In America, in 2011, 3000 people were asked whether single parenting was a bad thing for society. 99% said it was. Despite more tolerant trends towards family setups outside the nuclear family, for example unmarried parents, gay couples and childless couples, single parents, and particularly single mothers, are at the forefront of a societal campaign of discrimination and prejudice that not only affects them but can adversely affect their children. Importantly though the tide of such judgement and bias is not just an issue in the USA but felt across the globe and is just as prevalent in Boston, UK as it is in Boston, USA and elsewhere.
The stereotypical picture of a single mother on benefits, scrounging scraps of food, turning their children out without care and attention, and the child being a “drain on the system”, bad at school, even a school failure and the ramifications of that are all part of a generalized picture that is held in modern society which points the finger often without a second thought for a critical evaluation of each individual case. For example, a recent letter from a school teacher to a single mother revealed that the teacher directly correlated a child’s inability to undertake a piece of homework with the possibility that the ‘home situation’ was the cause despite the fact, which was known to the teacher, that the child in question had been seriously ill and not in class to have the resources available to attempt the said homework rather there being any adverse home condition. Similar examples are widespread with discrimination and prejudice against single parents topping many agendas.
A recent postgraduate study on the attitudes that people have towards single parents and other areas of the non-traditional family found that similar discriminatory and prejudicial assumptions were implicit in the minds of many questioned with suppositions being made almost at random as to the dysfunctional parenting styles of single parents. A carte blanche almost blanket mind-set appears to be dominant in society and yet a similar critique of functionality is often not afforded to those who are part of the traditional, nuclear family set up and yet who may well not be immune to the plights that have a commonality across the board.
Still, single parent families are a reality that are not going to go away and at the heart of many are individuals raising their children to become functioning, contributing and stable adults. President Barrack Obama is, whether you like his policies or not, one such person who was raised by a single mother. Additionally, in her book, ‘Raising Boys without Men’, Peggy Drexler, PhD, who herself is married with two children, undertook a study that compared boys from female-headed households with boys from traditional families. Her conclusions showed that boys raised without fathers can be “socially savvy, generous, caring communicators, whilst still remaining “boyish” – passionate about sports and adept at roughhousing with friends.”
What then can be done to establish and promote broader perceptions and deeper insights into the reality of parenting as a single parent or not. The postgraduate study is quoted as finding that those who hold such biased beliefs often “tend to be uneducated, prejudiced and unable to cope with the notion that anyone who has a different life to their own or what they see as a ‘traditional household’ of a male and a female with children.” Narrow spectrums of observation clearly do not help, but is this discrimination and prejudice as simple as that or does it come from a deeper centre predicated by fear and lack of understanding?
A married mother we know who runs a pre-school activity group once said that she was fed up with her children being surrounded by single mothers at school. “I just told him to look the other way” she once said, “to shut his eyes and not look at them” and yet she quite happily makes a business out of delivering classes to single mothers with their babies and toddlers! But what is maybe more interesting is that she also admitted to being paralysed with fear that her husband would leave her one day because he had come from a single parent family and she hated the idea that “lightening would strike twice” despite the outward appearance that they were a united and secure traditional family unit. Her words are very illuminating though and it has to be questioned how much fear of the unknown plays a part in discriminating against the single parent or how much past experience predicates future bias. How modern is society essentially in terms of accepting divorce and separation? How much does society really accept the view that when marriage falls apart that it is sometimes better for everyone, even the children, for the parents to split? How able is society to adapt from the opinions held at the beginning of the last century over the sanctity of marriage and the transition to the modern day arena of unmarried unions and single parenthood? How much is society influenced by the media? How much can we extrapolate from statistics with disregard for individual situations? How much do the answers to these questions feed the answers to the questions about discrimination and prejudice in raising children in single parent households?
The reality is that each individual is responsible for his/her own prejudices and should take responsibility for the grounds on which they stand. Society surely is a collective voice where individual voices amalgamate to produce the whole. Isn’t the core, central issue more down to individual references and the need for each of us to challenge our preconceived perceptions? Maybe when each member of society challenges their mind-sets, with elements of respect and responsibility, maybe then inclusivity and a deeper understanding will start to emerge on all issues surrounding discrimination and prejudice.
Once your mind-set changes, everything on the outside will change along with it.
Drexler, P and Ross, L. (2005), Raising Boys without Men, Emmaus, PA, Rodale Books