Children Raised by Single Moms or by Lesbian Couples Are Just Fine

A few months ago, social scientist W. Bradford Wilcox wrote in Slate that it’s disadvantageous to be raised in a single-parent family. He cited numerous studies and statistics that apparently showed that as a girl raised by a single mom, you’re more likely to end up a pregnant teen, and as a boy, you’re more likely to end up in jail. As the research he quoted shows, the idea that you’re at a supreme disadvantage if raised by a single parent (and let’s face it: most single parents are women) is nothing new. In response to this dominant you’re-fucked-if-you-don’t-have-a-dad narrative, Slate has launched a column in which readers are invited to contribute articles on why being raised by a single parent is just as good, or even better, than being raised by two parents.

Since much of the criticism of same-sex marriage and adoption rights focus on the idea that children need a father to thrive, the latest installment of the column, an article which focuses on the confidence and independence gained in a female-headed household, is relevant to our interests. Pamela Gwyn Kripke writes that her daughters, having grown up watching her accomplish everything from saving money to fixing the sink on her own, know that they are capable of doing difficult things regardless of gender.

Kripke and her daughters via Slate

Kripke and her daughters via Slate

She writes,

“Growing up in a house of girls, they’ve learned about independence, about teamwork, about climbing on ladders and lifting couches and fixing (OK, attempting to fix) leaky shower faucets. We have a tool box. We have a grill. (We also have a plumber if we need him.) Looking at the gear in my car trunk, a mechanic once asked if I was a gym teacher. Female strength is worth nurturing, and it just happens organically in an all-gal house.”

Kripke and her daughters would probably be able to relate to to the conclusions drawn from the Williams Institute study “Adolescents with Lesbian Mothers Describe their Own Lives,” which has followed 78 teens over a 26-year period and found that the children raised by two women are just as happy and successful, if not more-so, than their peers raised with fathers around. Nanette Gartrell, the principal investigator of the study, reports that “at the end of high school, the teens tell us that they have excellent grades, feel connected to their family and friends, and admire their parents.” Furthermore, they see themselves as open-minded, thanks in part to growing up in non-traditional families.

via huffington post

via huffington post

Opponents often argue that children who grow up in single parent or same-sex couple headed households suffer because they lack adequate gender socialization. But in Autostraddle’s “Are Male Role Models Necessary?” Riese shows that this type of thinking is based on the false assumption that these children don’t interact with a variety of role models – old and young, male and female, as they grow up. As she puts it, children raised by women
“managed to socialize and form bonds with other male human beings throughout their fascinating lives on this diverse special planet.”

And the whole obsession with so-called proper gender socialization is problematic. As Riese writes,

“Gender socialization is one of many elements of family life we’ve been bred to see as “essential” when in truth, gender socialization in and of itself has never met the needs of the individual, only the larger system which benefits those already in power.”

Focusing on the number or gender of individuals raising children distracts us from the reality that patriarchal power structures and unequal social institutions are what really make things disadvantageous for children, so how about we focus on that, and not if Heather has two mommies, or daddies, or a mommy and a daddy.

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Malaika likes books, drinking tea, long conversations, dinner parties, making funny faces, bike rides, and dogs. Originally from Edmonton, she now lives in Montreal where she edits, runs, and writes about the Alberta Tar Sands for The Media Co-op. You can follow her on twitter @Malaika_Aleba.

Malaika has written 84 articles for us.


  1. Ugh, saying that children need a father figure is so overgeneralized. Theres lots of families that are headed by a heterosexual couple that are neglectful and abusive, there has to be some responsibility put on the individual to be a good parent.

    My mom raised me and my brother alone from when I was 6 months old and my brother was 2, during this she also ran a very successful business. My mom is a huge badass and until I got a little older and was exposed to the rest of humanity I didn’t even realize how rare it was for women to own business let alone single mothers. I was raised not just being told I could do anything but seeing it with my own eyeballs. Both me and my brother are generally well adjusted and successful individuals, and I did not get pregnant and he is not in jail. So basically, fuck that guy.

