Single Fathers/Single Mothers–Sameness and Difference

I’m sorry to have been so long away.  I’ve got very little internet access and not all that much time, either.   But things should improve.   Though this must get to sound like a broken record–I know there are comments but I cannot respond to them right now.  (In fact, I cannot even read them–but I know they are there.)  Patience?  Maybe everyone is off having a lazy time doing summer things?  One can hope.

So there’s a story I’ve been meaning to comment about for a while now and because it is the only thing I’ve got to look at here (no current events) this is the moment.   It’s off of NPR a couple of weeks back.   The idea here is just as there has been a significant movement of single mothers by choice, so there is an emerging movement of single fathers by choice.

It’s interesting to think about single fathers.  It’s not exactly that they’ve been invisible.  Indeed, they were the stuff of sitcoms in my own childhood:  The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, say.   And wasn’t that the plot of Family Affair, too?  (I cannot recall and I cannot look it up.)   They mostly feature fairly inept men who are widowed and left to look after children in what is clearly a woman’s world.   Indeed, I think it is the fish-out-of-water aspect of them that is supposed to (and in fairness, often does) make them funny.  (Though it isn’t directly on point, I cannot resist linking to the New Yorker cover from this year’s Mother’s Day–another take on the sex-segregated world of parenting.)

As I say, these iconic single fathers were not single fathers by choice–their single parenthood was thrust upon them.  But just as there are women who want to be parents and don’t want to wait for the perfect partner (be that partner same or different sex) so there are men in the same position.   And as the world has eased up on gender roles a bit, and as adoption rules have broadened, and as ART has become more widely available, these men can become fathers.

Now surely the challenges facing any single father are different in important ways from those facing a single mother.    Go back to the NPR story and note the reaction of the toll collector.  This is the sort of thing men raising children without mothers (whether they are single dads or coupled gay male dads) face all the time.   It’s that presumption about female competence and its counterpart, male ineptitude.   It’s all part of that world of gendered parenting.

All of which makes me think about the different ways you can array parents to compare/contrast.  You could, for example, talk about how men raising children without women are different from women raising children without men.   But you could just as well talk about how those two groups are similar compared to those in a male/female parent couple.   Similarly, you could talk about how single fathers are different from single mothers, but you could also think about the ways in which single parents are different from paired parents.   And how single parents by choice are different from single parents by happenstance.

Clearly all of this is important when you try to do social science studies in this area.   If you’ve grouped all single parents together then you’ve got a mishmash of single mothers by choice, single fathers by happenstance and so on.   Each group has distinguishing features, I’m sure.  (Is this what regression analysis is supposed to control for.)

But even in more casual considerations it’s useful to think about the sameness and the difference.  It seems to me that single fathers by choice are courageous and determined in ways similar to those that single mothers by choice are and perhaps a few more.   Think of all the social currents they swim against.

So there’s something to ponder while I get to those comments and get back into a groove.   That’s it for today, though.




5 responses to “Single Fathers/Single Mothers–Sameness and Difference

  1. I do hope that nobody decides to study this and waste research grant funding on it. Everyone is different results may vary. or Proceed at your own risk – results not typical. Its going to depend upon the guy and the kid.

    Being a single father does not mean being the sole and only caregiver of ones children; it means an unmarried male with offspring. He has no joint income with the other parent of his child. They “file separate”. It all goes back to taxes. Boring ho hum but merging property is all marriage is about so separate property is all non marriage is about. So being a single father by choice can mean he’s chosen not to marry the mother. Where as with women it implies she chose not to abort despite the lack of dedication by the father and plus it may mean she chose not to marry. Most single mothers by choice did not also choose to find a man to father their children who would abandon them.

    People that conceive offspring with donors always have their children out of wedlock – their kids always have unmarried parents one of them is estranged.

  2. I agree with some of what you say but not all. One point you’ve raise, it seems to me, is that “single” can have different meanings. “Single” can mean “unmarried.” In that sense a child who lives with two unmarried parents may be said to be the child of single parents. But you’d say “parents” in the plural, which in itself is interesting.

    Single can also mean not only unmarried but also out on your own–by yourself–not part of any couple–married or unmarried. That’s the sense in which I think the article here meant to use it and it’s the phenomena I meant to comment on.

    This dual meaning of single does create lots of confusion and i think i was sloppy about it. You see studies sometimes of single parents that include unmarried paired parents as well as lone or sole parents. These studies might well be valid for some purposes, but they are sometimes muddled by the inclusion of constellations of parenting that are quite dissimilar.

    in any event, I mean to focus on sole or lone parents–individuals–here men–who have sole legal responsibility for their children. There is no other legal parent. The description of “sole” or “lone” parent is probably less confusing. Seen in this light it isn’t just about taxes and which box you check–it’s something more fundamental.

    But all that said, I’m sure you are right that the ability of people to pull this off successfully varies person to person. Some can, some cannot. Might be worth studying just to know more about that, though.

  3. You study it then. Ultimately the only person qualified to judge whether or not a person was a good parent is the child they raised. There is an odd juxtaposition there, that at death we are said to “meet or maker” which is a metaphor for the parent child relationship and they also call it judgement day and its just funny to me that at that point who is really judging whom. I’d say that most parents might be rather sheepish if their eternal fate hung in the balance of what their now adult children had to say about they way their parents raised them. In fact many might be begging their children’s forgiveness and repenting. I’m just musing. It means nothing. Again I would only judge person to person. I judge broadly only when civil rights are violated.

