It is often said there are as many ways to bring up a child as there are parents.
The nuclear family, consisting of two paired adults and their children, is seen by many as the ideal.
But families are dynamic and ever-changing with divorces, step parents, and even parents who remain together but live apart because of work commitments.
With equal marriage in newspapers and parliament, the closely-linked debate over who should and should not be a parent goes on.
Now research by the Centre for Social Justice has returned a spotlight to single-parent families and particularly single mums.
A report by the think tank, called Fractured Families: why stability matters, says there are 2m single parents, and this is increasing by 20,000 each year.
It has recognised Town ward in Gosport as having one of the highest percentages of single parents – both male and female – in the country.
Now the director of the organisation is warning the government it must do more to ‘stem the epidemic of family breakdown.’
Christian Guy said: ‘Some argue that it is no business of politicians to meddle in the personal family choices people make. Others suggest that rising family breakdown is just a modern process, an inevitable trait of human advancement.
‘Others say family instability doesn’t matter.’
‘This has to change. Our political discourse about family policy must mature.
‘Family breakdown is an urgent public health issue.
‘Backing commitment and setting a goal of reducing instability does not equate to criticising or stigmatising lone parents or those involved.
‘Within this need for new maturity, we should also agree that marriage is not a right-wing obsession but a social justice issue.
‘People throughout society want to marry but the cultural and financial barriers faced by those in the poorest communities thwart their aspirations.
‘There are “men deserts” in many parts of our towns and cities and we urgently need to wake up to what is going wrong. This is an ignored form of deprivation that can have profoundly damaging consequences on social and mental development.’
The work by the think tank says the absence of a father is linked to higher rates of teenage crime, pregnancy, and disadvantage.
Its research also claims that one in four primary schools has no male teacher.
And it says 80 per cent of primary schools have fewer than three male teachers in the school.
Lisa Fletcher, 37, is a single mum of three, of Fyning Street, in Portsmouth.
She has been leading the campaign for funding to Sure Start centres in the city.
Lisa said it is important children have a male role model in their lives.
‘But that doesn’t have to be their biological father,’ she adds.
‘I’ve been raised by my mum who was a single parent, and my sisters have been raising their children with partners.
‘It doesn’t mean just because you have your father there then you’re going to turn out OK.
‘It’s important to have a positive role model, whether it’s an uncle, maybe an older brother or even a cousin.
‘The one thing I love about Sure Start is the positive role models they have in there that are men.
‘They give parents practical advice.’
The CSJ report adds that the increase in single-parent families is not due to divorces.
Instead, it points the finger at cohabiting couples.
It says since 1996 the number of people cohabiting has doubled to nearly six million.
Their research says cohabiting parents are three times more likely to separate by the time a child is five years old than married couples.
But Lisa said it is not always best to stay together with a partner if there are problems.
She said: ‘When you stay together for the sake of the children, you don’t realise children can see things you might not think they can.
‘They can pick up on parents arguing.’
‘When you are in a relationship, and it doesn’t matter if it’s domestic [abuse] or not, if you’re not getting along with your partner the children can pick up on this and it can be worse than being a single parent.
‘It’s not necessarily [the case that] your child is automatically going to become delinquent.’
The CSJ research does not aim to lay blame on single-parent families.
Instead it is calling on the government to spend more on keeping families together.
It says the cost of family breakdowns is £46bn a year, and is set to hit £49bn by the end of this parliament.
Kathryn Kelly is both an ante-natal instructor for the UK’s largest parent charity, NCT and a volunteer at Parents, Teachers, and Children (Patch) at Elson Junior School, in Gosport.
She said it is important for all families, single-parent and nuclear families, to get as much support as possible from, groups such as NCT and Patch, and the community.
She said: ‘When you’ve got a couple of people to share the load, it just takes some of the pressure off.
‘When all the load is on one person, that can be very isolating.
‘It’s a hugely demanding job being a parent as it is.
‘When that’s all on one person, that’s increasingly difficult.
‘Anything that we can do to provide support in terms of places to go, things to do, family-friendly things, but also things that welcome single-parent families.
‘All the good things that were being provided by Sure Start centres has fallen away.’
‘MUMS DO A GREAT JOB’
A REPORT has found a ward in Gosport has one of the highest percentages of single-parent households.
The Centre for Social Justice report, a right-wing think tank, identifies 65 per cent of Town ward’s households as having single parents, on the same level as Stockbridge, in Knowsley.
That makes it eighth in a league table compiled by the think tank.
And 58 per cent of the households in Town ward are have single mums, putting it 15th in the table, on par with Everton, in Liverpool.
But Cllr Diane Searle, one of two Labour councillors representing the ward, said single mothers do a grand job.
She pointed out families may be together but not live together, especially with parents in the navy or other armed forces.
She said: ‘Coming from a navy family, I was married to a merchant navy man who was always away.
‘Mums do a great job, they really do.
‘Also, I find in our area, the families do stick together.
‘In Gosport, they help each other.
‘They have their family round them.
‘It is sad if they haven’t got any family around them.’
Cllr Searle added the community, including councillors and local churches, do help single parent families.
But she did say children are affected by family breakdowns.
She said: ‘It’s sad because it does affect families.
‘I came from a family that didn’t split up – I find it sad.’
The CSJ report compares areas where fatherless and single parent households are most common.
It wants cross-party commitment to helping families in the country.
The CSJ has published on poverty, benefits, and a co-founder is Tory MP Iain Duncan-Smith.