What Is the Stigma Attached to Single Parenting?

By Laura Agadoni
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Though single parenting refers to a single mother, single father, grandparent, sibling, other family member or friend raising a child, the groups most likely to be stigmatized by society and two-parent households are single mothers and fathers. Some people believe that these single parents could have tried harder to stay together for the sake of the children. The stigma against these single parents is perpetuated by the media, who blame single parents for much of society’s social problems, says Janet Weisensel, a social worker with Golisano Children’s Hospital at the University of Rochester Medical Center. Single parents are stigmatized based on half-truths, according to Weisensel.

Worse Financial Situation

People often stigmatize single parents because they believe single parents create a worse financial situation for their children. A single parent typically relies on one income source as opposed to two-parent households, which often have two income earners. Some single parents go on welfare. According to a 2010 study by the U.S. Census Bureau reported in PolicyMic, about 27 percent of single-parent households lived in poverty, compared to about 6 percent of married households. Many single parents, however, do not live in poverty. Others adjust to their lower income by using community resources such as shopping at thrift stores, using food banks and being thriftier in general, says Weisensel.

Kids With Behavior Problems

Some kids display behavior problems and suffer emotionally when they are raised in a single-parent home, which is a reason for the single-parent stigma. Researchers from the Office for National Statistics in the United Kingdom determined that children from single-parent families are more likely to experience anxiety, depression and conduct disorders, according to an October 2008 issue of “The Telegraph.” The emotional problems are exacerbated when children live in a new family structure with stepparents and stepchildren. However, being in a single-parent home is not a recipe for behavior deficits. Many children in single-parent households are happy, have an active social life and are involved in activities in and away from school.

Dating Issues

It’s the goal of many single parents not to remain single for long, but dating when you are raising children often causes raised eyebrows. Children sometimes feel neglected and jealous if parents devote most of their spare time to the new love interest. Children can also feel confused regarding a new person in their parents’ lives. But single parents can date in a responsible manner. They need to keep the new boyfriend or girlfriend at “arm’s length” until they know the relationship will be a long-term one, according to Dr. Phil McGraw of the “Dr. Phil” television show. It’s then OK for single parents to introduce their children to the new person.

It’s Not the Norm

Many people stigmatize single parents because they believe the nuclear family is the norm and that single parents are an aberration. However, the American Psychological Association says that single-parent families are more common than two-parent families. Being a single parent can be more difficult, according to the APA, but Weisensel says that single parents can be just as effective in raising a healthy child as any other family structure.