…Continuing on the topic of words I don’t like, the more I think about it, the more I don’t like the phrase “single parent”. I know I’m guilty of using it. I think we all are… but today I was bored in a meeting and started really examining the usage and implications of this phrase.
We’re probably most familiar with the phrase “single parent” describing the primary custodian following a divorce. Literally, it means “one parent”. The phrase leaves no room for the concept of co-parenting. And I think this can be damaging… True Story:
Dad picks up his kids on a Friday night. He’s excited because a holiday is falling on “his” weekend and he usually doesn’t see his children on holidays. When the kids jump in the car, his oldest informs him that he must bring them home early due to the holiday.
Dad frowns, “No…” he says. “Your mom didn’t say anything to me about that. I made plans for all of us to have dinner with your grandparents on that day.”
“But Dad,” Child #1 insists. “You don’t understand. Our whole family is coming over and we need to spend the day with them!”
In this scenario, Dad didn’t count as “family” in his children’s minds. Could it be because they live with a “single parent”?
I’ve heard the phrase used with various connotations. Sometimes it’s meant to convey a feeling of pride. Sometimes, to gain sympathy. And sometimes both. I know one man who fought for years in the court system to obtain primary custody of his children and now he takes pride in telling people that he works full-time and is a “single father”. He neglects to mention the weekly visitation his children have with their mother. What is his motive? And who is he punishing?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m well aware that some parents, by way of desertion or death, are indeed “single parents”. And they deserve a lot of credit for the job they perform.
But what about those who are in fact custodial co-parents? By adopting the “SP” (because I feel like I’ve typed the full words too many times) title, does it discredit the other parent? Invalidate the other parent’s “family” status? Convey a lack of respect for the other parent? Does it simply limit our paradigm when it comes to divorced families?