Yesterday morning a friend drew my attention to an article in the Daily Mail… don’t ask me what my friend was doing reading the Daily Mail; I will never know. She’s pregnant. We’ll blame it on Baby Brain and say no more of it.
The article was entitled, Fifth of UK Families has just one parent: Britain has worst record in Western Europe and went on to state that we in the UK have a higher proportion of single parent families than any other country in Western Europe, with almost one in five British families headed by a single parent.
Apparently, this is a terrible thing. How awful, that children should be growing up in single parent families. 62 per-cent of 16-year-olds are more likely to own a smartphone than live with both parents – an odd comparison, I thought. One researcher was quoted as saying it was “deplorable that we now find ourselves in the same situation as Eastern European Countries.”
Even more… er… interesting, shall we say, apparently these figures come “at a time of deepening controversy over the role of co-habitation in generating single parent families.”
I’m not sure I was necessarily aware of any controversy in the first place, much less its having deepened lately!
Basically, this article is saying “how awful that we have so many single parents; it’s because people are co-habiting rather than getting married, and then they just split up and go their separate ways…”
… as opposed to being trapped in a marriage they cannot afford to legally divorce themselves from.
I resent the insinuation that single parent families are a sign of a breakdown of society, that children being raised by a lone parent are somehow not as good or worthy as those in two-parent households.
Yes, in an ideal world, a child would grow up with both parents playing an active role in their life. This world is not ideal, though. Should we hold the two-parent family model above all other options, even if the parents are no longer in love? I would rather S had two parents to whom she could turn for love and support… but when the second parent is not up to the job, or is simply not there, what then? Is a second parent the ultimate ideal, regardless of all other considerations?
What if the parents have grown to hate each other, and bicker and fight all the time? Is that preferable to one of the parents moving out of the family home?
What if one of the parents is a drug addict or alcoholic, and indulges in these addictions in front of the child? Better that, than the child live only with the non-addicted parent?
What if one of the parents is physically or emotionally abusive – of the other parent, or of the child? At least there are two adults to turn up at parents’ evening, hey?
Yes, of course, there are people out there who have affairs and whatever else – but for the majority of parents, becoming a lone parent is not a decision anyone would take lightly. It is a decision that may come at the cost of financial security or other more worrying concerns – but with the child’s best interests at heart.
According to statistics (much like the Bible, you can make them say whatever you fancy), children from single parent families fare worse in education and such like… perhaps this has more to do with the poverty and limitations faced by lone parent families? Perhaps when a single parent is too busy trying to scrape together enough food to put a meal on the table for their children, they’re not concentrating so much on the Maths homework.
Trying to fit a job around school runs is almost impossible these days, especially when you consider that Reception classes now begin with weeks of half-days and all sorts of nonsense. If a lone parent has a job, how do they get their child to and from school? Take unpaid leave? Then where does the food come from? Who pays for the heating? What do you do during school holidays?
When the ideal of a white picket fence and two point four children cannot be upheld, surely the best option is the happiness, safety and stability of any children involved?
Many years ago, in my grandparents’ era, people got married and that was that. He beats you? So what. What goes on behind your front door is nobody else’s business. He’s an alcoholic? Make do with whatever money he gives you for food, and be done with it. She beats the children? So what, they’re her children. Isn’t it better that we have all moved forward to a position where we can remove ourselves from poisonous situations like these, and give our children a chance of a happy childhood and stable foundation for the future?
Furthermore, it is worth noting that the horse has very much bolted on this one. Single parent families exist; millions of children are growing up with one parent. There’s not much we can do to change that, other than forced marriages of all single parents (oh cripes, don’t give the Tories any ideas!). We single parents are in the position we are in. I can’t suddenly not be a single parent any more. S can’t just be un-born. She is here. We are here. The money and effort put into researching over-arching statistics about single parent families would surely be much better spent in helping all families, lone parent or otherwise, to do the best job they can of raising their children.
An argument I hear a lot is the old chestnut “you got pregnant, you had the baby, it’s your responsibility.” And yes, of course, S is one hundred per cent my responsibility. But to refuse to help single parents because of a facile, “you made your bed; you lie in it” argument, is frankly ridiculous. By stigmatising single parents and their children, we punish children for something that cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be their fault. Children with two, one, or no parents, are still children. They still need food and comfort and stability and to be given the best possible start in life.
When you bemoan the increasing number of lone parent families in this country, to me you are bemoaning my daughter’s very existence. You are complaining that I took the decision to keep her safe and happy – as if I should have fought to stay with someone who beats and abuses his children, encouraging them to wrestle on the kitchen floor for his drunken amusement. You are denigrating the hard work and grit put in by charity workers and shelter workers all over this country, to keep victims of abuse safe from harm. You are putting “the sanctity of marriage” high above the rights of any individual, adult or child, to be happy, safe, secure.
To me, it would be interesting to compare the “epidemic” rates of single parent families across Europe, with those of spousal abuse, domestic violence, child abuse. It would be interesting to look more closely than the bare face of the statistics, and see whether those people behind the picket fences are happy, their children well cared for, their lives as perfect as the Daily Mail would have us believe.
Now, go and wash your hands, lest you catch Single-Parent-itis off this blog and become the next to fall to this awful epidemic.