Single parent (?)

question mark


What does it mean to be a single parent in 2016?  As an educator, I have a glimpse of what single parenthood looks like.  As a community leader, I can see the impact that children with multiple parents (from different homes) has on our collective success.  As a divorcee, there’s probably no better way to convey my opinion of what it means to be a single parent.

Our society takes positions on cultural phenomena based on certain perspectives.  We attribute a plethora of problems to the crumbling family values of our nation.  On the surface, it’s easy to look back at a time when households had a sense of normalcy–a time when Mom stayed home all day and kept house, while Dad brought home the bacon.  Crime was down, industry was good, and every household’s needs were met…

So we’ve been led to believe.

But that scenario speaks volumes.  Let’s ask some questions.  Where did these families live?  Of what demographic are we speaking?  Exactly what time period are we referring?

Clearly there are fewer households that can be described this way.  Either the story was told by an extremely conservative perspective or some important facts were left out.  There’s plenty of reasons why the “traditional home” no longer exists.  We have enough information now to suggest the reasons for the “broken home.”  Dad got bored.  Mom felt empowered.  Kids found ways outside the home to grow and develop. With the evolution of the family unit came new ways for our families to grow.  And we did just that!  We grew…out of the home!

I’ve often wondered if “Leave It To Beaver” type families ever truly existed. How would the story have continued?  In the 60’s, would Ward have had an affair with a bohemian beauty and left the family nest to spite his obligatory family?  Let’s have a look at the first time the “Beav” had a bad drug trip.  How long would it have been before the stereotypical TV mom took the lead in the house and did whatever it took to makes ends meet?

Back to reality.  Let’s take some of these question marks and literally turn them on their sides.  What do you get?  In text lingo, it looks more like a winky face. That winky-face haunts me as I think of all the single parents who have lives (and needs) separate from their children.  Traditional two-parent homes OR families who strive to put their children first at all costs sometimes condemn the “single parent.”

“If we can do it, why can’t they?” they criticize.  But it’s that perspective that brings us to an in-pass.

But single parents do “it”all the time.  Single parents are making it work everyday–sometimes through the most unpleasant circumstances.

Single moms are glad to have me (as an educator) in the lives of their children.  I know this because they tell me at every back-to-school night and parent conference.  And they do this without the winky-face.  It’s genuine.  Positive energy is always welcomed.

For many years I discounted the impact that I had as a male role model in the lives of my students.  I didn’t want to believe that I brought something to the table that my female cohorts could not.  It wasn’t until I had a student teacher tell me bluntly that she adamantly believed that men had no place in the classroom.  I was disappointed at her perspective, but respected it nonetheless.  My colleagues overheard the exchange and supported me as I demonstrated the kindness, assertiveness, and positive attitude that I modeled for my students.  My students, their parents, and my fellow educators see the value.  That’s good enough for me.

Little do they know my plight as a single parent has it’s challenges as well. I too rely on others to have positive interactions with my children.  I am glad that those interactions do not rely too heavily on the marital status/gender of their educators, caregivers, or mentors.  I am glad that I am not all that they have.

I noted recently that my role in the community as a “self-proclaimed civil rights leader” has come with a bit of skepticism.  Personally, I can’t quite figure how much longer our community can wait for someone to step up and loudly lead the oppressed to demand equality and impartiality.  We look out to a sea of parents (both single and married) who are concerned about how receiving the world is to their children.  How hard will our children have to work, fight, struggle to achieve levels of success (that may not be attainable when they become adults)?  Do our children suffer more because they are products of single-parent homes?

Plenty believe that our children are disadvantaged because both parents are not always present simultaneously.  Our children are not raising themselves, contrary to popular belief.  As a result, we are witnessing a generation of youth who have become resilient through controversies and tribulations that would have stifled their parents entirely.

This world is changing quickly.  And the evolution is being fueled by single parents.  Some of those parents must compensate for what is missing from the ideal two-parent home.  Other parents (like myself) juggle time between the children and career, while knowing that the other parent has just as many resources (plus child support) to offer our kids.  In theory, shouldn’t these children–my children, your children, our children–have plenty of support to be successful in adulthood?  Shouldn’t they be better off??

But there’s an element here that we might be overlooking.  The element of happiness in the home.  The measure of frustration by either parent that comes from being alone.  When the children are away, on whom can their mom/dad rely on to enjoy their time, their home, their happiness?  The love in a single-parent can not be solely a love between child and parent. Happy parents are essential to emotionally nourished children.

How we as parents find that happiness is as integral to our own development too. Mom needs a partner.  Dad needs a partner.  And although either “can do bad all by themselves”, who wants that?  In the pursuit of happiness, parents seek either to have a bond beyond their children, OR they decide to allow another adult to bond with their children.  These are choices that married couples with children don’t face.

To be a single parent does not mean that a parent is raising their child alone.  It can mean that parents need more than just help raising their children.  It can mean that parents need add components to their own mental health and emotional well-being.   To be single does not mean to be alone.

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