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|The examples and perspective in this article may not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (April 2012)|
A single parent is a parent, not living with a spouse or partner, who has most of the day-to-day responsibilities in raising the child or children. A single parent is usually considered the primary caregiver, meaning the parent the children have residency with the majority of the time. If the parents are separated or divorced, children live with their custodial parent and have visitation or secondary residence with their noncustodial parent. In western society in general, following separation, a child will end up with the primary caregiver, usually the mother, and a secondary caregiver, usually the father.
Historically, death of a partner was a major cause of single parenting. Single parenting can result from separation, death, child abuse/neglect, or divorce of a couple with children. Custody battles, awarded by the court or rationalized in other terms, determine who the child will spend majority of their time with. This affects children in many ways, and counseling is suggested for them. A mother is typically the primary caregiver in a single parent family structure because of divorce or unplanned pregnancy.
Fathers have been the less common primary caregiver in the past, presumably due to the father working most of the day resulting in less bonding with the children, or possibly a young child needing to still nurse, or if childcare was necessary while the father works, the mother would be seen to be better suited while fathers works. This scenario has shifted in recent years, as many fathers are taking an active parental role as a stay-at-home dad as more mothers are in the workforce and being the sole provider to the family, resulting in fathers bonding and connecting more to their children.
Single parent adoption is sometimes an option for adults who want children but do not have a partner; another option could be to foster a child.
The demographics of single parenting show a general increase worldwide in children living in single parent homes. Single parenting has become an accepted norm in the United States and is an accepted trend found in multiple other countries. Debates concerning not only the single parents themselves, but also the children involved, support for the families in single parent households, and more have arisen. Although divorce is one of the main events that leads to single parenting, it may be that the majority of cases in the US are from pregnancy outside of wedlock.
Single parenthood has been common historically due to high parental mortality rate (due to disease, wars and maternal mortality). Historical estimates indicate that in French, English, or Spanish villages in the 17th and 18th centuries at least one-third of children lost one of their parents during childhood; in 19th century Milan about half of all children lost at least one parent by age 20; in 19th century China almost one-third of boys had lost one parent or both by age 15. Divorce was generally rare historically (although this depends by culture and era), and divorce especially became very difficult to obtain after the fall of the Roman Empire, in Medieval Europe, due to strong involvement of ecclesiastical courts in family life (though annulment and other forms of separation were more common).
In the United States, since the 1960s, there has been a marked increase in the number of children living with a single parent. The 1960 United States Census reported that 9% of children were dependent on a single parent, a number that has increased to 28% by the 2000 US Census. The spike was caused by an increase in births to unmarried women and by the increasing prevalence of divorces among couples. In 2010, 40.7% of births in the US were to unmarried women. In 2000, 11% of children were living with parents who had never been married, 15.6% of children lived with a divorced parent, and 1.2% lived with a parent who was widowed. The results of the 2010 United States Census showed that 27% of children live with one parent, consistent with the emerging trend noted in 2000.
About 16% of children worldwide live in a single-parent household. In 2006, 12.9 million families in the US were headed by a single parent, 80% of which were headed by a female. In 2003, 14% of all Australian households were single-parent families. In 2010, 34% of children born in Australia were born to unmarried women. In the United Kingdom, about 1 out of 4 families with dependent children are single-parent families, 8 to 11 percent of which have a male single-parent. UK poverty figures show that 52% of single parent families are below the Government-defined poverty line (after housing costs).
Countries located in Asia and the Middle East are the least likely to have children raised in single parent households. On the other hand, the 3 areas of the world that are most likely to have non-marital childbearing are Latin America, South Africa, and Sweden. Along with this, the areas where there are an extremely high number of children living in single parent homes include Africa, Europe, Latin America, North America, and Oceania. It has also been shown that children living in areas of South Africa are the very most likely to live with a single parent.
Overall, according to the New York Times how a single parent is defined is dependent on each individual country's culture. There are statistical graphs and charts to support previously mentioned concerns and topics. The following reference ensures statistics of other countries worldwide, rather than just the United States.
