Miranda broke down in tears while talking to me. She’d suffered months of abuse by her husband following the birth of her son. He was going out all the time, didn’t show any interest in their son and spent what time he had at home on the Internet or watching TV. Conversations ended in arguments. Arguments sometimes ended in violence.
She knew she needed to get out. She acknowledged that she couldn’t love someone who couldn’t love her or their son as he should. But she continued to struggle with making the decision to leave. Why? “I don’t want my son to grow up without a father,” she said. “I don’t want him to have a broken home.”
Miranda is under the spell of cultural myths that don’t match her realities. She thinks that less than half a dad is better than none. She thinks that her son needs a male role model living under the same roof to grow up to be a man. She thinks that having a single mom will mean that his family is “broken.” We have more talking to do.
I don’t know how many times I’ve had to say it. Making a baby doesn’t make a man into a father. A man who isn’t interested in raising his child isn’t a dad. He’s a donor. Miranda’s son already doesn’t have a father. Having the donor stick around isn’t going to change that reality. Having an abusive man around the house is far more destructive to the child’s growth and development than being raised by a single mom.
She is also suffering from a sense of inadequacy when it comes to raising a boy. Miranda has the mistaken belief that she can’t celebrate his manliness as he grows and can’t provide important positive role models for what it means to be a man. She hasn’t yet gotten clear enough of those biases to consider whether what her husband is modeling is what she wants her son to learn. She underestimates her own importance and abilities.
Of equal concern to me is her notion that raising her son alone means that her home is “broken.” It doesn’t have to be. Single mothers are raising 40 percent of the children in America today. Most are doing it competently and lovingly. Their homes aren’t “broken.” They are whole because the mothers believe in their capacity to provide a safe and secure family that includes themselves and their kids in a complete universe of love. Although unlucky in finding a permanent partner, they’ve provided their children, girls as well as boys, positive, loving experiences with positive, loving men.
Yes, raising kids as a single mom (or dad for that matter) is challenging. But so is raising kids in a two-parent or multi-generation family. The challenges are different, not worse. With some attention to the unique issues of single parenting, single moms can adequately raise their sons and daughters to be good men and women.
Successful single moms have a number of things in common. When I asked a parenting group to pass along their advice, the women came up with this list of essentials: