Recently there was a shared item showing two guys beating an old man. The question was who would do such a thing? One individual answered by stating they were probably thugs raised without a father. This hit me in the gut, since I was forced into being a single parent from the time my daughter was six. Unable to hold my fingers back I replied “please stop shaming single parents” and added something about the parent not always having a choice. She wrote a disclaimer denying trying to shame, so I offered the string to my daughter and asked her opinion. Absolutely, she told me, even more, she is shaming mothers.
There are so many elements that go into bringing up a child, and I am not an expert in child raising per se, but I am experienced in having to tighten my belt, look reality in the face and plan a future for my very young daughter, with little help and few resources. In desperation I took the very frightening step of returning to college in order to complete my degree. After all, the reason we were left on our own was because, in helping my husband toward his doctorate by working at the University, we had “grown in different directions”…translate that to he had fallen for one of his students who was 13 years younger than myself. I will never know for sure if my decision was selfish, or a desperate reach for purpose, or rebellion against working for his education at the expense of my own. What it did culminate in, however, was a continuation of my daughters education and awareness of the world around her unrelated to public schooling. Granted that was not always a positive. Forced to leave the Montessori school where she was thriving and catapulted into public schools was not just hard on her emotionally, it greatly affected her formal
education. The upside was her experience in the academic communities we moved in through the years. She would wander the University of Washington campus and haunt the Natural History Museum to play the bird sounds with coins offered by the docent. She became a fixture, with the teachers permission, in my child development classes. The students all aimed their presentations to the one real child in the class!
There is no need to emphasize the material deprivations, and our utilization of the country’s safety net is chronicled in an earlier post. Dropping a mother and her child/children into the poverty line is, for many divorced women, a given. Working out of it is long and tediously hard work. Adrift in an unexpected world without someone to plan with, work with and lean together, and feeling rudderless, I opted to enter Graduate School in California. Again, the down side was the public school system. Filled with the children of business owners and professors, my daughter was treated as an unwelcome outsider. Teachers found it hard to deal with an
introverted, extremely intelligent, logical and mature beyond her years, young girl. She could read from age 3, but was uncomfortable reading aloud. She could do math from age 3, but found it illogical to have to do homework containing the very math problems she aced on the test. Did I mention she is stubborn? She had an English teacher who actually told her that her report card grade did not reflect her true knowledge. I did not have the time to spend haunting the schools and vetting the teachers. My time was spent in class, studying, and working part-time in the department as a clerk, house manager and box office personnel. Again, there was an up side consisting of the somewhat extended family we were blessed with as the professors folded my daughter into the periphery of their lives, giving her an education unparalleled for most grade school children.
What a single parent has to do is improvise and absorb. Improvise in order to spend time with your child: when possible she would attend class with me, when house managing she would come watch the play, sitting beside the department Chairman
(yes, even Ibsen, Shakespeare and the like, and yes, she understood and discussed with said Chair), and help me with clean up afterwards. Absorb the difficult moments: adverse actions of the child, affecting the child, aimed at yourself. Scold when necessary, hold tight when needed, and try, sometimes unsuccessfully, not to show how hard it is to be without a shoulder to cry on yourself, or arms to comfort your own distress.
There are the tragic moments when you get a phone call at work that the fish tank has exploded and she is trying to save as many fish as she can, the frantic bike ride home , Mom to the rescue! There are the comic moments when you get a call that your darling has snuck into the Equestrian Center pasture and mounted a horse sans saddle, sans bridle and had a nice ride. Home she comes, Mom says “I hear you were riding without permission” and she denies, denies , denies. As she walks in the door Mom sees the back of her jeans with a clear dirt mark exactly the shape of a horses back. Of course there was “a talk”, but how do you not laugh inside at the absurdity of this young child not realizing the clear evidence on the seat of her pants! There are uplifting moments like the time she felt empathy for a young equestrian who’s borrowed mount had been yanked from her just prior to her class at a show, and young daughter freely offers her horse to the distraught young girl and withdraws from the class.
In other words it is family interaction and family life, like any other, only with two family members instead of three or more. As a single parent I watched an empathetic, intelligent, logical, compassionate young girl carry all those qualities into her adult years. Single parents may have more challenges than intact families, they may go without some of the material accouterments their neighbors display,
but if there is love, caring and understanding they sometimes raise children who have a deeper knowledge of the value of money. They are aware that there are choices on how to spend what money is available that affect their lives. Or a greater feeling of empathy for the downtrodden. Or the ability to cope on their own when necessary. They learn to roll with whatever life offers and strive to make that better.
I can’t leave this without mentioning the intact families I have known with children who have been rude, disrespectful to others, lied to the police, and even broken the law. Those “thugs” who beat that poor man could have come from any kind of family. Character is formed by three components, genetically programmed disposition, how the parent or parents interact with the child, and how outside environmental forces affect them. It is downright nasty to infer that children of a given family make up (eg. 2 moms, 2 dads, two families, single parent, grandparents) are more prone to thuggishness or criminality than children from a traditional family structure.
I did not choose to be a single parent, but my daughter learned at an early age how to make decisions for herself, how to cope with adversity and how important fairness and equity are to the human soul.
I did not choose to be a single parent, but I have the peace of knowing the adult my daughter became has wanted to do only good to other humans, and all animals. I have the comfort of knowing she is well employed and is known through the system as an extremely knowledgeable and helpful manager.
I did not choose to be a single parent, it was chosen for me, and I learned to accept the reality and embrace the challenges. And yes, I resent those who immediately jump to the conclusion that if a person commits a crime, is violent, or acts in anti-social ways, that individual must have been raised by a single parent. We need to cease looking for an “other” (in this case single moms) to blame, and place responsibility where it belongs, on the individual causing violence. We need to care for each other and stop looking for someone to blame. Please.