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.