and dad in the home and will be better adjusted by a 'gender balance'. Further, traditional two parent families generally produce more safe and more stable neighborhoods and even the schools will be better when they serve more traditional families.

And I really think it is pathetic that if the government doesn't hold their hands, American adults are incapable of being responsible or doing the right thing. If Planned Parenthood can't raise private donations like other not for profit organizations do and has to depend on the taxpayer to do a job, we probably won't miss them all that much.

February 20 2011 at 6:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It is ridiculous to believe that a mom can teach a boy to be a man or a man to teach a girl to be a woman. We are OBVIOUSLY wired differently...

February 20 2011 at 6:45 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to luapmi2's comment

It's not how men and women, mothers and fathers, are wired.
It's what we are willing to learn and what we are willing to discipline for and how dedicated we are to making our children's potential come to fruition.

You probably want to make this ridiculous assertion to my six adult 'kids' so they can tell you forcefully just how off-base you are. [Three boys, three girls, two birth children and four foster children, who lost the father of their lives when the youngest (boys) were 9 and 11.] They are all successful at being adults, and they do just fine, appropriately men and women according to their genetic makeup.

I taught all the boys man-things from how to tie a tie and how NOT to treat a girl; I taught the girls woman-things as well. All of them, since these things are not male/female specific, by the time they left home, could cook a decent meal and clean up after themselves, could wash, dry and iron clothing and sew on buttons and make repairs [one of the boys got so proficient at the sewing machine that he made new upholstery for his car.] All of them could and did run the lawn mower and weedeater, wash the car and the house windows, change the car's oil and a tire; care for pets and where appropriate for siblings; write a thank-you letter and know how to behave in public. By the way, at least three of them also play a musical instrument with some competency, and all of them at least played some sports as children and youth.

All of them got a decent education and are self-supporting.
Those who have children are excellent parents themselves.

February 20 2011 at 7:09 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

It is in the best interest for children to have two parents. Studies have shown that children raised in homes with one parent (usually mothers) are financially worse off. Secondly single parents of "opposite sex" children for example young girls starting their periods, need a mother's assurance. Young boys who are approaching manhood and have self-esteem issues needs a father's guidance. Now to be fair they're are MANY children of single parents homes who grow up to become fine citizens. But more often than not it is harder socially and financially. Nature dictates that two opposites create a child, so that must mean that two parents are needed for different roles in the child's life and upbringing. Yes sometimes animals do not need two or even one, however we are not animals. We are Humankind or more to the point Mankind...MAN AND WO-MAN.

February 20 2011 at 6:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to cque8's comment

I agree with you.........while some animals and plants are known to have asexual reproductive capability, I have never heard this to be true in humans. There must be good reason for this, as nature generally provides a well designed plan.

February 20 2011 at 7:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Maybe in the best interests of the children....
However, many parents do not have a complementary partner.
Some are widowed, some have spouses on long-term deployment to a military post. Some are out on remote construction sites or oil rigs. Some have been deserted or abandoned though they would have stayed in a marital partnership if they'd had the choice.
Some mothers and fathers are serving time in prison; some are in mental institutions.
IF people such as yourself chose to be a supportive element in the lives of single parents and children rather than damning with faint praise those who are single parents, some of what any child would be the better for could be supplied whether or not there were another parent in the home.
Have you done, are you doing such support to children and parents in your town? In your religious community? Something that goes beyond the icky Lord/Lady Bountiful condescension that you exhibit in your post?

February 20 2011 at 7:15 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I'm surprised to see how eager people are to pounce on single parents. While I don't advocate for young uneducated women to get pregnant on purpose so they can get on welfare, I wouldn't condemn anyone who is divorced, widowed or separated from their kids' other parent, because those are not circumstances one asks or wishes for. Also, it's not the number of parents in the home that spells success for the children, but what each parent does for their children. I am a single mother myself, I'm not living off anyone's taxes, and my children are polite and do well in school. Why? Because I am an involved parent, that's why. Interestingly enough, since I also work at their school, I see a lot of bratty kids with -guess what!- 2 parents in the home!
And here's a thought: since half of all marriages in the US fail, half of you who are quick to condemn single parents will at one point join our ranks. See you then!

February 20 2011 at 4:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

God created man and woman to create a child, therfore it would take both parties to raise that child properly....Give that child a God fearing Dad and Mom with God's word to live by daily and he will know right from wrong. Too bad this is what's missing in our world.

February 20 2011 at 2:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

children need guidance and discipline thank god for grandparents

February 20 2011 at 2:08 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

The gov't has been trying to take the place of fathers for decades. It is finally catching up. Public school grad rates are horrible. Wonder why? The consequences of liberal govt policies invalidating and damaging the family structure.

February 20 2011 at 1:43 PM Report abuse +7 rate up rate down Reply

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