There is some debate among experts as to what the important component of the family structure is, centering around whether or not a complete family or the love and affection of the children's parents is more important. There are even some that argue that a single parent family is not even really a family. With respect to this, recent public policy debates have centered around whether or not government should give aid to single parent households, which some believe will reduce poverty and improve their situation, or instead focus on wider issues like protecting employment. Another issue is juvenile delinquency, specifically whether or not it is more prevalent in single parent households; if children do not live with the parent that is the same sex as them, they may not have anyone to model appropriate behavior. In addition, there is a debate on the behavioral effects of children with incarcerated parents, and how losing one or both parents to incarceration affects their academic performance and social well-being with others.
A variety of viewpoints exist and the debate is complicated by different interpretations of available research. The Institute for the Study of Civil Society reports that children of single parents, after controlling for other variables like family income, are more likely to have problems. It is encouraged that each parent respect the other, at least in the child's presence, and provide child support for the primary caregiver, when parents are not married or separated. The civil behavior among separated parents has a direct effect on how child copes with their situation; this is especially seen in younger children who do not yet understand their familial separation, requiring both parents to establish a limited friendship to support the upbringing of their child.
In the United States, 80.6% of single parents are mothers. Among this percentage of single mothers: 45% of single mothers are currently divorced or separated, 1.7% are widowed, 34% of single mothers never have been married.
The prevalence of single mothers as primary caregiver is a part of traditional parenting trends between mothers and fathers. In her work Marriages & Families Nijole V. Benokraitis, Ph.D. in sociology and conducted research with marriage and family and gender roles, defines mothers as the expressive role players, who provide the emotional support and nurturing that sustain the family unit. Because of this, she argues, mothers outshine fathers who tend to be stricter and more distant. She goes on to express that one of a woman's expressive roles is that of kin-keeper, an important communication link among family members. Children tend to drift towards preference of parent depending on how involved a particular parent is, and a common problem in society today are absentee fathers; therefore, children are more likely to show preference for their mothers, as they are more involved with them than the fathers.
Cultural definition of a mother's role also contribute to the preference of mother as primary caregiver. Children will lean more towards mothers because of their protective, nurturing characteristics, from a long established mother-child relationship from early on attachment beginning at birth and continuing as the child grows up. In addition to their traditional protective and nurturing role, single mothers have to play the role of family provider as well; since men are the breadwinners of the traditional family, in the absence of the father the mother must fulfill this role whilst also providing adequate parentage. Because of this dual role, in the United States, 80% of single mothers are employed of which 50% are full-time workers and 30% are part-time. Many employed single mothers rely on childcare facilities to care for their children while they are away at work. Linked to the rising prevalence of single parenting is the increasing quality of healthcare, and there have been findings of positive developmental effects with modern childcare. It's not uncommon that the mother will become actively involved with the childcare program as to compensate for leaving her children under the care of others. Working single mothers may also rely on the help from fictive kin, who provide for the children while the mother is at her job.
In the United States, 27% of single mothers live below the poverty line, as they lack the financial resources to support their children when the birth father is unresponsive. Although the public is sympathetic with low-wage single mothers, government benefits are fairly low. Many seek assistance through living with another adult, perhaps a relative, fictive kin, or significant other, and divorced mothers who re-marry have fewer financial struggles than unmarried single mothers, who cannot work for longer periods of time without shirking their child-caring responsibilities. Unmarried mothers are thus more likely to cohabit with another adult.
In the United States today, there are nearly 13.6 million single parents raising over 21 million children. Single fathers are far less common than single mothers, constituting 16% of single-parent families. According to Single Parent Magazine, the number of single fathers has increased by 60% in the last ten years, and is one of the fastest growing family situations in the United States. 60% of single fathers are divorced, by far the most common cause of this family situation. In addition, there is an increasing trend of men having children through surrogate mothers and raising them alone. While fathers are not normally seen as primary caregivers, statistics show that 90% of single-fathers are employed, and 72% have a full-time job.
