On single parenting and how two is not always better than one

So, why haven’t you written about single parenting yet, asked a reader. I didn’t really have an answer to that, except the fact that I write mostly about what I know, and I don’t think I know entirely what single parenting is all about. Because technically, I am not a single parent. This means that I have a spouse on paper, and he does pitch into the financial aspects of parenting, but for the most part, I feel like I’m parenting solo.

I once wrote that I was practically a single parent in one of my columns, and got a rather acerbic email from someone who was one and who told me I had no right to accord myself that status until I was actually one. She was right. But that got me thinking. What made me different? Just a technicality?

We all know what a tedium collaborative parenting can be, although I do know a few people who are winging it. But they are still exceptions. We have seen our parents at cross-wires when raising us. We don’t have to do the same thing to our children. Very often, two-parent households are a sham, a window display for what actually is single parenting.

Okay, pull back those daggers.

Of course raising children alone is tough, but sometimes it may be psychologically tougher in a two-parent household. I often see couples with children at malls, brunches, movie halls and holiday resorts, resentfully going through the motions of parenting while staring at their screens or avoiding eye contact with each other. And I wonder: how exactly do children benefit from this? When I see couples arguing at airports, restaurants, fitting rooms, toy and bookshops over trivial things escalating to big things, I wonder: is it worth it to stay together ‘for the sake of the children’?. When I look at my own friend circle and see robotic marriages and equally robotic kids, I know the togetherness is plastic, because even their shiny happy selfies look unreal. Because life is not Instagram.

It’s better for the children, they say, and stick around, silently killing each other and their children, every single day. When they talk to single parents, they are often looking for stories of behaviour disorders, psychological breakdowns and other lurid details in the subtext, trying to console themselves they are glad they ‘stuck it out”. But they are often disappointed to find out that the kids are alright.

Children need to see you as whole, and not just a part of a dysfunctional parental unit, which is what happens in most ‘normal’ households, and that’s perhaps why single parenting is more harmonious. Once freed of the ‘spouse’ tag, fathers and mothers have more room to be themselves and hence, better parents. Being married often comes in the way of being a good parent, because the person you married is also the person who questions and contests every parenting decision, big or small. Or whose point of view (however polar it is to yours) has to be factored in, because that makes for a good partnership. Sometimes, being a single parent might just be the thing that makes you like the person you married a wee bit more. I find that once you get past the financial implications of it, single parenting may actually be more efficient. I also know the D word is not to be taken lightly, but in today’s world where single parenting is more the norm than the exception, it might just help to say some things out loud:

  1. That doing something alone may actually be easier than constantly arguing about who does what, and then making sure the said person does it.
  2. That making the rules without having to go through the charade of having someone “on the same page” can be liberating.
  3. That unilateral choices do more good than harm in the long run.
  4. That having someone always undermining your authority is neither good for you, nor the children, in the long run.
  5. That divorce may actually be the thing that sets you free to parent solo and bring back the focus on what is important.
  6. That there is a certain distilled quality to the way single parents bring up their kids, and it comes from being able to pick your battles.
  7. That most mothers are single. They just don’t know it.

A few years ago, I read an article in Slate that said, among other things, that single mothers raise better children. While I am not qualified to comment on that, I can say without generalizing that more often than not, whenever I have met a child who is empathetic, observant, willing to take responsibility, is kind or generous— it is from a single parent household. I am sure these qualities come from a place of consciousness that frugality or a lack of abundance seems to initiate. They also seem to have come from learning to appreciate what they have and realising that not all that is a ‘must-have’ needs to be had.

While a lot has been said and researched on children from ‘broken homes’ or the rising ‘single mother syndrome” , there are almost no reports or studies that quantify the damage of ‘staying together for the children’. That perhaps explains the hypocrisy of a society which believes that dual family units (read marriage) are the platinum standard for parenting. Yes, we have all been raised to believe that two is better than one, but it might be worthwhile to ask some relevant questions.

If I have to explain it in mathematical terms, let me redefine the clichéd, “Two is better than one” by saying, “Single is more than half of a parenting pair”. Because coupledom always comes with a huge dose of parental compromise at every stage. ‘Your’ way and ‘my’ way sometimes takes a lifetime to be ‘our’ way and not everyone has a lifetime.

(A version of this post appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 10th August, 2015)


24 thoughts on “On single parenting and how two is not always better than one

  1. The way it is generalised that we need both parents ar for good parenting, you are also generalising a lot of things here. In a two parent household, parents are not always at loggerheads..there are loving families also who take care of each other, watch tv together, go to parks together, plan and go on trips together and explore new places and cultures together and much more. They also raise children apart from being toppers and president of student council are funny, goofy, generous, kind to animals and confident.So its really a case by case thing. To each his own!

  2. It strikes me that enough value is not being placed on the husband’s role here. As though the financial pitching isn’t a pretty big aspect of parenting.

    • Of course it is important. But it’s just one aspect. By implying that the financial bit is more important than anything else, you have actually answered your own question. And that is an easy role to fill. It’s the rest that is tough.

      • Single parent marriages have one parent who feels they do everything and possibly, permits the other to stay away since it’s more comfortable going it that way. However, even during the times that you are feeling single, there must be silent help from the spouse that is going unnoticed and under-valued. That may become too much ‘me and my baby’ leaving the poor dad out, without it really being his fault. From my experience, I realised that feeling single was fine for me but my son wanted his dad. He wanted to drive the car and learn football with him. He wanted to climb the pole and slide down with him around. Basically, he led the way. When the dad realised he was wanted, actually valued, he was quick to pitch in. It may be selfish to think that feeling single is somehow fine because that is your comfort. The kid will let you know, with time, what he wants.

