As all values, our attitude towards family is constantly changing. The traditional model used to approve only of families of husband, wife and their beautiful blue-eyed children. This is not the case anymore. Young people live together with no intention of getting married, more and more countries are legalizing same sex marriage and children are raised by single mothers or single fathers.
A country that especially stands out in unmarried people and single parents is Estonia, where every fifth family has a single parent and only 39% of Estonians old enough to marry choose to do so. It is the lowest number in any European country.
Every fourth single family household in Estonia consists of an unmarried couple. It is considered normal for a couple lives together for years before getting married, or not even to plan to. People are not eager to take the risk of lifelong commitment or simply don´t feel the need to make their relationship official. One of the reasons for it might be that, in Estonia, only about third of the population admit belonging to some church.
In comparison, in Greece, a heavily Christian country, over 80% of single family households consists of a married couple. There, a man and a woman united under the eyes of the lord, is what people see as an ideal. It also influences people’s attitude towards divorce. After a religious ceremony, breaking the holy union is still considered a taboo in countries where religion is important.
Whether a couple living together is officially married, has registered their cohabitation or not, is not really a problem. We are free to make our own choices and ready to take the responsibility for our actions. Another thing, a far more problematic fact, is that the spread of liberal values in Europe has resulted in the growing number of single parents – the group most in the risk of poverty. In Estonia, children in every fifth family are raised by only one parent, mostly a single mother, and only in 8% of the cases, a single father.
A single parent has to carry double the responsibilities compared to a couple. There is only one person to care for children, keep the house in order, make money to feed the family and find time to take care of oneself not to break down and leave the kids for the world to raise.
For single parents, it is a challenge to find a job that allows hours flexible enough to take care of the children. Of course, grandparents can often help, so can other relatives, but a growing child needs to form a warm loving relationship with his or her parent. It is often said, that children from this kind of “broken homes” tend to have more problems in social skills, in school etc. At the same time, these children are found to be more responsible and independent. As everything else, it all comes down to the personality and individual differences.
But what about the fact, that the percent of single parented families living in poverty is much higher than of others? Another individual difference? Or maybe it has something to do with the government. On one hand, again, is the personal responsibility. Nowadays, as birth-control and other family-planning measures are easily available, people have possibility to choose, if and when to have children.
A member or Estonian parliament recently suggested sterilizing all women who have children with irresponsible men. It was most likely just an unfortunate try at using a metaphor, but a lot of people do see single parents as dumb women paying for their own mistakes.
But this is not the case. There are people, who knowing that they will have to raise the child on their own, still choose to give birth, and for that they deserve our respect. If the society sees children of single parents as mistakes, how can you expect them to thrive?
Coming back to the government, the social system should support single parented families more. In Estonia, the social welfare for single parents is a ridiculous amount of 19 EUR per month. For a family of three, for example, it is enough for maybe one day of three nutritious meals, if that. Understandably, the social system has limited funds. Some will get more, some less. Without raising taxes, the idea, that most of the population seems to oppose for some reason or other, it is not possible to support families financially with a bigger sum.
What should be done, however, is making it easier for single parents to find jobs. Perhaps some kind of bonuses for companies to enable parents working more flexible hours or part-time, could be of help. Also free child care services or support for hiring babysitters, would allow the parent to earn more.
There is no concrete answer to the question raised in the title – do we still respect the traditional family. The fact is, that the concept of family has changed, broadened. And we need to accept that, without regarding single parents or unmarried families as lower class.
Talvike Mändla is an Estonian graduate with a degree in Special Education. She is currently volunteering on a one-year placement in Zugdidi, Georgia. You can read more of here work on her blog.