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Parentless Or Helpless?

by Muhammad Hamza Shah 2 months ago in parents · updated 2 months ago

The Existential Dilemma Plaguing Children From Single Parent Households

Photos by Pavel Danilyuk & Kindel Media from Pexels

An excerpt from a letter I wrote to myself:

So what does your father do? Why does your mother always drop you off? Is she divorced?. As if these questions weren’t enough, I would be subjected to statements like “Look my father bought me this...." or "My father and mother took me to dinner last night”. Truth to be told, not being able to respond wasn’t as nerve-wracking but digesting the fact that I was somehow "incomplete" became a tremendous burden to bear.


Why is it that we have resorted to internalizing this picture-perfect image of a loving family? Almost everybody knows realities of life supersede idealism but that doesn't seem to extend over to family types. As it stands, being raised in a two-parent household is still used as a measure of childhood normalcy across the globe. It's hard not to notice the looks of pity you attract once people get to know you are cut from the single parent cloth. And while I do appreciate their well-meaning sympathy, a part of me always ends up thinking "Is it really that abnormal?" It almost feels as if societal norms are perpetuating this misguided presumption that children need two parents to survive.

Such thinking patterns are very likely to become themes for bullying and statistics have shown children of single parents are actually more vulnerable to it. Let's take an instance from my childhood, where a popular kid discovered that my parents were divorced. He casually saunters up to me and says "I heard kids without fathers always turn out to be sissies. Oh wait, is that why you cry so easily?" Before I could reply, he walked off and conflicting thoughts about this debilitating "weakness" slowly trickled into my brain. Following that, I found myself closely observing parents collecting their children after school and conceded to this gaping hole in my upbringing.


In my opinion, marketing firms using mediums like television and social media need to be more proactive in challenging the narrative. Most advertisements targetting familial products still rely on run-of-the-mill pictures/videos depicting a wholesome cohesive family unit. Indeed, this may apply to some families but a significant minority of them don't fit into this puzzle. Clearly, these are not outliers since 21% of dependent UK children come from lone-parent families. A similar figure is seen across the pond in United States where 23% of children under the age of 18 belong to single-parent households.

Source: PEW Research Centre, United States

Looking at the image above, one can easily claim that single-parent families are essentially limited to North American and European countries. However, we need to take into account the barriers that make it impossible for the single parent model to sustain itself in some societies. Regardless of that, up to 6.8% of the families in these countries still manage to defy the norm. As a result, even after accounting for differences in familial structures worldwide, the numbers equate to millions for such families. Certainly, this should justify showcasing a mere glimpse of them in relevant adverts.

But if I place myself in the shoes of someone dictating these marketing decisions, it becomes easier to comprehend the hesitation. In a world that is increasingly embracing the "odd", a debate between inclusiveness and morality has started to gain momentum. There are several global conservative hard-liners who don't believe we should put our morals at stake when normalizing atypical experiences. Obviously, people acknowledge the fallacious nature of this rhetoric but when it comes to family, the issue becomes complicated. People's words can be interpreted as glorifying the absence of a parent and that's what seems to be their primary concern. Having said that, it's important to recognize why this is not glorification and merely a juvenile attempt at appreciating the unconventional.

It goes without saying, nobody wants their child to miss out on having a mother or a father. Understandably, circumstances don't always align to what is desirable and in such cases, raising children alone is the best way to proceed. Personally, it's disheartening to see somebody not feel included or appreciated despite juggling the duties of two people. In fact, women in some male-dominated cultures undergo intense public scrutiny for effectively denying their children a father figure. Likewise, males raising their children without mothers might be labelled as bad fathers who don't appreciate motherly love.

Yet, it's not all doom and gloom as we have come a long way in ensuring this parenting style isn't deemed dysfunctional anymore. That is no mean feat to achieve especially when you have the Freudian theory of psychosexual development rooting against you. So I suppose if I had to sum up my argument in one sentence, it would be "Don't pity them, just normalize their existence"


Muhammad Hamza Shah

UK Medical Student | Trying to discover my forte in writing while snoozing over lofty medical textbooks.

Instagram: @anatomical.medic


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Muhammad Hamza Shah
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