Why Both Parents are VITAL for a Balanced, Healthy Child

A recent article in the Daily Mail, entitled One-Parent Link to Smoking and Drinking at 11, showed that children who grow up in a single parent household are likely to smoke or drink at an early age. These results were found after the University College London questioned nearly 11,000 children who had ‘lost’ a parent through separation, divorce or death. This theory is further explored by German biologist, Anna Katharina Braun, who conducted research on Degu pups, animals that are characteristically raised by two parents (less than 10% of animal species raise offspring with two parents), to look at how it affected their behaviour. Obviously we can’t directly apply the results of these findings to that of a human, especially as our frontal cortex is a lot more complex than in any animal, but the basic wiring between the brain regions in the degus is the same as with us. In addition to this, the nerve cell function is identical so they are a good place to start.

As explained in an article published in the Neuroscience Journal [1], the experiment split the degus into two groups. Half were raised with both parents, while the other half were raised by just the mum (they removed the father one day after the birth). The primary difference they found was in the amount of interaction the pups received from their parents. In two parent families, both parents cared for their pups in the same way; sleeping next to them, grooming them, playing with them etc. However, with a single mum, the interaction between mum and her pups was a lot less frequent, so they received less touching and affection. This can easily be applied to parenting, and has by many studies. Single parent households generally mean less quality time is spent with the child. This can be for a variety of reasons; a single parent needs to work to bring in an income and complete the errands associated with running a home (cooking, cleaning, shopping etc) meaning there is less time available to spend with the child(ren). This restriction often leads to single parents having lower educational attainment (although it can be assumed this is in relation to young mothers who may struggle to continue their education), less social support and poorer psychological well being (Usalki, 2013 [2]). By having both parents available to the child(ren), whether married or co parenting, parental responsibilities can be shared meaning the child gets the attention they need without sole responsibility falling on one parent.

Another interesting result of the degu experiment is the effect being raised by one parent had on the pups. Those who had just one parent were more aggressive and impulsive than those raised by two. This theory was supported by Rosie Taylor in her Daily Mail article and Usalki, who stated in his report, ‘Comparison of Single and Two Parents Children in terms of Behavioral Tendencies’ , that the most ‘common problems seen in single parent families’ children are depression, stress, loneliness, aggression, compliance, smoke, alcohol and narcotics’. To help further support the argument that children need two parents, Usalki goes on to show five different research bodies who have shown that, generally, 'two parent families have better cognitive and behavioral outcomes compared with children who have ever lived in single-parent families'. This disruptive behaviour will come from a weakened relationship with the single parent (for reasons mentioned throughout) and from a feeling of guilt over the divorce and confusion as to why they no longer see the dad they were previously raised by. These feelings can disappear over time, but, at least in my case, there is always an underlying feeling of hurt that can affect normal day to day behaviour.  This instability can affect their ability to feel emotionally close to their fathers or feel they can turn to them in order to discuss problems that they may not be able to speak to their mothers about. This frustration and confusion can quickly turn into aggressive, violent behaviour. A report by Patrick F Fagan and Aaron Churchill [3] explained the results of an experiment by David P Farrington, Professor of Criminology at Cambridge, who found that those who experienced divorce before the age of 10 were more likely to experience adolescent delinquency and adult criminality.[4] As they grow up, adolescents will display more antisocial and violent behaviour than adolescents brought up in ‘intact families’ (Breivik K and Olweus D).

Children Need Both Parents

[1] Wang S (2009) 'This Is Your Brain Without Dad', The Wall Street Journal

[2] Usalki H (2013) 'Comparison of Single and Two Parents Children in terms of Behavioral Tendencies', International Journal of Humanities and Social Science, pg 256-269

[3] Fagan P and Churchill A (2012) 'The Effects of Divorce on Children', Marri Research

[4] Farrington D (1990), 'Implications of Criminal Career Research for the Prevention of Offending', Journal of Adolescence 13: 93-113.


We appreciate that marriages break down and that, sometimes, people have no other choice than to walk away. We’re not against this, in fact we know many people raised by divorced parents leading healthy, happy lives. The main factor is that both parents work together as the unit they once were for the sake of the child. We’re not saying it won’t be difficult, especially as you work your way through the divorce proceedings, but putting on a strong face for your children is vital for their upbringing – an opinion echoed by hundreds of dads on our Facebook page who are desperate to see their children again! At one point, they were considered great partners, but as soon as the marriage or relationship breaks down, they are forced to see their children for just a few days every other week.