  2. “Gender socialization is one of many elements of family life we’ve been bred to see as ‘essential’ when in truth, gender socialization in and of itself has never met the needs of the individual, only the larger system which benefits those already in power.”

    So beautifully put. Riese 4 prez.

  3. I have a beautifully open minded 11 year old who has two mothers. We aren’t together anymore but have managed to cultivate a loving friendship that our daughter appreciates.

    Around kindergarten she started to ask why she had two mommies and believe it or not, It was very easy to handle. From an early age she was taught that families come in all shapes and sizes and that was all she needed. She gladly told her classmates just the same when they asked why she has two mommies.

    Our daughter is an incredible young lady who is confident, non judgmental and empathetic. What more can you ask for? Zip. :)

  4. Children need good adult role models of all types. They don’t all have to be your PARENTS. That would be one crowded house. A heterosexual kid raised by two moms or one mom or two dads or whomever isn’t going to grow up in a vacuum of heterosexual relationship role models.

    I mean look at generations of queer youth growing up with a severe dearth of relatable role models. I really didn’t know any other queer women until I was most of the way through college. I certainly didn’t know any older, stable, role-model type queer women (or men!).

    We are doing okay for ourselves, even if we were positively DENIED positive queer role models for our growing-up years!

  5. bluh my mother-in-law has said repeatedly that if we use a sperm donor to have kids, we should make sure it’s ~someone we know~ so he can ~help raise the kid~ because children need ~male role models~ (tildes for frustrated emphasis)

    articles like this are what stop me from tearing my hair out all the time

    also i was pretty much raised by my mum and my all-female extended family. the three male role models i had were a short-tempered guy who was barely here because of work, a really quiet and shy guy, and a guy on the autism spectrum who was only comfortable talking to me during video games. my sister and i turned out ok (although i still have a weird compulsion to constantly be playing video games…)

  6. I hate that the ‘children need a mother and a father’ crowd don’t ever seem to consider all the households that have both parents, but are still completely fucked up. I was raised in a household with an alcoholic abusive father.
    When my mother finally kicked him out once we were all in our teens (she had been waiting until she thought we were old enough, and was so sad when we told her old enough was many years before it happened), the house became much less stressful. I opened up to people a little more, although I’m still an introvert who doesn’t like being touched, and my younger brother’s stutter cleared right up.
    The best male we know, who is an amazing role model is my brother in law.

  7. I was raised with the concepts of hard work, responsibility, tolerance and love. I grew up in a tough environment with some disadvantages, and the person who taught me to never give up and give the best of myself was my mother, not my absent father. So yeah, as a child raised by a single mom I turned out to be pretty okay.

  8. …and raising a kid in a queer household doesn’t make them gay at all. We try really hard, but our 16 months old little human tilts her head and gets all giggly when guys come to visit! It’s pathetic, boyish colors, cars and tools: Nothing works.

  9. Just curious about the following, and not to disrespect anyone’s experience or reality, but: might it be that there is a difference between “number of people raising a child” and “gender of people raising a child”? Judging on one’s own experience always results in a certain degree of myopia, but certainly I did find, in raising my own four now-adult children, that it was much easier to do it with a partner than not. Not that it’s impossible to raise a child as a single parent, not that it’s immoral, not that it’s irresponsible but… it’s just easier and that’s a fact. With two partners (of whatever gender), there is more time and energy and resources to go around. Of course this is not always the case, sometimes a partner detracts (as in some of the examples above) and doesn’t add anything, but generally speaking, what I’ve seen is that children do, do better with two committed parents than they do with just one.

    Just for some examples: One parent can either not work or work with a reduced schedule and give the child hands-on parenting, while the other one does work. Financially you’re better off (can afford a better neighborhood, schools, even food). If the child becomes ill, a couple has more flexibility to deal with that situation. “Two heads are better than one” in dealing with behavior, discipline or academic problems. Two parents bring different sets of interests and energy to the mix and can somewhat moderate each other’s personalities. Finally, of course, and this is sad but true: if something happens to the solo parent, there will not be another parent left.

