Family Structure (page 2)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Oct 25, 2010

Single Parents

Some of the issues for infants and toddlers concerning divorce are also relevant for children raised by a single, never-married parent. The percentage of children born to women who have never married is increasing dramatically:

In the early 1960s, less than 1 percent of children lived with a never-married parent. By 2000, nearly one in 10 children lived with a never-married parent. . . . Today nearly one-third of all births occur to unmarried women. (ChildTrends, 2002)

In his book Fatherneed, Kyle Pruitt recounts the importance of fathers in the lives of their children. He then provides this advice for the single mothers of infants and toddlers:

  • Take care of yourself first, especially if you are alone. Surround yourself with all of the support you can find—emotional, physical, nutritional, and spiritual. Don’t let loneliness, bitterness, and isolation take root.
  • Invite close males, relatives and friends, to hold, walk, rock, play with, or baby-sit your child. Be sure these men have an important relationship with you, because your kid can tell the difference even at this age.
  • Have close male friends or relatives engage in physical play and rough-and-tumble exploration with your child.
  • Have close male friends or relatives read to and comfort your child.
  • Try to find child care arrangements or play groups in which men or older male siblings are involved as staff or regular volunteers.  (Pruett, 2000, pp. 161–162)
Implications for teachers

Teachers need to be particularly sensitive to infants and toddlers who are growing up with only one parent, as these children need and long for safe, nurturing contact with adults of both sexes. Because child care is predominantly female, it is easier to provide female experiences to children being raised by fathers than male experiences to children of single mothers.

Same-Sex Parents

Same-sex parents are estimated to be raising as many as 9 million of America’s children, but accurate statistics are impossible to find. Gay and lesbian parents share the same concerns and worries of all parents but face additional issues unique to their situation. If the child was not originally conceived within an earlier heterosexual relationship, there are questions of adoption, artificial insemination, or surrogate mothers. There are legal issues wherein the biological or adoptive parent may have full parental rights, but the same-sex partner may not be allowed to adopt the child as an equal parent. Children of gay and lesbian parents also experience more teasing during their school years (Patterson, 1992). The majority of children of same-sex couples have experienced the divorce of their biological parents’ heterosexual marriage. Research studies describe them as looking much like other children of divorced parents with no significant differences in gender identity, social roles, or sexual orientation (Patterson, 1992). Children of lesbian mothers look very similar to children of heterosexual, divorced mothers in terms of self-esteem, behavior, academic success, and peer relationships (Golombok, Tasker, & Murray, 1997). They were rated higher in terms of tolerance of diversity, being protective of younger children, and seeing themselves as more lovable (Steckel, 1987).


Grandparents raising grandchildren is an increasing phenomenon in America. Parents may or may not live in the same household, but grandparents are increasingly providing primary care for grandchildren. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 1997 3.9 million children were living in homes maintained by their grandparents, up 76% from 2.2 million in 1970. The steady increases are due to a variety of factors: substance abuse by parents, teen pregnancy, family violence, illness, and incarceration. Grandparents are sometimes able to offer a stable home to their grandchildren; however, they often care for their grandchildren without any legal rights. This leaves them in precarious conditions for accessing health care or other social supports for the children (Minkler, 2002).

Implications for teachers

Both the grandparents and the infant and toddler will need sensitive understanding from educators. “While the home-school connection is critical for every young child, it is especially crucial in grandparent-headed households. Education professionals need unique insight and information about custodial grandparents’ particular circumstances” (Smith, Dannison, & Vach-Hasse, 1998). The infants and toddlers may be grieving for the loss of a parent, and grandparents may be struggling with transforming their role of doting grandparent into one of parent with multiple responsibilities for their grandchildren.

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