Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Modern Myths: No.2: Single parenthood

You probably guessed this one would be next on the list, but actually I think it's received a lot less coverage recently: the government seems to have finally remembered, albeit a little late in the day, that single parents have the vote too. They must think we have very short memories though.

Myth 2: As single parents, we are the lowest of the low, the single biggest cause of all the country's problems. We are usually feckless parents who care little about our children and only care about getting a free flat/house. Our pregnancies are usually unplanned and our children poorly cared for and badly behaved.

Civitas has led the think tank opposition to single-parenthood. Indeed, its entire 'Family' page is devoted to the running down of single-parent families. Lone mothers "May have more problems interacting with their children," some righteous researcher proclaims. I followed the reference to find the source of this supposition and was led to this paper on Parents, Parenting, and Family Breakdown by J H Tripp and M Cockett, but even having read this thoroughly I can find no evidence or even suggestion that single parenthood alone causes this effect. The Tripp and Cockett paper rightly confines itself to the effect of parental conflict on the children of divorce and separation which is a different matter entirely.

So much for social science. It seems to be common practice to say what you want to say, find someone else whose work vaguely agrees with yours, list theirs as your reference, call it truth and present it to politicians so they can use it for whatever purpose suits them best.

Various newspapers (Daily Mail being top of the list of course) have jumped on any studies which have found against single parenthood. Here's a smattering of such examples:

Schizophrenia much more likely in children of single parents - Sarah Hall, health correspondent, Wednesday November 22, 2006, The Guardian. Now who on earth funded that particular piece of research and why..? Well, despite the catchy title it turns out to be more about racial differences: "The researchers, who had been investigating the incidence of psychosis among different ethnic groups in south London, Nottingham and Bristol, found that African-Caribbean people were nine times more likely to develop schizophrenia than white Britons and eight times more likely to develop manic psychosis. Black Africans were six times more likely to develop schizophrenia and six times more likely to develop manic psychosis. ... Long-term separation was almost twice as common in African-Caribbean communities compared with white British, with 31% of African-Caribbean families separating compared with 18% of white British families." If it's true that African-Caribbean people are nine times more likely to develop schizophrenia than white Britons, there are surely many other possible reasons than single parenthood. The long-standing social history of African-Caribbean people suffering from the actions and decision of their counterpart white Brits being conveniently overlooked for the purposes of this propaganda.

Guardian again: Underage sex linked to single-parent families - James Meikle, health correspondent, Monday July 23, 2001. "The study, by the Family Matters Institute, involved questionnaires completed under supervision in 21 schools. It found that 18% of boys and 15% of girls had had sex. More than seven in 10 who had not had sex came from a family where parents were married to each other, compared with only half of the teenagers who were sexually active. ... The survey indicates that three in four parents of sexually active 13-year-old girls do not know their daughters are no longer virgins and that one in five young teenagers lost their virginity when they were drunk. A quarter of sexually active 13-year-olds have had four or more sexual partners." This cleverly implies, but does not actually say, that single parents are less aware of their children's sexual status. Again, it completely ignores other factors like post-separation parental conflict and the negative influence of stepfathers.

Here's just one example of the Daily Mail's long running campaign against single parenthood: Married parents are best, admits Blairite think tank By STEVE DOUGHTY & JAMES SLACK, 5th November 2006. "Yesterday the policy institute acknowledged that research clearly showed that 'children who grow up with both biological parents do better on a wide range of outcomes than children who grow up in a single-parent family'. It added: 'While this research may be instinctively difficult for those on the Left to accept, the British evidence seems to support it.'" The story refers to a paper by the Institute for Public Policy Research which in turn draws its findings from the Millennium Cohort Study, a survey by the Institute of Education in London of nearly 20,000 children born in 2000. "This, it said, 'has shown that children of cohabiting couples do worse than those of married couples.'"

It's like a game of Chinese Whispers. Do worse by whose standards? "The report said: 'Single parents, it has been shown, can be less emotionally supportive, have fewer rules, dispense harsher discipline, are often more inconsistent in dispensing discipline, provide less supervision, and engage in more conflict with their children.'" I've spent half the morning searching and can find no research to support these strangely unsubstantiated allegations.

"And yesterday - when the institute made its full report available - it said the breakdown of the traditional married family was at the root of this disturbed teenage behaviour. It said: 'Changes to families, such as more parents working, and rising rates of divorce and single parenthood, have undermined the ability of families to effectively socialise young people.'" [my emphasis].

Dig a little deeper and the news is not all bad. "However, children in single-mother families did not differ from those in two-parent families in the warmth and closeness of their relationships with their mothers and described more shared family activities," comment Judy Dunn and Kirby Deater-Deckard in their report, Children's Views of their Changing Families outlined here.

And you have to go across the Atlantic to Cornell University to find this piece by Susan Lang on Henry Ricciuti's paper: the National Longitudinal Survey of Labor Market Experience of Youth. "Being a single parent does not appear to have a negative effect on the behavior or educational performance of a mother's 12- and 13-year-old children. What mattered most according to the study, is a mother's education and ability level and, to a lesser extent, family income and quality of the home environment. He found consistent links between these maternal attributes and a child's school performance and behavior."

