Dear single parents,
I am not a single parent (nor even a parent). I was not raised by a single parent. My mother and father, despite whatever difficulties they may have had, kept together out of a desire to keep their children together over the years.
So, I know right away that to understand the difficulties of a single parent is a challenge. Perhaps I could get away by murmuring my sympathies about what a horrible thing it must be to be a single parent – but that is the wrong thing to do.
Today, about 30 percent of all U.S. households are single-parent households, with single mothers accounting for about one quarter of those households, while single fathers are another 6 percent. To not understand those households means not understanding almost a third of the American population. Society, as a whole, needs to understand both the plights and joys of its people.
Perhaps the first and most important thing which individuals like myself can understand is that single parenting is not an endless excursion of misery which churns out deadbeat adults who become drunks or criminals. Yes, single parents (as a whole) are economically worse off than married families since there is only one source of income. Yes, there are days where you just want to sleep but cannot. Yes, there are opportunities which you miss out on because you do not have someone else by your side.
That said, there is plenty of joy in parenting, whether single or otherwise. Whether you see your child win a baseball game or choose to spend an afternoon with him, you chose to have a child in the first place because you understood the joys which come with it. That joy still remains even if your spouse has not.
You love your children, and are willing to do whatever is necessary so that they can be happy, healthy, and productive adults. However, the rhetoric which our society has about single parents does not acknowledge this. Instead, politicians talk about how “broken families” have led to all sorts of terrible social ills which afflict this country.
However, those politicians do not understand an obvious fact: no one forms a single family because they want to. They form single families because it is the only way out from a family which is already broken. By becoming single, you can gain new-found independence and autonomy which sometimes cannot be found even in a healthy two-parent household.
Just look at the example of Amanda Lamond-Holden, who discovered she was pregnant but is now running an emergency center in San Diego. Not everyone can be like her, but at the same time, a single parent is not inherently doomed to some miserable existence which will produce a miserable child.
You work, you live, and you get by. You love your child and even taught them to use a porta potty. That love is the most important thing in the world. No one can take that away from you.
This love doesn’t negate the pain caused by hurtful remarks from others, like: “Oh, my husband is out on a trip, so it’s like I’m a single mother for the next week!” “Don’t your kids need a father figure in their lives?” “How do you do it? I know I couldn’t!”
I’ll admit, I have said things like this when talking with single mothers. I meant well. I was trying to relate, yet all I did was bring up bad memories or sound condescending. As much as I can try to understand what the experience is like, there is a massive gap between reading or talking to single parents and actually experiencing the whole thing for yourself.
I can definitely understand one thing – the fact that you are single, does not mean that you are interested in bringing another person into your family. Far too often, others assume that a single parent is lonely and looking for company. However, for all of the reasons which have been discussed up to this point, single parents are often just fine with being single.
They are not looking to bring in anyone else into their lives, nor are they looking for a surrogate husband or wife. Some of you do, of course, and some of you do not. For at the end of the day, all of you are individuals with your own personal interests, experiences, and desires.
As Shawna Wingate from Huffington Post observed, I hope that your children, and those around you, truly appreciate the burdens and joys which you handle every single day. Parenthood is one of the most important fabrics for building this society. A strong single parent is worth a thousand thanks and hugs.
With the holiday season winding down, please try to get some rest, stay positive, and smile with what you have accomplished. God knows, you’ve earned it.
Featured photo credit: Erik Söderström via flickr.com