In Defense of Single Moms Raising Boys

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Photo by H Zeng via Flickr

Many people are horrified at the thought of single moms raising boys.

In fact, some take it further and blame single moms for boys’ violent acts and declining academic achievement.

Suzanne Venker, author of The War on Men, recently wrote:

At home, boys of single mothers are largely responsible for themselves, which is why so many get into trouble. To the extent that single mothers are home, they may be very good at mothering. But they can’t be a father.

Indeed, father absence in America is rampant, and it’s the cause of almost every social ill our country faces.

She was writing in response to Raising Boys, a CBSN documentary that grapples with the issues facing families in this era of rapidly changing gender norms. And she certainly isn’t alone in her thinking. When the CBS Morning Show shared a segment about the documentary on YouTube, the comments section quickly filled up with people saying things like:

You misspelled “single moms outlaw masculinity”

and

Single mom’s war

and

MOST school shooters and men in gangs have 1 thing in common: having single moms. How often did the media say that only moms were needed to raise kids?

Single moms, in other words, are the cause of all that’s wrong with boys.

via GIPHY

Let’s get a few facts straight:

“Single mom” does not necessarily equal “fatherless home”

It’s the 21st century. The marital status of a child’s parent tells you nothing about the child’s home life or relationship with their father.

I was a single mom for eight years, but my boys’ dad continued to be an integral part of their lives. Their father and I share legal and physical custody of the children, which means that our boys spend 50% of the week at their dad’s house and 50% at mine. Actually, in practice, the boys move between the two homes pretty fluidly, and routinely spend time with me on days their “with dad” and with their dad on days their “with me.”

Our arrangement isn’t unusual; lots of kids continue to spend time with both parents after divorce, and lots of never-married parents also actively parent their children, even if they live in separate homes. As I wrote in Boys Need Dads But…, “the presumption that unmarried parents = uninvolved father is made all too frequently.” To assume that “single mom” equals “absent father” is to assume the worst about both the mother and father, without any evidence to support that assumption.

Fathers are important

Two parents are almost always better than one. There are logistical benefits: it’s easier to handle job and childcare and home responsibilities when two adults are handling the workload, rather than one. There are financial benefits; single parent families tend to be poorer than two-parent families because, well, two incomes is usually greater than one. Even if one parent doesn’t work,  the other may be able to bring home more money simply because another adult is available to tend to the children and house, freeing the other to devote more time and energy to work.

Dads also have a unique way of interacting with kids. Sure, their tendency to OK risk, rough-housing and rowdiness may be at least partially because our culture has encouraged such behavior in males, but in the end, it really doesn’t matter if dads’ communication and parenting style is a result of biology or socialization. Dads parent differently than moms, and kids benefit. Studies have shown that kids with involved fathers are less likely to experience behavioral problems, substance abuse, teen pregnancy or academic failure.

Being raised by a single mom will not turn a boy into a mass shooter 

Have you heard that most mass shooters come from fatherless homes? That oft-cited line — which is routinely trotted out after school shootings — implies that father absence (and being raised by exclusively by a woman) is the root cause of such violence. But the link between parents’ marital status, involvement and violence is much murkier than many social media posts would have you believe.

It is not true that “26 out of the 27 deadliest mass shooters can from fatherless homes.” That spurious stat has been cited by Venker and Warren Farrell, but it appears to be based on the 2015 Federalist article, which drew heavily from a CNN article. However, it’s since become apparent that a number of those shooters were raised by both a mother and father.

Other studies that have noted that violence in the United States has declined even as the number of single parent families has increased. The National Council on Family Relations says that “in the case of gun violence and so-called fatherlessness, the available evidence suggests either a very weak or a null relationship between the two.”

We can’t use parental marital status as an excuse to ignore boys’ challenges

Those who point a finger at single moms seem to assume that these women choose to raise children alone because they hate or devalue men. That may be true in some cases, but many women are raising children alone because a man opted out. Some are raising children alone because their beloved was killed in a car accident or war, or by a deadly disease. Some have chosen single motherhood because the right man hasn’t come along and their biological clock is ticking ever faster.

Does it even really matter why a woman is single? If a boy needs help, let’s help him, in spite of his parents’ marital status.

Furthermore, blaming single moms for boys’ problems suggests that marriage is the solution — and that’s not going to help most boys and parents in the here and now. What would help: Shared parenting laws. Affordable childcare. Safe communities. More recognition and understanding of boys’ unique needs. Replacing zero tolerance discipline policies with trauma-informed care and restorative justice.

Instead of pointing fingers, let’s address the very real issues facing boys and their families.

Check out my Tips for Single Moms Raising Boys.

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