Slate Readers on the Upsides of Single Parenthood

What women really think about news, politics, and culture.
Jan. 9 2013 9:00 AM

“Being a Single Parent Is Many Things. But It Is Not Failure.”

Slate readers on the upsides of single parenthood.

Mother holding and kissing her son outdoors.
Mother holding and kissing her son outdoors.

Photo by Polka Dot Images/Thinkstock.

When couples celebrate their 10th anniversary, they might buy important jewelry and give it to each other to wear. Sometimes they surprise each other and hide the jewels under napkins or in soup bowls. That’s because a decade is a long time, a long time to share towels and make compromises and most often raise kids. In marital circles, it is an accomplishment. In unmarital circles, OK, in my unmarital circle, a decade of parenting—alone, without the relationship part—is not an accomplishment. It is a Sisyphean feat. It is like jogging to Uzbekistan. Or deciphering the human genome. I am going to buy a ruby and bake it into a cake and forget that I did it and give it to myself. Surprise! Happy anniversary!

These are the words of Pamela Kripke, who last week wrote an essay for Slate about her experience as a single mother. Under the headline, “It’s Better To Be Raised By a Single Mom,” Kripke detailed the feats and failures of single motherhood and, most importantly to her, the grit she is sure she has passed on to her two daughters—“the beauty that emerges from the strain, the impediments, even the sometimes terrifying knowledge that their parents might fail them.”

We asked readers to write in with their own experiences, either of being a single mother or of being raised by one, and most also proudly identified this somewhat intangible characteristic of grit in their kids, a pride both for their kids and for a parenting job well done. From single mother Sarah Wilson:

I’ve been a single mom for over two years. It wasn’t by choice. I was married and trying very hard to make my family work. My ex-husband walked out two weeks before Christmas while I was in the middle of law school exams, leaving me with a child who had just turned 2, a mortgage on a house that was underwater, and no idea how I was going to make it. Of course my daughter is going to be tougher and more resilient as a result, but not because I’ve short-changed her, or sent her to daycare, or told her there wasn’t money to play soccer this year. Plenty of kids face those kind of “challenges” and much more. My daughter is going to have grit because she’s seen it modeled by me her whole life. Mommy got out of bed, finished school, kept the house, paid the bills, and handled herself with grace in the face of obstacles.

Another single mom, Nancy Mure, echoes this sentiment—that there is a great benefit to what she is modeling for her children:

I am a flawed human most days, always apologizing for being scrambled or forgetting this or that, but my kids don't see me as perfect, and I prefer it that way. Where our previous life was seen by most as kept in a neat and tidy box as a “together family,” it isn't now—and we've all learned to function in that. We are the privileged ones. We are the ones who have the coping mechanisms needed to get through life.

From those who wrote in, it’s clear that single mothers appreciate this grit in their children, but do children appreciate having had to acquire it? Annie McDonald, who was raised by a single mother from the age of 2, says yes:

My mother, sister, and I would spend family evenings at the kitchen table licking green stamps to fill out the $5 booklets from the local pharmacy. We turned those booklets in not for prizes (as some do), but for cash so that we could buy groceries. 

My mother fixed the plumbing and the wiring when she could. She installed linoleum, ceramic tile, and wall paneling. She framed out a wall in the basement to create that second bedroom. She learned how to make stained glass windows and took on small commissions.

She raised us with a firm hand and was a strict disciplinarian. Granted, she had her faults and was by no means a saint. But she raised us with a capacity for learning and curiosity that was unparalleled among my childhood peer group. And from our experiences, my sister and I have developed incredibly strong coping devices that have gotten us through hard times of our own.

What about having no male role model in the house? For Wilson, the absence of a husband will, she hopes, actually serve to help her daughter find a good mate later in life. “I hope she’ll learn from our teamwork that she deserves a true partner in her future life. If I had stayed married to my ex-husband, I might have inadvertently taught her that women work, cook, clean, and raise the kids while men do what they want.”

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