OP-ED: Should Single-parent Families Be Abolished?

  • By Phlip A. Yaffe 

The question posed in the title of this essay “should single-parent families be abolished” is not facetious. It is a direct outcome of the current heated debate about homosexual marriage, and by extension homosexual adoptions.

The Background


The idea of homosexual marriage has been a hot topic for some time and will now doubt continue to be a hot topic for some time to come. The discussion becomes particularly heated around the idea of homosexuals (married or not) adopting children. The objections to homosexual adoptions tend fall into two categories: religious and sociological.


If homosexuality is a religious abomination (in some countries it is a capital crime), then adoption by homosexuals must also be an abomination. End of story. No room for discussion. The sociological objections generally focus on the potential harm such an arrangement might inflict on the child. Here, there is plenty of room for discussion.


It is difficult to ignore most people’s natural instinct to protect children above all other considerations because they are unable to protect themselves. From this point of view, the two most prevalent objections to homosexual adoption seem to be:


> Homosexuality is generally reproved by society, so the child is likely to be to ostracized and humiliated.


> For healthy psychological development, a child needs the influence of two parents, male and female.


It is a sad commentary on society that a child should be subjected to mistreatment by his peers and others because of who his parents are. After all, if homosexual adoption is offensive, the child is not complicit in the act. If anything, he is the victim. To ostracize and mistreat him is analogous to ostracizing and mistreating a child born out of wedlock, as if he had any choice as to who his parents would be. Not too long ago, this was a very common attitude and has not entirely disappeared. The term “bastard” still rings out as the ultimate insult.


Subjecting the child of a homosexual adoption to the same opprobrium would be a throwback to the Dark Ages, which may not be as far behind us as we would like to believe. Living in such an invidious environment would not be easy, either for the child or the adoptive parents. But it could be overcome.


The Extension


The most often adduced argument against homosexual adoption is the claim that for healthy development, a child must have the influence of both a male and female parent. Without it, he will almost certainly suffer serious psychological harm.


This assertion has implications not only for the largely-still-theoretical idea of homosexual adoption, but also for the all-too-real situation of children growing up with only a single parent.


The number of children living in single-parent families due to death, separation, divorce, and other causes is enormous and growing. The 1960 United States Census reported that 9% of children were dependent on a single parent; in the 2010 census, this had increased to 27%. More specifically, in 2006 12.9 million American families were single parent, 80% of which were headed by a female. Similar statistics would characterize most other industrialized countries.


If lack of both a male and female parent is a valid argument against homosexual adoption, and let’s assume that it is, then shouldn’t we be equally concerned about the psychological welfare of children who are deprived of male-female nurturing for other reasons? According to the census figures cited above, in the U.S. this is the case of at least 12.9 million children, and probably considerably more. What should we do about them?


Following the logic against homosexual adoption, it would seem that when a family loses one of its parents, the child or children should be removed from the family and put up for adoption into another family with two parents, male and female. Leaving the child or children in a family with only single parent apparently runs the risk of severe psychological damage.


I am not offering this idea as a firm proposal, because I haven’t really given it much thought. In fact, it popped into my head only recently while discussing the pros and cons of homosexual adoption with a friend. She was dead set against homosexual adoption, mainly because of the risk of psychological damage to the children. When I suggested that the same principle might apply to single-parent families, her reaction was swift and intense.


“You can’t do that! You can’t take a child away from their natural parent! What a horrible idea!” she exclaimed.


“But didn’t you say that a child must have both a male and female parent; otherwise, he risks severe psychological damage? Wouldn’t that be the case in a family where one of the parents disappears?” I replied.


She would have none of it. “What a horrible, horrible idea! Think of the pain you would cause the parent! How could you possibly imagine such a thing!”


“I can indeed see the pain that it could cause the remaining parent. But shouldn’t the child be the first concern?”


Once again she would have none of it. Her anger grew. I could see that there was no possibility of a discussion, so once she calmed down a bit, I gently changed the subject. This was a shame, because it is an issue that should be addressed.


It does not necessarily follow that if the risk to a child’s psychological well-being is best avoided by banning homosexual adoption, it would also be best avoided by removing him from a single-parent family. Perhaps the inestimable bond with a single natural parent (together with appropriate social services) would be superior to adoption into a two-parent family — or perhaps it wouldn’t. When I did an internet search to find some research on the subject, it failed. If such research does exist, it seems to be scant and obscure. If it does not exist, then it should be urgently undertaken.


If lack of a male and female influence for the child is a valid argument against homosexual adoption, then surely it must be a consideration for a child with only a single parent. Removing the child and putting him up for adoption into a two-parent family, i.e. abolishing the single-parent family, is unquestionably a radical idea. However, if leaving a child in a single-parent family can be shown to cause severe psychological damage, as posited for homosexual adoption, then shouldn’t we be considering laws and systems to prevent it?


The emotional reaction of “No, no, a thousand times no!” just won’t do. The lives and futures of millions of children are much too important not to stare the question directly in the face and take appropriate action.

* * *


About the author


Philip Yaffe was born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1942 and grew up in Los Angeles, where he graduated from the University of California – Los Angeles (UCLA)  with a degree in mathematics and physics. In his senior year, he was also editor-in-chief of the Daily Bruin, UCLA’s daily student newspaper.



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