"Father" has been variously defined throughout history as provider, dad, and even sire, carrying connotations of being demanding, disciplinary, and even cruel. Yet, as the writer Armstrong Williams remarks in the article "The Definition of Father," "...every father must take the time to be a dad as well as a friend, disciplinarian, shoulder to cry on, dance partner, coach, audience, adviser, listener, and so much more." Williams, the writer quoted above, goes on to say that he viewed his father as the driving force in his family and also someone who brought strength and compassion to his family. In addition to these qualities, the single father must take on the role of the mother, a role that extends deep into morality, devotion, and the ability to set up an educational yet nurturing environment. Thus it is the father's role to be a source of both resilience and strength, and love and compassion.
Little research has been done to suggest the hardships of the "single father as a caretaker" relationship; however, a great deal has been done on the hardships of a single-parent household. Single-parent households tend to find difficulty with the lack of help they receive. More often than not a single parent finds it difficult to find help because there is a lack of support, whether it be a second parent or other family members. This tends to put a strain on not only the parent but also the relationship between the parent and their child. Furthermore, dependency is a hardship that many parents find difficult to overcome. As the single parent becomes closer to their child, the child grows more and more dependent upon that parent. This dependency, while common, may reach far past childhood, damaging the child due to their lack of independence from their parent. "Social isolation of single parents might be a stress factor that they transmit to children. Another explanation may be that the parents do not have the time needed to support and supervise their children. This can have a negative impact on the child."
Just as above, it has been found that little 'specific' research to the positives of the father as a single parent has been done; however, there are various proven pros that accompany single parenting. One proven statistic about single fathers states that a single father tends to use more positive parenting techniques than a married father. As far as non-specific pros, a strong bond tends to be formed between parent and child in single-parenting situations, allowing for an increase in maturity and closeness in the household. Gender roles are also less likely to be enforced in a single parent home because the work and chores are more likely to be shared among all individuals rather than specifically a male or female.
Historically, death of a partner was a common cause of single parenting. Diseases and maternal death not infrequently resulted in a widower or widow responsible for children. At certain times wars might also deprive significant numbers of families of a parent.
Improvements in sanitation and maternal care have decreased mortality for those of reproductive age, making death a less common cause of single parenting.
In 2009, the overall divorce rate was around 9/1000 in the United States. It was also found that more influence came from the south, with the rates there being about 10.5/1000, as opposed to the north where it was around 7/1000. This resulted in about 1.5% (around 1 million) children living in the house of a recently divorced parent in the same year. Along with this, it has been shown that for the past 10 years or so, first marriages have a 50% chance of ending in divorce. And, for other marriages after a first divorce, the chance of another divorce increases. In 2003, a study showed that about 69% of children in American living in a household that was a different structure than the typical nuclear family. This was broken down into about 30% living with a stepparent, 23% living with a biological mother, 6% with grandparents as caregivers, 4% with a biological father, 4% with someone who was not a direct relative, and a small 1% living with a foster family.
Around the mid-1990s, there was a significant amount of single parents raising children, with 1.3 million single fathers and 7.6 million single mothers in the United States alone. However, many parents desire, or attempt, to get sole custody, which would make them a single parent, but are unsuccessful in the court process. There are many parents who may single parent, but do so without official custody, further biasing statistics.
Child custody in reference to divorce refers to which parent is allowed to make important decisions about the children involved. Physical custody refers to which parent the child lives with. Among divorced parents, "parallel parenting" refers to parenting after divorce in which each parent does so independently; this is most common. In comparison, cooperative parenting occurs when the parents involved in the child’s life work together around all involved parties' schedules and activities, and this is far less common. After a certain "crisis period," most children resume normal development; however, their future relationships are often affected, as they lack a model upon which to base a healthy long term relationship. Nonetheless, as adults children of divorcees cope better with change.
