Why Single Motherhood Rocks3/10/2014
by Audrey Elisa Kerr Last year, University of Virginia professor W. Bradford Wilcox -- Director of the National Marriage Project – did an...
by Audrey Elisa Kerr
Last year, University of Virginia professor W. Bradford Wilcox -- Director of the National Marriage Project – did an interview wherein he asserted that being raised by a single mother is among the worse scenarios for children, even if you are not desperately poor.
Perhaps mine is an equally radical assertion to make in a day and age when popular commentary swirls ominously around black men who make babies and don’t step up and black mothers who can’t find their way to knot-tying, but as for me – and in my life -- I actually like being a single mom and chose this path for myself with great deliberateness.
More than that, I think single parenting has many benefits and I many of my friends raising children in single-parent homes– both male and female – whole-heartedly agree.
In full disclosure, I am in a moderately privileged position, so far as single parenting goes: I am a professional. My two little girls attend private school and are involved in activities that require commitments of time and resources, and we can swing both. I have a caregiver (she is also a black, single mom) who provides an extra set of hands. To pretend that my adaptation of single parenting is relevant the working poor or relevant to those who did not choose to be single mothers would be disingenuous. That said, and as unbelievable as it may still seem, I wouldn’t want to parent any other way.
It was in college that I found myself gravitating to men who had been raised by single mothers: I found them to be more centrist in their gender politics, more open-minded, less wedded to traditional gender roles, and more open to women as equals. Perhaps this was because they’d seen women do everything, so it hadn’t yet occurred to them that there was a “weaker sex.”
In adulthood, I’ve found great spiritual and interpersonal balance for myself and my children through parenting without a spouse.
Here are some of the perks of single parenting:
Boys raised by single moms aren’t as deeply indoctrinated into antiquated male behaviors, like the idea that mom ought to be in the kitchen while dad works the remote. I’m certainly not saying this is the case in all modern homes, where lots of moms and dads work long hours and wear multiple hats. But the reality is that traditional gender roles are alive and real, and they socialize young men and women into the expectations they should have of their future relationships. This, in short, is a rotten deal if you are born female.
Boys and girls raised by single moms have a stronger sense that women can do anything; ergo, women are probably equal. After all, a stereotype you have not learned is a stereotype you can’t perpetuate.
In two parent families, women wind up having a disproportionate financial responsibility for all things domestic. Men tend to save more money. I have more than a few girl friends who are using credit cards to keep their homes running while there husbands have wads of money deducted from their paychecks for “a rainy day.” While this may seem like a good thing, the fact that the women are not party to these decisions marks, for me, a form of socioeconomic control over which women have little to no voice or power.
Many domestic arguments center around child-rearing and I don’t have to have those fights. Differences in disciplinary styles are almost always gendered and often focus on how children should be punished, socialized and even educated. I’m so glad I never have to engage in dinnertime fusses about whether Maggie ate enough peas to excuse herself from the table. I love being on the same page with my children, and having the buck stop with me, and only me, in our household. Occassionally I can also switch up the rules if I need to without having to engage in a negotiation about it. This may sound like a selfish way to parent. I call it peace.
There is no one to undermine my authority, which is a big problem, particularly if “wait until your father comes home,” is a mantra you grew up with or invoke. This is a particularly important one for women, has women are far more likely to surrender, back down, or compromise in parenting disputes than their male counterparts.
The type of dads who don’t show up are the type of dads you’re better off without.
What is a family anyway? And shouldn’t “family” be defined by those who do show up (including grandparents, uncles, cousins, friends and neighbors)? Most of the black men I knew growing up who were raised by working poor black women did not have time to sit around musing about who wasn’t there. They had chores and jobs; they studied hard, took care of siblings. . . and wound up at reputable colleges. Their level of achievement often matched the level of responsibility pre-college. For them, this personal accountability produced a sense of ownership in their households, and carried over into their adult work ethics.
Here’s the thing: I was raised in a two-parent family by an amazing dad. He taught me how to ballroom dance, wrestle, and do geometry. He always held doors for me, drove me to school, ironed my uniform, and helped me pick out dresses for school dances My mother was equally available and loving, and stayed home with us for the first seven years of our lives. By no means do I intend to minimize the many benefits of having a father in the household.
But there is a flexible, playful, affirming structure to my home that is different from the home I was raised in.
While studies and reports drone on and on about the problem of single parenting, particularly among black women, it’s time to recognize that more and more black middle class women are single-parenting with rose-colored glasses, because it’s a choice, and because we can do it well. We are walking the line, working hard, being great mothers and making great families for deserving children.
Check the stats on the black men who DO make it to college: guess who raised most of them? Maybe this is the headline we need to see: “Kids raised by single, black moms are likely to do great.“
Let’s make that a statistic.
Audrey Elisa Kerr is an author and essayist from New York. She currently resides in Connecticut.