Are Single Parents Bad for Boys?

Photo by Keoni Cabral via Flickr
Photo by Keoni Cabral via Flickr

Are my boys doomed to failure because their father and I divorced?

Some, apparently, would say yes.

A 2012 New York Times article declared, “Study of Men’s Falling Income Cites Single Parents” and essentially blames men’s economic woes on the fact that just “63 percent of children lived in a household with two parents in 2010.”

The article offensively continues:

The single parents raising the rest of those children are predominantly female. And there is growing evidence that sons raised by single mothers “appear to fare particularly poorly”

Never mind the fact that families aren’t necessarily either “household with two parents” or “single female-headed.” Many, many children, including my own, straddle the messy in-between place. My kids don’t live in a household with two parents, but they sure as hell have two parents who love them and spend time with them.
Never mind the fact that studies such as this seem more than willing to heap the blame on single moms who, more likely than not, are probably struggling with a whole host of challenges, including poverty and lack of social support, which could also contribute to any perceived or recorded differences in their kids’ educational and vocational achievement.
Now, the actual study on which the article is based — Wayward Sons: The Emerging Gender Gap in Labor Markets & Education — is actually a very thoughtful look at the challenges that boys face today. The study highlights the growing disparities between boys and girls and men and women, as well as the fact that marriage no longer confers the same kind of economic benefit for women that it once did. While women once married for economic security, many of today’s educated, accomplished women see no need to latch onto a man, especially when so many men are struggling in the job market. The study even mentions the fact that high male incarceration rates due to tough drug policies have drastically reduced the number of eligible men in many neighborhoods.
It postulates that a lack of a consistent, positive male presence may harm and hinder boys’ development — and I agree.
But out of all the thoughtful things in the report, why oh why does the media have to seize on the single parent link? 
Because it’s easier than explaining all of the complexities that affect boys and women and families?
Probably. But we do a disservice to one another when we focus on only part of the problem.If our boys are ever again to have truly equal opportunity in this country, we need to acknowledge (and address) all of the factors that are stacked against them:
ALL of those factors, together, conspire to hold our boys back. Alone, none of them has the power to keep our boys from achieving great things. That’s why boys of single moms (and dads) can and do excel: the marital status of your parent really doesn’t matter all that much if you have a community of support around you. But when that community conspires against you — when boys are suspended for drawing pictures of guns, when boys go days without experiencing a single positive interaction with an adult male, when boys are forced to stay inside just so they can stay safe — the odds of success are no longer on your side.
So let’s stop focusing on the “single” part of the equation, and open our eyes to the myriad ways we can help the boys around us. Let’s work together for the good of all our sons.

The Building Boys Bulletin

The Building Boys Bulletin Newsletter gives you the facts, encouragement, and inspiration you need to help boys thrive. Written by Jennifer L.W. Fink, mom of four sons and author of Building Boys: Raising Great Guys in a World That Misunderstands Males, Building Boys Bulletin includes:

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“I learned a lot about helping boys thrive over the past 20+ years — most of it the hard way! I’m eager to share what I’ve learned to make your path a little easier.”   – Jennifer

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