Friday, July 27, 2012

Finding success in single parenthood

From today's Briefing:

On the eve of my husband’s risky brain biopsy, I spoke aloud to one of my best friends the words buried in my heart since age 7.
“I don’t want to be a single mom.”
I was a child of the ’70s in the most predictable way. My parents split up in the decade that saw U.S. divorce rates double. They divorced the same year that Kramer vs. Kramer was a big-screen hit. My sister and I were statistics — about 1million American kids were affected by divorce in 1979.
Our journey was rough. We survived, but I wouldn’t wish it on anyone else, and certainly not on my own children.
So I had a foolproof plan. Marry the right man, the person with whom I could imagine spending my whole life. And I did.
But the foolproof plan didn’t allow for biopsy results revealing an inoperable, incurable brain tumor.
All of the sudden, Steve, too, was a statistic, one of about 12,000 Americans diagnosed in 2008 with a glioblastoma. The surgeon who met with his family and me just after that biopsy told us that patients with Steve’s kind of tumor die within an average of four to six months.
Doctors told us to ignore the statistics. They were treating a patient, not a number.
We listened and we believed, and with the help of radiation therapy, chemotherapy, other drugs, prayer, good wishes and an incredible zeal for life, Steve survived for 18 months.
He beat the odds.
Still, almost three years ago I became a single mom, taking on the role I’d dreaded almost my whole life.
We’re surviving, but I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.
The odds are against us.
Take, for example, last week’s Slate article by W.Bradford Wilcox: “The Kids Are Not Really Alright: It’s worse to be raised by a single mother, even if you’re not poor.”
Wilcox describes the difficulties facing children in single-mom homes.
“Single mothers, even from wealthier families, have less time. They are less likely to be able to monitor their kids. They do not have a partner who can relieve them when they are tired or frustrated or angry with their kids.
“This isn’t just a question of taking kids to the array of pampered extracurricular activities that many affluent, two-parent families turn to; it’s about the ways in which two sets of hands, ears, and eyes generally make parenting easier.”
Those words and the statistics he cites on incarceration, teen pregnancy and poverty cause a little anxiety to rise in my chest.
I can’t spend too much time fretting about it, though. Worrying consumes energy, and, as Wilcox says, single moms are short on energy.
Instead of worrying, I remind myself that we are not a number.
We are a tiny nucleus with a network of nearby friends and family members, neighbors and church members, coworkers and teachers.
Cooper and Katie have only one living parent, but they have a solid foundation of unconditional love and support from two.
Yes, my time is limited. I do get tired and frustrated. But I also have learned, out of necessity, to ask for help and to accept the unsolicited kind.
I’ve cemented nonnegotiable values and standards and learned to tolerate compromise in others.
My children have more responsibilities at home than most of their peers, but I’m not convinced that’s a bad thing. They rely on a strong faith, and I am certain they know they are loved.
Would it be better if Cooper and Katie’s dad were still alive? Absolutely.
Are they doomed because they’re left with only me? Absolutely not.
We plan on beating the odds.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

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