“Being a Single Parent Is Many Things. But It Is Not Failure.”
Slate readers on the upsides of single parenthood.
Mure goes further, expressing a certain freedom that she feels exists in a household without “the man voice”:
Minus the man voice, the lines of communication here are wide open. There is no intimidation, no judgment, no apprehension. If someone's feeling something—it's put out there. We discuss it. We find the humor in it. These conversations usually occur at dinner, the meal we eat together every night. The meal cooked by me and appreciated by the kids. The meal eaten on the table my son sets and my daughter cleans up and the meal over which conversation flows.
Dave Steel, who grew up without a dad around, doesn’t see it quite the same way. “Like other fatherless boys,” he writes, “my life was defined by my dad’s absence. In fact, never knowing my father shaped me as much, or more, as did being raised by mom alone.” Like the others, Steel goes on to write about the resourcefulness he gained out of necessity:
While other kids my age were given cars when they turned 16, or drove around in spare family cars, I developed and executed a game plan to acquire a car and driver’s license entirely on my own. I took the city bus to a grocery store, got a job bagging groceries, opened a bank account, enrolled in a driver’s ed school across the street from the grocery store where I worked, got my license, and bought a junker for $400. Doing all of this took a year, and the car ended up lasting four months.
But he also writes beautifully about how difficult it is for a young man to grow up without a male model in the house—“becoming a man when you’ve grown up without one in your life is like building an airplane while flying it”—just as single father Robert Danberg writes beautifully about figuring out how to be a good dad to his kids. “I am a father unlike the father I had,” he writes, “simply because a man whose children were born in 1965 understood the blessings and obligations differently than a man whose children were born in the ’90s and ’00s. You could say that, as a father, I’ve tried to be what I’ve understood was a good mother.”
While most of us tend to view the family structure options as (a) two-parent family, (b) single mom-led family, or (c) single dad-led family, Pia Volk wrote in to remind us that there is a “(d)”:
My 8-year-old son and I live in a shared flat with three other adults, a journalist and two doctors. We are like a family, just that we haven chosen each other because we like each other rather than because we are connected by bloodline. My flatmates teach my son skills that I don't have: One plays chess with him, the other piano, the next one soccer. By law, I am a single mother. By life, my son is a tribal project of the modern kind.
From the sons and daughters of single moms to the single mothers and fathers themselves, one thread that carried through all of the reader responses was a thoughtfulness about what parents pass on to their children—this idea that single parents aren’t just scraping by and parenting from a haggard haze, but rather that they are molding their parenting philosophies to the circumstances of their lives. Take Theresa Verhaalen:
While many of my daughter’s schoolmates have parents who disallow their children from setting foot to pavement on the way to school, I don’t have time for that. While it may be frowned upon, I look at it as granting her a path to self-confidence in a world of paranoia. This way, she learns to use common sense.
I doubt I’ll forget the day when she walked six blocks to a friend’s house. The mom called me while I was at my desk, alarmed. “Were you aware that she was out there alone?” I calmly answered that I was happy she did this on her own, but she hadn’t notified me before (which was the truth, the sly bugger). I had to listen to a litany about danger/responsibility/strangers and on and on. When the convo was over, I later patted my daughter on the back for her intuitiveness, told her not to walk to that friend’s house again, and let it be.
It’s not about throwing caution to the wind as much as it is about using common sense safety. I want my daughter to know how to handle emergencies, to have the freedom to trust her instincts. I am training her to be an adult after all. Where two-parent households may view it as unfortunate that she walks to and from school, that she doesn’t have the amenities that go along with having a larger financial budget, I shrug it off.
Being a single parent is many things. But it is not failure. Not in my house.
Allison Benedikt is the managing editor of Slate's Double X.