The term “nuclear family,” used to describe a family made up of two parents and their children, was popularized in the U.S. beginning in the 1950s, following the end of the Second World War and in the midst of the baby boom that resulted – a time when there were more marriages and children, and fewer divorces. The nuclear family, with two parents who were loving and committed, quickly became regarded as the safest, best environment for children to be raised in.
But in more recent decades, we’ve seen not just an over 20% decline since 1970 in the number of American households that are nuclear families, but a reaction against the notion of the nuclear family. Instead, we now see more ridicule toward and advocating for the breakdown of the nuclear family.
And yet, mountains of evidence point to the pros of being raised in a healthy nuclear family: children will experience greater financial security, better emotional and cognitive development, consistency in care, better communication skills, will more likely have a healthy marriage as adults, and have better physical health. They’ll also be less likely to commit crimes.
However, with all of the talk about the clear advantages of the nuclear family, it’s too common for us to see the shaming of single parents come along with that. By advocating for something positive, single parenthood is unfairly and uncompassionately held up for all to shame. But the promotion of the nuclear family shouldn’t ever include the denigration of those who are single parents.
Not Everyone Chooses To Be a Single Parent
We aren’t privy to the gritty details of everyone’s lives; we never know exactly how someone ended up in a position like single parenting, but what we do know is that many people don’t choose it without giving it some thought – and many don’t even choose it all.
Those who’ve chosen, or not chosen, to raise a child on their own had their reasons for doing so.
Whether their spouse passed away, or a woman was left to raise her child by a father who decided not to be in the picture, or an abusive marriage led to a necessary divorce, which then led to a single parent doing their best to raise their children, we just don’t know what led someone to their circumstances.
Empathy and Context Matter
Seeing the oddly bitter attitudes and blatant mistruths against the nuclear family structure can easily lead some to lump anyone who doesn’t fall under the “nuclear family” category, from those who willingly ignore the data that backs up the benefits of the nuclear family to those who’ve found themselves raising their children alone, as part of the problem.
But it’s important to extend empathy toward the single parents out there, rather than treat them as immoral for not falling under what is a positive category that, yes, shouldn’t be done away with. Those who’ve chosen, or not chosen, to raise a child on their own had their reasons for doing so, and it’s essential to offer compassion and understanding for their circumstances – because context matters.
Committed Single Parents Deserve Support
The likelihood is that single parents are already working their hardest to hold down a job, feed and care for their children, pay the bills, and create a good life for their children. And on top of all of that, it’s not uncommon for single parents to struggle with guilt for what they aren’t able to give their children and to receive loaded comments from people who know nothing about their lives.
It’s not uncommon for single parents to struggle with guilt for what they aren’t able to give their children.
What good, committed single parents need more than anything – because, trust us, they’ve most likely been barraged with statistics about the nuclear family already – is support, assistance, and encouragement. However their single parenthood came about, they’ve chosen to raise their children – a decision that, when possible, should always be supported.
If you have a friend who’s a single mom, offer to watch her children from time to time so she can attend to whatever she feels is necessary (a nap, finishing chores, or even going to a bookstore by herself for a break). Offer words of encouragement for the role she’s taken on and a judgment-free zone where she can talk about what she’s really feeling. In a world that can so often lack compassion, single parents desperately need support.
It’s important to continue talking about the importance of the nuclear family, but we need to be considerate of the varying circumstances under which someone might become a single parent when we do so. The advocacy for something positive and good shouldn’t ever include shaming a single parent.
Don’t miss anything! Sign up for our weekly newsletter and get curated content weekly!