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What Is the Stigma Attached to Single Parenting?

by Emma Wells, studioD

In a culture where marriage and co-parenting are still considered the norm, single parents face quite a bit of inaccurate, stinging stigma about their choices and lifestyle. The reality is that the percentage of single-parent households in the US has risen from 19 percent in 1980 to 30 percent in 2009. Co-parenting is no longer the only way parenting is done, and the damaging stigma attached to single parents should be on its way out. What follow are some common myths about single parents.

“Single Parents Are/Were Irresponsible Teenagers”

One piece of stigma attached to single parents is the idea that most single parents are young, usually adolescents, with unplanned pregnancies resulting from reckless behavior. This stigma results from the myth that only reckless people have unplanned pregnancies, which is far from the truth, as people of any age or marital status can get pregnant without planning carefully. Restrictions on sex education can cause gaps in the knowledge of otherwise responsible teenagers, as well, since many programs can’t talk realistically to kids about contraception and pregnancy. It’s also important to remember that single parents aren’t always adolescents. Many more women are choosing to have children through sperm donors, or to adopt children and raise them alone. Single parents want to get away from the myth that they are irresponsible, since many of them are successfully raising children and working at the same time.

“Single Parents Are Lazy Welfare Leeches”

Another piece of stigma unfairly attached to single parents is the idea that they are lazy or that all single parents live off the welfare system. Charlie Rose, a high-achieving 2007 entrant of Plan II, the esteemed honors program at the University of Texas Austin, is living proof that this is not always the case. An article in the 2007 issue of “Affilia” featured Rose, who was a single adolescent parent and still managed to maintain high academic and extracurricular achievement during high school and college. She received assistance in the form of food stamps and Medicaid, but she worked especially hard to reverse the stereotype that single parents are lazy people, and to emphasize that social services and education are important for preventing teen pregnancy. Many single parents do work very hard, with or without the support of social welfare.

“Single Parents Have No Support System”

One piece of stigma often attached to single parents is the myth that because they are not in a co-parenting relationship or marriage, single parents are entirely on their own. While most single parents do the majority of the work raising their children, many also may have help from family, friends, or paid caregivers. A recent article in “The Gaurdian” states that many young single parents in the UK live with their own parents and receive care giving help from family members, a fact that is also true here in the U.S. Social programs also help to support single parents as they raise children and work. Rose was able to be a full-time student because her scholarships allowed her to afford daycare for her son. Though parents like Rose still advocate for more social support for single parents, and especially young single parents, there is often more than one person involved in raising a child.

“Children Raised by Single Parents Are at a Disadvantage”

Perhaps one of the most hurtful pieces of stigma surrounding single parents is the idea that their children are somehow at a disadvantage because they have one parent instead of two. A 2007 study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information found that children who experience disruptions in their family structure have more emotional and cognitive problems than children in stable one or two parent households. This means that the stability of the household is what actually affects child development, not the number of parents involved in the household. The myth that single parents can’t raise children as well as co-parents affects not only the self-esteem of single parents, but their children as well. The fact is that it’s the quality of parenting and the stability of family structure that helps keep children emotionally healthy, not the single or co-parent dynamic.

About the Author

Emma Wells has been writing professionally since 2004. She is also a writing instructor, editor and former elementary school teacher. She has a Master's degree in writing and a Bachelor of Arts in English and anthropology. Her creative work has been published in several small literary magazines.

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