The Failing of Single Parents


When Jared Leto won an Oscar last night, I don’t think anyone was shocked.  However, his undeniably beautiful dedication to his single mother may have been surprising to some.  Why?  In our society, we have a habit of focusing on the damage that single-parented households are causing.  Research has been published that links single mothers to juvenile delinquency and lack of education.  Many articles state that single-parented households are the problem with the world today.

It is true that single parents are under-resourced.  Single-parented households struggle with supporting family activities on one income.  Similarly, families with a stay-at-home parent also struggle with one income.  However, there is a difference.  They have free childcare because someone is staying at home.  Even in the case of military families, there is an income for the family even when there is a parent missing from the family.  So, I get it.  It is harder for a single parent.  But we have to understand that the parent, who may have depleted resources, is not creating problems for us to clean up.

As single parenting grows with the changes in the definition of family, the children of single parents are reaching adulthood in higher numbers.  Therefore, we are seeing more and more adults, successful adults, who were raised by single parents.  President Obama, President Clinton, Jared Leto and Alicia Keys are examples of adults who were raised by single mothers specifically.  I have heard the justifications.  “These are the exceptions.”  “She had help from her parents, so he wasn’t really fatherless.”  But we will continue to see more and more success stories.  It is inevitable.

I will admit that these single parents are succeeding against the odds.  As I have been reminded this winter, all parents struggle with school closings when they have to go to work.  As a single parent, there is nobody to share the burden of school days.  When we need to catch up on sleep, the opportunity to hand the children off to another capable adult is not always available.  When we want a second opinion on a health issue, there may not be someone to give it.  When we want to explore career options, we may have to take risks because there is no second income or health care plan to fall back on.  When we have more than one child, we will have to balance the schedule of activities because you can’t get two children to two separate activities at the same time.  This is true unless you are lucky enough to have children with similar interests (not likely).

Although these struggles are frustrating, they have also made me more resilient, more patient and more likely to fight through challenging situations.  I don’t give up.  This is not because I want to prove to other adults that I can do it.  I want to prove to my children that I can do it.  If my children watch me overcome the single-parenting difficulties, they may be more likely to work to overcome their own challenges.  They will be less likely to see impossibilities in life.  So, I will keep working to make our family function well despite the odds.

We must start looking at single parents differently.  We must see them without the stigma.  We must learn that single parents are trying to make the best decisions for their children, like all parents.  We must accept them.  We must support them.  We must not try to fix them.

Single parents are not the reason our society is failing children.  Our society is failing our children because we are failing single parents.


25 thoughts on “The Failing of Single Parents

  1. What a great post!! I wanted to clap at the end! There are a lot more successful adults coming from single parent households than we care to admit and it is not twice as hard for single moms but much more if you include the stigma on the mom, the family as a unit and each child. We probably have more financial support here in Quebec with subsidized daycare for ALL families. So when some folks even here complain about single moms getting extra, they are wrong, society here is paying for all families. But I wish there was more…but mostly I wish the attitude changed. Even professionals…teachers, social workers often carry their prejudgements. I’ll stop here cos I could go on a rant. You said it so very well!!


      • I work with youth counsellors and I see it too. I want to hit them over the head sometimes. When my daughter gave birth, the SW at the hospital was asking her lots of questions of help at home etc etc I was just coming into the room with a cup of coffee…I could tell my daughter felt uncomfortable. I introduced myself to her and mentioned I worked at a Parent Helpline (at that time I did) and that I would be taking a month off to help my daughter and grandson and that the grandfather lived close by would be involved as well. She changed. She was ready to send in the troops to check in on my daughter every week or more.


      • Wow. That is too invasive. I have been asked questions by doctors about my resources too. I think it is helpful to offer resources, even give out pamphlets of available services, but that stuff should be done for ALL parents.


  2. I was raised by a single mom and am grateful for the role model she set for me. Life wasn’t always easy, but she loved me, cared for me, and showed me what it was like to work through all types of obstacles. Thanks for giving a shout out to single moms everywhere.


  3. I’m not a single parent, (i’m not even a parent!), but I want to thank you for this post. My family brought me up to believe that a home should have a mother and father and this influenced me greatly, even though I used to feel so much happier when my father wasn’t there, due to his abuse.
    I think of all the parents, single or otherwise who have so much to give and would never harm their children and the single parent negative label seems strange. We are quick to label those that don’t fit the ‘norm’, but how many times do we see through the deceit often held within the ‘norm’? It is sad that many people often believe that single parents need ‘fixing.’ I would imagine that most would have the strength to deal with more than most. I think you explained this topic so well through your own experience.


    • Thank you Rachel. Your comments about the norm are right on. Just because it is the norm, it does not make it right. I had the same experience with my father, and I have mentioned that in other posts, but I left it out of this one. Just because it is a two-parent household doesn’t mean there are rainbows and unicorns.


  4. Your piece about Leto’s speech is a breath of fresh air.

    There are many famous people who gave been raised by single mums (Adele, for example) and this fact is not just underreported in the media, it’s ignored completely.

    Did you see the thing I shared about Anne Hathaway on my facebook page? Again, Fantine was a single mum and this fact has been ignored. It’s high time we single mums stood up and made our voices heard. I am not ashamed, and society will not shame me.

    Keep up the great work , Elisabeth. You are making a lasting difference!


    • I read that quote from Gloria Steinem about Anne Hathaway that you posted. She is right on. The media can be just another exploiter for women in general, but definitely survivors of trauma. This is why I usually stay away from main stream media. In the interview I did recently, I made sure to tell the interviewer that I had more to share than just my story of trauma. And lucky for me, they listened. They don’t always.


  5. Like I have always believed, there is no right way or wrong way of doing anything. There is only a popular way.

    Single parenthood is not just tough, it is outright challenging. But what a child needs to grow up to be a loving, caring and responsible citizen of the world is, guidance and love from their family or supporters. If one parent can do that, that is just enough. Yes the pther maybe missed, but if the single parent can compensate with a double dose, then thats great.

    Lead on Lisa 🙂 (sorry I wanted to make that sound cool, hence the short nick)



    • Hi Sarah, Thank you for your writing too. It looks like you are doing the same. I particularly like your article on forgiveness. I really struggle with that word sometimes. Keep moving forward. Elisabeth


  6. Pingback: Jared Leto Reminds Us That Single Parents are Not Failing Children - The Good Men Project

  7. Thank you for this article. I am a single mom and work very hard at keeping my children on the right track. We still have rules and high expectations for our future. I have recently started a blog, in hopes to enlighten others.


  8. This is so true, and very well put.
    As one of my daughters says, ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ – often this is hard, but true. (Not always!).
    It’s about being the best we can possibly be, in whatever circumstances – no matter how ‘fair’ or not. There are so many people in the world who are in worse situations, and manage to bring up self reliant, capable children.
    Enjoying your blog as ever – thank you!
    Emma 🙂


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