Single-Parent Families on the Rise
“Many nights I would pray to God in tears and say to him: ‘I don’t know what to do tomorrow.’”—GLORIA, A SINGLE MOTHER OF THREE.
SINGLE-PARENT families have become a permanent and noticeable feature in many societies today.* As the traditional structure of husband, wife, and children gives way to other forms of family life, demographers and sociologists in many parts of the world are asking why.
Sociology professors Simon Duncan and Rosalind Edwards note that “long-term changes are taking place in family patterns and gender relations.” Why? Some observers state that this is the result of people’s choices about how they live their lives, within a context of economic, cultural, and social change.
Let us consider some of these changes, as well as the choices being made. Pressures of life are a major factor affecting people’s lives. The outside world intrudes on their every waking hour. Time formerly spent on family activities is now spent on the Internet, in front of the TV, on the phone, in the car, on the run.
Economic pressures also take a toll. Modern conveniences come at a cost, so more parents are working. Being part of a mobile society has led many family members to live and work far away from the support system of their extended family and in some cases even far away from their spouse. In many lands popular culture is not helping either, as it often focuses on tearing down institutions that provide a sense of stability, such as marriage and family.*
The New Single Mother
Today’s single mother does not necessarily fit the old stereotype of an unwed teen living on welfare. Unwed motherhood has lost much of its stigma and has even been glamorized by celebrity role models. In addition, many women are better educated and better able to support themselves—so marriage is no longer a financial prerequisite to motherhood.
Some single mothers, especially adult children of divorced parents, remain single because they do not want to make their offspring suffer the pain of watching a parent leave. Other women become single mothers as a result of abandonment, not by choice. “Lone parenthood is not generally a selfish and wilful choice,” states the Joseph Rowntree Foundation of Britain, “and children in lone-parent families are not neglected and undisciplined.”
Still, the prevalence of single-parent families is a matter of concern because single parents and their children may suffer emotional stress, economic need, and social disadvantages. Some people may wonder if it is possible for one parent to raise children successfully. What are some of the special challenges facing single-parent families? How can a Christian successfully meet the challenge of raising children as a single parent?
Sociologists point out that the number of single mothers ‘overwhelmingly outweighs the number of single fathers.’ Hence, these articles deal primarily with single mothers. However, the principles discussed apply equally to single fathers.
For a detailed discussion of the general challenges of motherhood, see “Motherhood—Does It Take a Superwoman?” in the April 8, 2002, issue of Awake!
[Box on page 4]
Various terms are used around the world to describe mothers who raise children alone. In some countries “single mother” is used to refer to never-married mothers, while in other lands “lone mother” is a term that encompasses a whole range of mothers who are bringing up children without a male partner in their household. Such mothers may be divorced, separated, or widowed, or they may never have been married.
In this series of articles, we use the terms “single parent” and “single mother” to refer to parents raising children without a spouse.
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SINGLE PARENTHOOD—A TREND IN MANY LANDS
United States: “The number of single mothers increased between 1970 and 2000, from 3 million to 10 million; over the same time frame, the number of single fathers increased also, from 393,000 to 2 million.”—U.S. Census Bureau.
Mexico: According to the newspaper La Jornada, teenage mothers account for about 27 percent of the total number of pregnancies in the country.
Ireland: The rate of single-parent households increased from 5.7 percent in 1981 to 7.9 percent in 1991. “Marital breakdown remains a very important route into single motherhood.”—Single Mothers in an International Context, 1997.
Britain: “The proportion of families headed by a single parent has topped 25 per cent for the first time, reflecting a huge growth in the number of never-married mothers and a significant rise in the divorce rate over the past 30 years.”—The Times, London, March 2, 2000.
France: “Since the late 1970s, the proportion of single-parent families has increased by more than 50 per cent.”—Single Mothers in an International Context, 1997.
Germany: “The number of single parents has doubled in the past two decades. Nearly all single-parent families . . . are headed by the mother.”—Single Mothers in an International Context, 1997.
Greece: “Since 1980, the number of unwed mothers in [Greece] has increased by 29.8 percent. And according to data provided by the European Union, in 1997 the percentage of children born out of wedlock was 3.3 percent, while in 1980 it was only 1.1 percent.”—Ta Nea newspaper, Athens, September 4, 1998.
Japan: ‘Lone-mother families have been on the increase since the 1970’s.’ In 1997, 17 percent of all households were headed by single mothers.—Single Mothers in an International Context, 1997; The World’s Women 2000: Trends and Statistics.
Australia: Nearly 1 in 4 children live with only one of their biological parents. This is usually the result of a breakdown in the parents’ marriage or relationship. It has been projected that one-parent families will increase between 30 percent and 66 percent over a 25-year period.—Australian Bureau of Statistics.