  4. I’m a 34 year old man with sole custody of a 10 year old girl. I’ve had her alone for 8 years the mother disappeared out of her life shortly after I left her.

    I’m rather proud of the job I’ve been doing with my babe. She is shaping out to be a confident, smart, straight A student, outgoing awesome little girl.

    The secret to parentings sole or not:
    1. love your children unconditionally. Let them know it. And show it. And never sway from it no matter what.

    2. Also, don’t victimize yourself. I see single mothers doing this all the time. How its such “hard work” and the “hardest job I ever had”… blah blah blah shut the hell up. Raising my child is not a JOB, it isn’t WORK, I never SACRIFICED a damn thing. Hence my child will never hear that garbage out of my mouth. All she hears is how great she is and how happy I am to have her in my life.

    3. Don’t shame your child. They aren’t BAD and don’t ever make them feel like they are BAD. They can and will be WRONG, but not BAD. Explain to them what they did wrong and correct the problem. Let them understand that life is about mistakes, they are okay. It’s learning from them that is the key factor.

    Here is where I think single fathers have the huge advantage of singlke mothers (or Sole custody fathers versus sole custody mothers I should say):

    1. For one single mothers are both glorified and villified in society. They are leanred to play themselves as a victim and it’s really enough to make me puke listening to it all. I think the problem single mothers face is that there are a lot of shitty single mothers and a lot of great ones. Whereas single fathers you don’t get a lot of shitty ones. Any man doing the job as sole parent is almost a lock in being a dynamic individual and a good father. Why? Because its so easy for potential shitty fathers to run away and be absent parents. Potential shitty single mothers are left with the kids and bad mother or not, they are in it for the long haul. So

    2. Disipline versus Play: the fine line. This is where sole custody fathers have their biggest advantages of single mothers. As a father I don’t put up with any shit from my child. I follow through with what I say no matter what the consequences are for me at the time. Likewise, as a father I’m more likely to be involved in play and fun than your typicalsingle mother. It’s generally okay and accepted for me to act like a total ass running down the super market throwing balls at my kid like a teenager. You’ll never catch a single mother doing this.

    Disipline comes more natural and easier to fathers and men in general. As a matter of fact it might be seen as their only redeaming quality if you look at the traditional family unit. Mother raises kids, father is breadwinner and out to work, and if you’re bad, mom tells dad and when he gets home you’re dead meat.

    Well in single mother homes, dad isn’t coming home. And I see more kids just out of control with single mothers because they aren’t good at disipline. It doesn’t come natural to women.

    And by disipline I don’t mean spanking or any old school stuff like that. I mean follow through, setting guidelines, invoking expected good behavior in your child, setting boundries, and being respected doing so. When kids are picking on my daughter outside and I walk out with my tattoos and all 6’2 of me, they listen. When I say jump, they say how high. And single I’m a single father, they are even more scared of me because I’m raising a girl. Single mom goes out to do that and she’s laughed at mostly. Or I laughed at them when I was a kid at least. I imagine most hasn’t changed. If a Dad comes out to see what the deal is, we’re listening. And scared.

    Lastly I have the advantage of having all my daughters caretakers and support system (teachers, babysitters, involved family members) all being women. So she has the female support. Single mothers don’t have this plethora of men to fall back on. And is the case with so many daughters raised without fathers, they are screwed up, the high school whores, and generally turn out with a chip on their shoulder.

    Women do have the advantage of having a better support network. Plus women are by their nature more compassionate and typically more affectionate. Although me personally I’m not the most compassionate person in the world, but I’m more affectionate than most 2 parent families combined.

    That’s my take. I haven’t seen any studies, but I’ll bet you sole custody fathers versus sole custody mothers are a MUCH wider success story in terms of their children being grown and the stats on poverty, welfare, jail, college, etc. We’ll see in the next 10-20 years as sole custody like fathers like me become more the norm.

    And please for heaven sake, stop interchanging “single mothers” with “single parents”. Don’t group single fathers (who are single parents) in with your single mother studies on how screwed up their children turn out to be. It’s an insult, seriously. If you want to do a study including single fathers, then freely use single parent. Otherwise, don’t use the term when giving me your single mother sob stories. Thanks.

  5. Hi! Well, I am doing the study (I personally don’t think it’s a waste of grant money, nor would I imagine does the grant funding agency). I am not particularly looking at “sameness” or “difference” between single moms and single dads, but I am trying to specifically recruit single dads and sexual minority single parents to give voice to their experiences, whatever they may be. Here is a recruitment blurb, if anyone is interested in participating or know anyone who is:

    Are you a single person currently pursuing adoption? Are you and single person who has adopted within the last year? If you answered yes to either of these questions, please consider participating in a study exploring the experiences of lesbian, gay, and heterosexual single adoptive parents by choice.

    Participants will be interviewed over the telephone, and interviews will last approximately one hour. Participants will also be asked to fill out a demographic information form. All of the information collected in the interview and questionnaire will remain confidential. Upon conclusion of the study, I will provide a summary of the findings to all participants. You will be compensated $20 in exchange for participation.

    If you are interested in the study, or know someone who might be interested, please contact Lori Kinkler at for more information.

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