Good Enough Mothering? Feminist Perspectives on Lone Motherhood

By Elizabeth Bortolaia Silva | Go to book overview

Chapter 9

Debates on disruption

What happens to the children of lone parents 1

Louie Burghes

It is tempting to say that society is and has long been concerned about the well-being of children who experience family disruption, or grow up in a lone parent family, or both. While historically many children lost a parent through death, it is parental separation (of married or cohabiting couples) and divorce that characterize most family disruption today.

It is about the consequences for children who have witnessed the breakup of their family in this way that much of the relatively recent anxiety has been concerned and from which much of the original research in the field has stemmed. In Britain, both were reactions to a divorce rate that began to rise in the 1960s and had increased sixfold by the 1980s. In 1992, almost fourteen in every thousand married persons obtained a divorce (Office of Population Censuses and Surveys 1994). At current rates, almost four in ten of today’s marriages will end in divorce (Haskey 1993).

It is perhaps not surprising that the more than doubling in the number of lone-parent families in Britain in the past twenty years—to more than 1 1/4 million lone parents with 2 1/4 million dependent children (Haskey 1994)—again kindled public debate at the beginning of the 1990s. The well-being of their children has not been, however, the only concern, and the recent and vehement attacks on lone parents, and particularly never-married lone mothers, may have other or additional causes and reflect different concerns (The Times 1991; McGlone 1994). At least two may be discerned. The first is the rising social security cost associated with increasing family breakdown and lone parenthood (Department of Social Security 1993a). The second is anxiety that the increase in single (never-married) lone motherhood reflects a demise of the ‘traditional’, intact two-parent family. For some social and political commentators, this represents the loss of a

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