Recent government comments about single-parenthood have confined themselves to the financial points - single parents, of course, being more likely to be in receipt of some form of state benefits. You have to be very determined to find anything negative about single parenthood still available on Tony Blair's website. But I found this: "In the Dunedin Study in New Zealand, boys from single parent families were disproportionally likely to be convicted; 28% of violent offenders were from single parent families, compared with 17% of non-violent offenders and 9% of unconvicted boys (Henry et al., 1996). Based on analyses of four surveys (including the Cambridge Study), Morash and Rucker (1989) concluded that the combination of teenage child-bearing and a single-parent female-headed household was especially conducive to the development of offending in children." hidden in this cited paper on Childhood risk factors and risk-focused prevention by David Farrington, Professor of Psychological Criminology, University of Cambridge.

We are accused of being one of the main Drivers of Social Exclusion in a report by The Social Policy Research Unit (SPRU) at the University of York which was commissioned by the spookily-named Social Exclusion Unit.

Last year there was a huge raft of 'single parents: baaad' government website references and links, but these have all but disappeared now and I can hardly find any of them. I'm convinced this is a deliberate pre-election attempt to rescue some single parent votes. We are, after all, a fast-growing sector of the electorate.

I found (and then subsequently lost) an interesting quote amongst the research papers that made reference to a definite move towards a matriarchial society and I think this hits the nail on the head. The balance of power is changing, as predicted by the Mayans, (who reckoned the nature of power changes its essence from either male to female every two thousand years) and other ancient people.

This is evidenced by the recent feminist movement and the rise in numbers of female-headed households. Far from being a cause of concern, I think this is a normal and natural process which is only disruptive in the process of change itself.

My own experience of single-parenthood has been 100% positive, especially when compared to my experience of being in a marriage, in relationships and as a child growing up with one natural and one step-parent. My relationship with my children is closer, healthier, more harmonious and more 'in touch' when I'm not in a relationship with a man, than it is when I am. I think there are problems as a result of divorce and separation of parents but these are more to do with new relationships and the step-parent factor than the experience of single-parenting alone, in my opinion.

The best situation for a child in my experience, is unlimited contact with its non-resident natural parent on the child's terms: this relationship and right of the child to dictate the terms of contact being held sacrosanct by both parents. This has proved to be a much better arrangement than any other I've tried or seen in practice.

I know some marriages work well, but I still look (perhaps idealistically) back to a more tribal extended family arrangement that provides mothers with much more support from female relatives than our current nuclear families can hope to provide.


Blogger Rosie said...

This one is bound to make my blood boil, having been at the receiving end of ignorant prejudice for the last 20 years, although more recently, being the slightly more acceptable version (seeming to be co-habiting parent). Not only have we have been the scapegoats- the root of all evil in society, but grossly misunderstood and stigmatised.
and, no, I havent got a chip on my shoulder- I don't really care what people think of me any more.
I still have to put up with things like "Rosie's husband...." repeatedly in minutes of school meetings, even when I have mentioned being a single parent at that meeting!!!

Well the root of all this (married parents are better...etc) is prejudice. People have thought this for a long time- now it has been "proved" "scientifically" using "research" and "data" and "statistics".
Well, let me just point out that most of the conclusions drawn in these examples don't prove anything apart from the preconceptions of the people behind them. In other words, BOLLOCKS.
I shall soon be releasing my own paper entitled Black=white, Rosie B****, BSc (which is all the credentials you need to be called a "scientist" and publish research.)

And, yes, it's the ideal of the isolated nuclear family, as created by capitalism, that I have a problem with.

5:14 pm, November 29, 2006  
Blogger Allie said...

Hmm, yes, I think this one is particularly horrible. I think that most of the research done has an agenda about benefits - and scapegoating single mothers (especially young single mothers) for just about any social ill that the PTB choose to address.

I grew up with divorced parents but, interestingly, never thought of myself as a child of a single parent family (or broken home in 1970s lingo.) I think that was because I had regular contact with my dad but also because I was encouraged to think of our family as just 'what it is' and not to label it.

I think that it is outrageous that so many assumptions are made about families based on categories as clumsy as 'single parent'. We are also meant to believe that a range of family structures is somehow 'new'. This is another stupid myth. I have two aunts who were raised by a step-mother, father and step-grandmother. They referred to the women as 'Mummy X' or 'Mummy Y'. This was back in the 1930s. People have always lived in a range of family structures - just look at the effects of world wars.

This current obsession with 'single parent families' is just so much insulting bunkum. It is a horrible feeling when people make assumptions about your family based on stereotypes and if the government really think that 'every child matters' they should stop it with the constant drip of insults about some people's home and family structures.

6:08 pm, November 29, 2006  
Blogger Tim said...

I think the key mistake is the failure to grasp the simple fact that statistics and research about a group tell you little or nothing about individual members of that group.

Much better to deal with individuals as individuals rather than as members of some group or other.

11:52 pm, November 29, 2006  
Blogger Tim said...