    I do know that a lot of the above effects can be mitigated in legal and social ways. Certainly, for instance, if a child were brought up in a “communal” type setting, many of the above points would not be issues. Most people in the U.S. do not live in communal settings, though.

    Again, I am not slamming on single parents here or suggesting that “partnered parenting” is the only way to go. But, I also know that I would never suggest single parenting to any of my own children, that is unless or until there was absolutely no other way.

    • Undoubtedly, the more people who love the child and invest in the child, the better it is for the child.
      Equally, true, more people involved in raising a child makes it easier and better for the parent — and what I really mean is the mom.
      However, let’s keep the focus on “patriarchal power structures and unequal social institutions.” As Malaika says, these are what “make things disadvantageous for children” and I would like to add moms.
      I admit that I have been completely dead exhausted as a single mom. But maybe if there were equal wages for equal work, I wouldn’t have to take a part-time job to supplement my full-time job. Or maybe I could afford some help around the house (I could pay someone to repair that leaky faucet instead of figuring it out myself….or better pay someone to help clean bathrooms and do laundry)
      Maybe if there were better access to good daycare, I’d have more time and money.
      Maybe if cultural and sports programs were better subsidized for children, it would be easier for me.
      The reality is that we do not live in a society that is supportive to kids and parents.
      In so many ways, I’m glad to be a single parent. Now if only we could change those damn…patriarchal power structures and unequal social institutions…and I’d be ecstatic….

  10. I have to admit that every time I think about the fact that my children will not have a dad I feel guilty and very sad. I am incredibly close to both my dad and step dad, and it hurts that by being true to myself, I am taking that kind of relationship away from my children. I know my wife will be an amazing mom, and I hope that I will be too, but I can’t imagine what my childhood would have been like without both my dads. I’ve even thought about finding a gay male who would want to donate and co-parent, but then I think about how hard it was to go between households as a kid, and how hard it would be to find someone who would have the same parenting philosophies as my wife and I. I even feel guilty for considering this. Has anyone else worked through this?

    • I’m not in any way an expert in this field, but I would imagine that children form bonds with people that love and spend time with them. For instance, I formed a much stronger bond with my grandmother than I did with my Mum. Now my mum, who is my daughters grandmother (still following?!!!) is not able to spend time with my daughter. I do not for one second feel that my daughter will have less of a childhood because she won’t have that bond with her grandmother like I did. She has other people who love her to death and spend plenty of time making sure she knows she is loved. I guess what I’m trying to say (not very clearly as I’m doing this in th midst of bedtime story and reading bloody txt books and planning my work day tomoro so my heads a bit fried!!) is that as long as there are people who will invest in loving your child, spending time with him/her, building them up, picking them up, those people are important and they won’t necessarily represent the same people you had around you when you were a child.

      I’m not in any way taking away from your fears, they are genuine and valid. I just wanted to encourage you that you and your partner and whoever else you let invest in your child will be more than enough.

  11. Good to see positive take on female dominat family – sgree with alot of the above, just because a man is around doesn’t mean he’s in anyway engaged with family life – that’s true for parenting in general. Any adult can choose take on responsibility to care for engage with and nurture a child, the choosing to do so is key

  12. Hear fucking hear for this article! The other thing the “families need a dad or the kids are fucked” crowd doesn’t recognize is that masculinity comes in packages that don’t necessarily include a penis, or didn’t originally! It completely obscures butch moms (or dads) and trans dads who maybe didn’t (or did) give birth to the kids themselves, but can still fill “daddish” roles like teaching the kids lacrosse or how to fix cars. They also ignore the fact that, like so many of the commenters pointed out, these stereotypically masculine roles do not actually need to be performed by a male person, or even a male identified one, to be useful.

  13. Good people make good parents who raise good kids. Nothing more, nothing less. Gender shouldn’t factor into this.

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