One Thousand Words on Single Parenting and Success

There was an article about me in the newspaper this weekend.

It wasn’t anything special, really. Every Sunday our local daily has a column they call Q&A. They interview area people about their lives, careers or hobbies and run it practically verbatim.

Last week featured a guy who grooms the region’s snowmobile trails, this week it was me.

It mostly focused on how I got interested in the arts, my career path and what I’ve accomplished in my current position as executive director of the local performing arts center.

I have to admit that when the reporter called, a small part of me – well, maybe not that small – hoped that she wanted to know about my writing and this project, instead of talking about my job.

It was an irrational thought and I knew that it wasn’t really possible. My career and the organization I manage are much more interesting than my scribbling one thousand words every night. But I still kind of wished for it. It would be nice to be known as something other than my job title once in a while.

The article was pretty good, though, and the response has been great. I’ve received emails from people I haven’t talked to in years.

And our organization’s major players have responded very positively too. One guy was even reminded to make a donation when he read the article!

I don’t think of myself as someone who craves the spotlight, but it was nice to see my accomplishments over the past four years in print.

It’s funny, but whenever I receive positive feedback or attention like that, part of me always wants to remind everyone that I was raised by a single mother.

All my life, I have battled against the stereotype that children raised in single parent households are destined to be losers, to never accomplish anything or simply face an obstacle to success that other children don’t.

There are even studies about it.

The National Center for Fathering’s
website has a whole page called “The Consequences of Fatherlessness.” (Doesn’t that sound dire?)

This is the first paragraph from that page:

Some fathering advocates would say that almost every social ill faced by America’s children is related to fatherlessness. Six are noted here. As supported by the data below, children from fatherless homes are more likely to be poor, become involved in drug and alcohol abuse, drop out of school, and suffer from health and emotional problems. Boys are more likely to become involved in crime, and girls are more likely to become pregnant as teens.

I know that the whole point of the website is to get guys to man up and be good dads rather than leaving their kids high and dry, but that still makes me cringe. “Almost every social ill”? Really?

The website goes on to list all the ways that fatherless children are doomed including my personal favorite:

In studies involving over 25,000 children using nationally representative data sets, children who lived with only one parent had lower grade point averages, lower college aspirations, poor attendance records, and higher drop out rates than students who lived with both parents.

This, according to fathers.com, is from a 1994 study called Growing up with a Single Parent: What Hurts, What Helps written by Sara McLanahan and Gary Sandefur.

When I was in elementary school, I received numerous perfect attendance awards. I graduated in the top ten of my high school class and graduated magna cum laude from college. I also received my master’s degree with a 3.9 GPA.

I have never once in my life considered dropping out of school — not high school, not college and not grad school.

Yes, I suppose you could argue that if my father had been in my life I would have been valedictorian, graduated suma cum laude and had a 4.0. But I think you’d also agree that any parent, married or single, would be proud of the child who accomplished the academic achievements I have.

And trust me when I say that I would have been more likely to end up on drugs or pregnant at fifteen if I had actually lived with an alcoholic father for my entire childhood.

My mother is a bit defensive on this topic too. She prides herself on being a good mother (as well she should) and it annoys her to hear all single parent households painted with the same brush.

When it comes up in conversation she’ll often point out that I was raised by a single mom and turned out ok. Or someone will make the connection on their own and say, “Oh, Heather’s the exception, of course.”

That statement upsets me almost as much as the stereotype does.

I don’t think I am the exception. There are many successful people in the world who have been raised by single parents. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, to name two. No matter your political leanings, being elected president is a pretty impressive feat.

And dismissing me as an exception, no matter how well intended, only perpetuates the myth that all fatherless children are drug-addled, sex-crazed miscreants who drop out of school in the third grade.

I’m not saying that single parent households are preferable to the more traditional model. And I’m not denying that some kids face challenges because they only have one parent.

But it’s not just about the number of parents. It’s about the quality of parenting.

There are good parents and bad parents, no matter their marital status. Some parents help their children succeed and others don’t.

And sometime taking a child out of a bad situation, even if it leads to single parenthood, is the best thing you can do for them.

A study last April revealed that one out of every four children in the United States is being raised by a single parent.

Isn’t it time we stop telling twenty five percent of our children that they can’t possibly achieve success because their parents aren’t married?

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One thought on “One Thousand Words on Single Parenting and Success

  1. Pingback: Blog Post #500! | One Thousand Words Project

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