However, doesn't it absolutely makes a trip to France when you see a Frenchman with a hooped jersey, Gauloise firmly wedged in mouth, beret on head, pedalling along on his bicycle, with the strings of onions hooked over the handlebars?

So, I am very sorry, Gill, but I will just have to hold on to my picture of you, sat there in Yorkshire (whippet asleep on t' floor in front of t' open fire, coal in t' bath), a single mother (wearing an Adidas shell suit, a day's worth of Special Brew cans littering the table, used hypodermics littering the floor), home educating your children (New Age wind chimes tinkling, tie dyed t shirt, John Lennon glasses, om).


12:14 am, November 30, 2006  
Blogger Carlotta said...

Wow, Gill, Thanks so much for all that...and I go with Tim all the way. There seems to me to be no point in applying generalisations to individual situations.

Having said that, would be very curious to know if one could counter any of their stats with statistics that show that children suffer in families that stay together, but are very unhappy.

I agree also with your tribal suggestion. We did the Center Parks thing a couple of years ago with a bunch of other HE families, staying in chalets separated by about 30 yards and it was SO easy: the easiest week I've ever had when living with a toddler. It really seemed to me to bear out the truth of the sentiment in your last paragraph.
No, Tim has it imo

6:42 am, November 30, 2006  
Blogger Gill said...

Rosie, I was amazed at the change in people's attitudes when my ex-husband and I finally, officially split. Keeping the marriage going had been much harder work and more isolating for me and personally I was relieved about the split. But overnight I was treated like a different person, especially by the children's schoolteachers at the time. It had to be seen to be believed!

Then again, my nextdoor neighbour's atttude changes when there's a man around here. Suddenly I'm worth treating with respect whereas when I'm obviously a single mum I'm not, regardless of what kind of man he might be and his relationship with the children. I really don't get it, but obviously the kind of establishment-fuelled prejudice listed in the blog post plays a part. It really does affect how some people think and behave.

I agree Allie, it's down to finances. Good point about the history of other kinds of families! The Every Child Matters tag is just a joke isn't it? Given all this background.

Tim, I think the key point is their research and statistics are bunkum! I couldn't verify any of them, not even by checking out other research and statistics they claim to be drawn from! It's a real hall of mirrors, in which, for e.g. children going through troublesome marriage breakdown in their families and showing inevitable behaviour problems because of it, become 'badly behaved because they're brought up by single parents'! There is a lot of fudging and downright fibbing going on, by people who should have the integrity to know better, but sadly don't.

LOL did I ever blog about the day Baz and I went to Richmond? We'd just been conversing in the car about how those Yorkshire stereotypes aren't at all true - and as we walked down an old cobbled backstreet, out came three old guys in flat hats with whippets and racing pigeons!

But the spin machine seeks to manipulate the stereotypes nowadays to suit its purpose IMO. For example, they're working towards the single parenting and the HEing image being one and the same I think. John Lennon shades might imply I had at least half a brain and a smattering of moral integrity!

Hi Carlotta. Do you know, I'd hate to do that kind of research! I'm sure some children in those situations are far more unhappy but I couldn't make an issue out of that just to prove the PTB wrong about single parent families. No, we'll just carry on pointing out the inconsistencies of their arguments and living well and happily - that in itself is so unusual in these sad times that we do draw quite a bit of attention to ourselves!

The Centreparcs way of living is brilliant isn't it? It's years since we've been but I remember coming away every time thinking, normal life should be like this.

8:58 am, November 30, 2006  
Blogger Louise said...

I for one absolutely love being a single parent and am not sure I could co-parent.
But I am aware of societies attitudes to sp's, and it just 'aint fair. There are many kids growing up unhappily in two parent families, hell I was one and would have loved just my Mum to be there.
I also get infuriated when people call me MRS!! I AM NOT nor ever will be a MRS and the assumption that I am because I have children bloody riles me!!!

9:15 am, November 30, 2006  
Blogger Gill said...

LOL Lou, I use the Mrs tag when it suits me, it doesn't annoy me that much. You don't have to be married to use it and I reckon if certain people are daft enough to confer a higher status on someone called 'Mrs' then they deserve to be misled! (pardon the pun ^^ )

12:24 pm, November 30, 2006  
Blogger Rosie said...

yes, I agree with most of whats been said (except i would say a "staffie" is now the "dog of choice").
And, yes, Lou, after 10 years of trying, and failing to make co-habiting parenthood work, (in my small scale, long-term, controlled study!) I would say that I prefer being a single parent. Why do people have a problem with this?
And I use the title "Ms" because a man is "Mr" whether they're married or not. However, it probably says "obstinate feminist" to most people! This is so not fair and anachronistic. I mean we have "firefighters" and all sorts of job descriptions that don't have "man" at the end. But when you're a parent and you're not "Mrs" its a whole lot of fumbling and embarrassing tumbleweed.

5:39 pm, November 30, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are they likely to bother rich single parents who are not on benefits less?

10:11 pm, November 30, 2006  
Blogger Gill said...

Who, Leo, the people making the assumptions about us? I don't think so. Rich people have self esteem to damage too, don't they?

5:30 am, December 02, 2006  

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