09/30/2014 10:27 am ET Updated Nov 30, 2014

Single Parents Want to Be Good Parents

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It's time to accept the fact that there is little stigma to single parenthood. "Born out of wedlock" is a phrase seldom heard today. More than 40 percent of new mothers are unmarried. Seventy-two percent of African-American children live in single parent families.

The growing trend of having children outside of marriage is not likely to be reversed, writes Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institution, who has been studying childhood poverty for years. She has reached the conclusion that it's time to face up to that fact and help all parents become good parents. The second lesson is that parenting skills must be taught early.

There are many reasons for the single parent trend: women increasingly don't think the men in their lives are dependable, many men are too poor to accept the responsibility of marriage, and social norms have changed.

Marriage is one answer to child poverty simply because two incomes are better than one. And so are two loving parents. But no one has figured out how to promote marriage, neither conservatives nor liberals. In the meantime, let's stop decrying family structure and begin focusing on good parenting. The earlier we begin, even before pregnancy, the better for the child. Lets focus on good prenatal care and avoiding smoking, drinking and drugs that harm the fetus.

The mother's health, and possibly the father's as well, determine whether a baby is well at birth or is disadvantaged from the start.

We also know that 60 percent of pregnancies by single mothers are unplanned (compared to 50 percent for all pregnancies) and 40 percent are terminated by abortion.

What can we do with his information?

Home health visits for every expectant mother should become the national standard and should be continued until a toddler attends preschool. Most mothers want to be good mothers, but they do not always know how. The basics seem simple, but many single mothers did not experience good parenting themselves and need to be taught.

It stands to reason that babies who are wanted fare better than those who arrive unwanted. With the battle raging over access to contraception, we have lost sight of the value -- both economic and emotional of family planning. According to Sawhill, every dollar invested in birth control saves taxpayers roughly five dollars in Medicaid and social welfare payments.

But it's not just about the money. It's about stemming the child poverty rate in America -- which is the highest in the developed world. It's time to be realistic. I have long advocated for more affordable, quality childcare, paid family and medical leave and paid sick days -- all programs that help working families. But we cannot stop there. We have to help all families -- regardless of their structure -- to be good parents and raise healthy, happy and wanted children. The world will be a better place when we succeed.