In the case where a single mother must raise a child, she will face unique challenges that a single father trying to raise a child will not face. Women in general will be paid less than men in most countries, and will therefore have to work longer hours to get the same salary as a man would. Children are expensive, particularly young children, and money problems can be very significant for single mothers (Venezaino, 2004). Single mothers may also face problems when it comes to finding a suitable partner, as it is more common for men to be unwilling to marry women with children than vice versa (Venezaino, 2004).
When a single father is given the task of raising a child, he faces different challenges. Many men, for instance, are not used to the responsibilities that come with raising children, whereas women are more accustomed to all the tasks and problems that come along with childrearing and the responsibilities associated with childrearing (Venezaino, 2004). Single fathers do not often face the same level of economic challenge as single mothers, but their social challenges may be greater, and they may need to hire help to care for their child or children, if they have more than one.
In addition, single-parent households often have to juggle custody arrangements, which, in the United States, heavily favor the mother (Venezaino, 2004). These custody arrangements can make it difficult for one of the parents to see the child frequently, causing issues with bonding between the child and the non-custodial parent. If the father is absent more frequently than the mother, then the child may experience certain effects; however, if the mother is absent more frequently than the father, the children will face different challenges. Deciding whether the mother or the father is the better parent can only be determined after looking at the differences in parenting styles between mothers and fathers.
Regardless of whether mothers or fathers are better parents in general does not dictate whether or not a specific mother or father is a good parent, of course. However, when looking at the ideal candidate for a single-parent custodial arrangement, there are many different factors to look at. According to Martin et al.(2007), there are many ways to look at the differences between female and male parenting styles:
Anadvantage to studying parents in combination is that it may be possible to identify interactions between the effects of mothers’ and fathers’ parenting that are not visible in studies of main effects. For example, based on the literature linking maternal and paternal supportiveness to early child cognition, it might be expected that the effects of a supportive mother and a supportive father are additive. However, there may be a synergistic dynamic between two supportive parents that produces a multiplicative effect (Martin et al., 2007).
Mothers are certainly more nurturing than fathers for the most part, according to Martin et al (2007). For the most part, mothers have a bond that is formed with their children from the time they give birth to them; for fathers, this bond is acquired, not experienced as a biological imperative. Motherhood and pregnancy floods a woman’s body with hormones, causing her to feel elation and bond with her child (Martin et al., 2007).
For babies, mothers are biologically better caretakers than fathers, because they can provide the child with milk and sustain them with important nutrients throughout the pregnancy. Research suggests that babies that are breastfed are often better adjusted and healthier throughout their lives; for this reason, mothers are imperative to the proper growth of the child throughout its infancy. As the child gets older, a caring and compassionate father can easily do the job of a mother, but during infancy, nothing can replace the mother biologically as far as the care and feeding of the infant is concerned.
According to many sources, mothers have more patience with young children than fathers do. Mothers and fathers often have different parenting styles, with fathers acting as disciplinarians more often than not. This is an important role, to be sure, but during young childhood, a mother who cares and nurtures her child cannot be overstated.
Another problem with fathers acting as the primary custodial figure in parental rights disputes is listed by Updegraff (2007):
But how accurate are fathers' perceptions of their children's problem behaviors? Are fathers' perceptions and behaviors with their children also affected by personal adjustment problems? Very little research has been conducted with the fathers of conduct-problem children Their research indicated that fathers' ratings were not correlated with teachers' ratings of the children's externalizing behaviors, whereas mothers' ratings were significantly correlated with teachers' ratings (Updegraff, 2007).
Mothers and fathers interpret their children’s behavior differently; mothers seem to be more in tune with their children’s behavior for the most part, particularly when the behavior is deviant and when they are young children.
Mothers are better than fathers because mothers are also groomed from a young age to know how to look after children. Not all women know how to look after children, of course, but society does put more emphasis on learning how to take care of children for women than for men. For instance, when was the last time a sitcom made fun of a mother for not knowing how to change a diaper or make a bottle? It is always women who are expected to know how to care for children.
Mothers are often more patient than men when it comes to children as well. This may be because they are biologically inclined to be more patient, but it may also be because they are taught to deal with children from a younger age than men. Men who grow up with young siblings can often have very good patience with young children.
However, even though some of the characteristics that mothers have can be learned or acquired by men who are interested in being single fathers, there are some biological functions that women can perform that men simply cannot. For an infant, for instance, a man cannot ever learn to breastfeed; it is up to the mother to provide this vital service to her new infant or young child.
Society is also more willing to help women who are raising children on their own, because sometimes circumstances happen where the father is no longer in the picture. During this time, single fathers are much less likely than single mothers to receive help from society as a whole.
Overall, it is difficult to say whether mothers or fathers are better as parents, because it is a very individualized judgement call. However, when it comes to choosing a mother or a father for the custodial parent, the mother should be chosen when she is a fit parent who has no major social or emotional problems in her life. Mothers are not always superior to fathers, but for the most part, a mother will be more successful raising a child on her own than a father will be.
Martin, A. et al. (2007). The Joint Influence of Mother and Father Parenting on Child Cognitive Outcomes at Age 5. National Center for Children and Families .
Schaffer, C. et al. (2005). Predictors of Child Abuse Potential Among Military Parents: Comparing Mothers and Fathers. Journal of Family Violence, 20 (2).
Unknown. (1986). Mothers' and Fathers' Perceptions of Child Deviance: Roles of Parent and Child Behaviors and Parent Adjustment. Journal of ConsuIting and Clinical Psychology, 56 (6).
Updegraff, K. (2001). Parents' Involvement in Adolescents' Peer Relationships: A Comparison of Mothers' and Fathers' Roles. Journal of Marriage and Family, 10 (1).
Veneziano, R. (2004). Parental Roles. Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender – Men and Women in the World’s Cultures: SpringerReference .