Families are changing, and the idea that households must conform to a nuclear unit is on the way out.
According to the ONS, 15.4% of UK families have a lone parent, and the number of cohabiting unmarried couples has risen by a fifth in the last decade.
There are also over 212,000 same-sex families – up a whopping 40% since 2015 – with LGBT+ parents representing a large proportion of adoptions and fostering.
We know from our own experiences that raising happy, well-adjusted children has nothing to do with your sexuality or relationship status, and everything to do with the love and care you give them.
However, the ‘talking point’ that young people will be disadvantaged by not having both male and female role models in their lives continues to rear its head.
This refrain is often used negatively to suggest that only heterosexual couples are equipped to be parents. But not only is this wrong, it ignores the many advantages of children being exposed to a variety of adults they can look up to.
Parenting consultant and early years practitioner Kirsty Ketley tells Metro.co.uk: ‘Having a good balance of male and female role models in a child’s life is important.
‘It ensures that children are able to develop a diverse set of skills and capabilities and gain a good understanding of gender roles in society.’
That balance doesn’t need to be in the form of a married mother and father. In fact, same-sex and lone parents can create a strong, mixed-gender support network for their little ones to learn from.
‘Having someone to look up to who is like them, can inspire children,’ adds Kirsty.
‘And having strong role models from an early age increases a child’s ability to form relationships and learn that love, empathy and compassion are core human values – regardless of gender.’
There’s no reason why the child of same-sex or lone parents would be unable to have the same level of support, particularly given the prevalence of blended families and co-parenting.
If you want to ensure your child has a wide range of mentors, look at who was there for you growing up – and who’s there for you now. From grandparents to teachers, there will likely be go-to people in your family’s lives that have already proven their capabilities.
Try to ensure your little one has access not just to trusted adults of different genders, but ages and backgrounds too. They’ll be able to learn more about other cultures and develop that all-important sense of empathy through social interaction.
It may also be helpful to speak to one of these trusted adults and let them know your child looks up to them. If they’re happy to be part of your child’s support network, you can ‘assign’ this person as a source of external advice when needed.
Two female parents of a teenage boy, for example, might ask a male friend to step in and answer certain questions about puberty. The mothers are equipped to provide these answers themselves, but their son will benefit from a different, first-hand perspective (and avoid feeling embarrassed having to ask their parents).
When making these decisions, try to prioritise loved ones who are reliable. They may be the most intelligent or funny person you know, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be someone your family can count on.
‘It’s someone who knows how important it is to show love and set safe boundaries: adults who are not worried about being right but want to get it right, and who do not expect children to meet their needs of feeling loved and a sense of belonging.
‘Children need secure adults around them to show them it is okay to be themselves.’
Kirsty adds: ‘Role models can help inspire children and provide support and encouragement, however they can potentially do damage if, for example, they make poor choices.
‘Children who look up to them may think that these poor choices are safe and okay.’
If you don’t have close family or tight-knit pals around you, don’t fret. Yes, it’s great for kids to be exposed to all kinds of people, but it’s not a prerequisite.
Try not to feel guilty or ashamed to reach out for help, though. As they say, it takes a village to raise a child.
As a parent, you’re role model number one to a growing human. So as long as you’re showing them love and setting a good example, they’ll have all the tools they need.