When Jared Leto won an Oscar last night, I don’t think anyone was shocked. However, his undeniably beautiful dedication to his single mother may have been surprising to some. Why? In our society, we have a habit of focusing on the damage that single-parented households are causing. Research has been published that links single mothers to juvenile delinquency and lack of education. Many articles state that single-parented households are the problem with the world today.
It is true that single parents are under-resourced. Single-parented households struggle with supporting family activities on one income. Similarly, families with a stay-at-home parent also struggle with one income. However, there is a difference. They have free childcare because someone is staying at home. Even in the case of military families, there is an income for the family even when there is a parent missing from the family. So, I get it. It is harder for a single parent. But we have to understand that the parent, who may have depleted resources, is not creating problems for us to clean up.
As single parenting grows with the changes in the definition of family, the children of single parents are reaching adulthood in higher numbers. Therefore, we are seeing more and more adults, successful adults, who were raised by single parents. President Obama, President Clinton, Jared Leto and Alicia Keys are examples of adults who were raised by single mothers specifically. I have heard the justifications. “These are the exceptions.” “She had help from her parents, so he wasn’t really fatherless.” But we will continue to see more and more success stories. It is inevitable.
I will admit that these single parents are succeeding against the odds. As I have been reminded this winter, all parents struggle with school closings when they have to go to work. As a single parent, there is nobody to share the burden of school days. When we need to catch up on sleep, the opportunity to hand the children off to another capable adult is not always available. When we want a second opinion on a health issue, there may not be someone to give it. When we want to explore career options, we may have to take risks because there is no second income or health care plan to fall back on. When we have more than one child, we will have to balance the schedule of activities because you can’t get two children to two separate activities at the same time. This is true unless you are lucky enough to have children with similar interests (not likely).
Although these struggles are frustrating, they have also made me more resilient, more patient and more likely to fight through challenging situations. I don’t give up. This is not because I want to prove to other adults that I can do it. I want to prove to my children that I can do it. If my children watch me overcome the single-parenting difficulties, they may be more likely to work to overcome their own challenges. They will be less likely to see impossibilities in life. So, I will keep working to make our family function well despite the odds.
We must start looking at single parents differently. We must see them without the stigma. We must learn that single parents are trying to make the best decisions for their children, like all parents. We must accept them. We must support them. We must not try to fix them.
Single parents are not the reason our society is failing children. Our society is failing our children because we are failing single parents.