    • The father ‘s role is important, of course, cause we need them – the kids need them. But most men have relegated themselves from their responsibilities and the woman is left with the burden of the future of the family.
      My sister and I have unconsciously been on this topic for the past few days, lamenting on how either being married or a single mom doesn’t lighten the weight upon our shoulders, that’s resonating the number 7 point. All points have been rightly made.

  3. Parenting is not easy. Period. Whether as mom or dad, parenting can bring you to your knees. I believe you use “single parenting” to mean that one parent makes all the child-related decisions. In my (admittedly individual) experience of parenting, a role exchange between parents is often an eye-opener and equalizer. Due to circumstances, my husband and I have both taken turns at being primary money-makers and child-minders. As a result, today, we are a tighter twosome and better individual parents. Where there may have been arguments before over things left undone or children being given extra TV on an odd day (a biggie in our house!), today we both have the benefit of having experienced the day from hell (at home and at work!!), and therefore the good grace to offer support for it. Without meaning to, this role reversal has led to us aligning ourselves to each other better and knowing which of our battles to pick. Which also means that when the kids complain, and manipulate, they are faced with the same opinion and no secondary court of justice that typically wreaks havoc on the parental unit. I have therefore come to believe strongly that we need to expand our horizons beyond gendered ideas of parenting to really grow into strong parents. Oversimplifying it, children need money and time. Traditional gender roles stick men in the money and women in the time bracket. Job rotation may offer one kind of solution to this problem. I’d be interested to know what you think 🙂

  4. I don’t think the piece is about alienating one parent for the sake of convenience. It is about weighing the odds of sticking it out for the sake of the children. In the end, it is about creating conditions so that the children always get what they want in the most optimum way possible.

  5. Parenting is not just about making decisions for kids and fulfilling their needs. Its more about nurturing, caring and loving. Kids need to have equal share of love from both parents. You cant leave other partner out for your convenience.

  6. Oh my God ! That is so true! I’ve been through one divorce , raised a almost 17 year old practically on my own and am now struggling with raising an almost 4 year old in an apparently “shiny happy” dual parent household. So want to do it on my own before the my way/ your way / our way conversation kills me. Thank you I’m sorry I don’t know your name Kind regards

    Sent from my iPhone – please excuse my brevity and any typos .


  7. I see all the comments here are sort of from the perspective of a parent. Many times in the past I have been asked, whom do you like more, mom or dad? And you know the answer.(diplomatic immunity) But now when I look back I have learnt a lot from both of them. They are two very different individuals and they have argued more often than not. But still this difference is what allows me to keep an open mind today. I think it all comes to you, your sincerity and your love for your child. As a kid I will always both of them. And as a kid I will always hate the idea of choosing any one more so when it is forced by the d word. As a kid I want both..

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  9. From the post & comments & my own experience, I feel that Single parenting is better only when the parents are bickering a lot about parenting issues or otherwise. When there is harmony and understanding between parents, two is definitely better than one.

  10. I don’t quite agree about the distilled quality of parenting being more benefical for kids. At the end of the day, its not food choices, sleep patterns or toddler appeasement techniques that shape a person’s childhood.. The child will grow up to be far more of a well adjusted individual with a balanced world view if he or she is exposed to both the parents influences ( however much the parenting styles differ, and differ they will ! ). It is healthy to know that people can differ and its okay. My two cents.

    • Whatever gave you the idea that it is about food choices and sleep patterns? Agree to disagree is one thing, but when the issues run much deeper, the children bear the brunt. And single parenting does not mean leaving one parent out of it. It just means one parent at a time.

  11. oh I so agree to this.. especially the ‘being together for the kids’ part. I come from such a family and I know how confused I was. to the world we were together as a family but somewhere individually we all knew that was not the case. on the other hand my husband comes from a broken family where he was taken care by his father. I read out this article to him. he completely agreed..

  12. Hey, that’s a very good perspective!
    I’ve always felt that parenting is basically, by default, telling kids, ‘see, this is how people are, and you should be like that too’ unless explicitly spelt out otherwise. without that, you’re creating little versions of you that will one day be adults based on what they’ve seen growing up. If they’re brought up in a single parent household, they may not know how to dual-parent, having never seen it first-hand. If they grew up with fighting parents, they’ll resist the urge to split up but also not know how to be happy.
    Sure, they can be happy regardless of whatever situation they grew up in, but they’ll need to be explicitly told how.
    I guess. my experience in this is limited.

  13. I couldn’t but agree with your article on single parenting being a single mom myself. Having got out of a rather painful, unsupportive marriage has been the best decision I have made so far. I have been able to climb the corporate ladder and raise my child through the art of multitasking and like you said picking the right battles. Another mantra for me is, it doesn’t matter till that is the only things that matters so don’t sweat the small stuff! It’s not that I would not like the ‘option’ of having someone share the load but one look at a compromised marriage I am back to enjoying my reality. It’s tough, very tough being a single parent…I have shed many tears thinking I am getting it right. If my reprimanding and many times yelling has an impact on her.. But I also try to be kind on myself that I am human at the end of the day journeying alone. I do insist that she gets to know her father as this situation was no fault of hers. I think we are better friends in whatever way that we have ever been spouses. I hope one day that the sigma of single parenting will go away, as its starting to do so now.

  14. Pingback: On single parenting and how two is not always better than one, by Lalita Iyer | The Forever Years

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