Veering Away From the Traditional Family
A recent study has revealed that the United States has the highest rate of children living in single-parent households in the world. Shockingly, 23% of U.S. children live with just one parent and no other adults in their home, while the average in other countries is only 7%. Why?
Why is the Western world moving away from traditional family structures when studies clearly prove that the family structure is a critical factor in a child’s future economic success, as well as increasing the likelihood of boys landing in jail and girls ending up as pregnant teenagers?
A Harvard study showed that the single strongest predictor of a child’s economic fortune is the fraction of single parents in the area in which s/he was raised.
I grew up in a traditional family structure, and I am raising my children with my husband in the same convention. In fact, I have noticed that there are not many (ok; really, not any) single-parent families amongst my friends and family.
How can this be when the national percentage of children growing up in with one parent is so high, almost a quarter of the families in America?
Family Norms Are Changing
It is likely due to a couple of reasons. It may be, in part, due to the decrease in marriage rates and the increase in births outside of wedlock here in the U.S. But I think it’s more than that.
My friends and family are lucky enough to be well educated and to have grown up in middle or upper middle class, two-parent homes. I am not saying that children of single parents are stupid and poor by any means. But my family, and those around us, valued education and had the economic means to ensure that their children did, as well. In single-parent homes, it is less likely that the parents attended college, mostly because they weren’t able to due to their financial situation and family obligations, but also because their parent didn’t stress the importance of it; s/he probably did not grow up understanding the importance of it either.
For us, it was the norm to go to college. There wasn’t ever a question of what you did when you graduated high school… You went to college. It was only ever a question of which college you would attend.
Traditional v. Single-Parent Environments
My husband’s family is a good example of traditional versus single-parent environments. His parents were divorced when he was just two years old. He, his sister, and his brother lived primarily with his mother, who had not completed college, earned a low salary, and did not receive much child support because it was computed when my husband’s father was still in residency.
By contrast, his father, now a successful surgeon, married a nurse when my husband was young. They are still married, and they raised my husband’s three other siblings in a brand-new three-story plantation style home, close to their family ranch.
While my husband and his full siblings grew up practically in poverty with their mother, his half and stepsiblings lived a privileged existence with his father. Of those siblings, one is now an attorney, and the two others attended graduate school, despite their dyslexia. On the other hand, while my husband did complete college, his full sister never did, and his full brother finally did only at age 35, and with many interruptions.
It is hard to argue that growing up with many privileges and an expectation that college would be completed contributed to his half and stepsiblings’ successes, and the opposite meant more struggles for his full siblings. So why are parents veering away from traditional family structures?
Family Values Change With Society
There are several reasons. As more children grow up in single-parent homes, they are more likely than not to then raise their own children in such homes, because it is their “norm.” Also, it has become much more acceptable to be a parent who is divorced or was never married at all. As society’s views change on how families should be comprised, many people have become more liberal in their beliefs on family structures. Finally, as more opportunities develop for women in the workforce, many find that they don’t need a male breadwinner; they can fill that function themselves.
However, while these aren’t bad reasons for becoming a single parent, it is impossible to be everything for a little human. Having help is usually a good thing, and the traditional family unit, in which one parent serves chiefly as caregiver and one is principally the breadwinner allows both of the parents to focus on excelling at one role or the other. Thus, this can be beneficial if the parents have a healthy relationship with each another.
Families Come In All Different Sizes
In a perfect world, every child grows up with both a full-time mother and a full-time father. However, every family is different. Having an unhealthy or unhappy relationship (whether emotional, physical, or both) is far more detrimental to a child than demonstrating to your child the strength and self-respect to leave that unhealthiness and raise your child on your own.
While it would be nice if every child was raised by both loving parents, single parents do a great job in many families at playing both roles. It may be that both parents are caring and capable, but they just weren’t good together. Divorce restructures families, causing more single-parent families. But that doesn’t mean that these are sad, unhealthy environments. Many parents do a fantastic job of co-parenting; they just can’t live with each other.
The point is that families come in all different sizes. There is no right answer, just what is right for you and your family.
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About this week’s author, Lori Skipper.
Lori received her Juris Doctor with honors from the University of Florida Levin College of Law in December 2004, from which she graduated with honors. Proud to be a Florida Gator, Lori had also attended the UF as an undergraduate, graduating with honors with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology, as well as a Minor in Education. Choosing her law school focus early, as a student member of the Virgil B. Hawkins Civil Clinic, Lori assisted indigent clients with family law issues.