Children are affected by divorce in many different ways, varying by the circumstances and age of the child. Young children ages two to six are generally the most fearful of parental separation, and often feel abandoned or confused. Both boys and girls have the same amount of trouble coping, but often show this in different ways. Nonetheless this age group adapts best to their situations, as they are often too young to remember their non-custodial parent vividly. Children ages seven to twelve are much better at expressing emotions and accepting parentage breakage, but often distrust their parents, rely on outside help and support for encouragement, and may manifest social and academic problems. Adolescents cope the worst with divorce; they often struggle most with the change, and may even turn away from their family entirely, dealing with their situation on their own. They often have problems expressing feelings, similar to far younger children, and may have adjustment issues with long-term relationships due to these feelings.
There are several things that experts recommend to reduce the impact of a divorce on children. Leaving discussion of conflict to the court only is recommended, and parents still need to work together, regarding decisions and discipline, to give their children the best developmental support. Grounding both parent's in the child's life is also important, It's important to involve both parents equally, even when the child may only be living with one. Communication is key; a parent should never ignore what their child is saying, because they might be saying something that is very important to them. Parents need to make sure they communicate with both each other and their children, about the child's everyday life.
Some out of wedlock births are intended, but many are unintentional. Where out of wedlock births are accepted by society, they may result in single parenting. A partner may also leave as he or she may want to shirk responsibility of bringing up the child. This also may result in a negative impact on the child. Where they are not acceptable, they sometimes result in forced marriage, however such marriages fail more often than others.
In the United States, the rate of unintended pregnancy is higher among unmarried couples than among married ones. In 1990, 73% of births to unmarried women were unintended at the time of conception, compared to about 44% of births overall.
Mothers with unintended pregnancies, and their children are subject to numerous adverse health effects, including increased risk of violence and death, and the children are less likely to succeed in school and are more likely to live in poverty and be involved in crime.
Single parent adoptions have existed since the mid 19th century. Men were rarely considered as adoptive parents, and were considered far less desired. Often, children adopted by a single person were raised in pairs rather than alone, and many adoptions by lesbians and gay men were arranged as single parent adoptions. During the mid 19th century many state welfare officials made it difficult if not impossible for single persons to adopt, as agencies searched for "normal" families with married men and women. In 1965, the Los Angeles Bureau of Adoptions sought single African-Americans for African-American orphans for whom married families could not be found. In 1968, the Child Welfare League of America stated that married couples were preferred, but there were "exceptional circumstances" where single parent adoptions were permissible.
Not much has changed with the adoption process since the 1960s. However, today, many countries only allow women to adopt as a single parent, and many others only allow men to adopt boys.
Single parent adoptions are controversial. They are, however, still preferred over divorcees, as divorced parents are considered an unnecessary stress on the child. In one study, the interviewers asked children questions about their new lifestyle in a single-parent home. The interviewer found that when asked about fears, a high proportion of children feared illness or injury to the parent. When asked about happiness, half of the children talked about outings with their single adoptive parent. A single person wanting to adopt a child has to be mindful of the challenges they may face, and there are certain agencies that will not work with single adoptive parents at all. Single parents will typically only have their own income to live off of, and thus might not have a backup plan for potential children in case something happens to them. Traveling is also made more complex, as the child must either be left in someone else's care, or taken along.
Single parent adoption is legal in all 50 states, a relatively recent occurrence as California's State Department of Social Welfare was the first to permit it in the 1960s. Still, the process is arduous, and even next to impossible through some agencies. Adoption agencies have strict rules about what kinds of people they allow, and most are thorough in checking the adopter's background. An estimated 5-10% of all adoptions in the U.S. are by single persons.
Xin con or "asking for a child" was practiced in Vietnam by women veterans of the Vietnam War who had passed the customary age of marriage while engaged in the war. They asked men to help them conceive a child. In 1986 legitimacy of children of single mothers in Vietnam was recognized by the Marriage and Family Law.
Single parents have been depicted quite heavily in media. Below lists of examples.
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