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Children of Single Parents - They Hear More than One Voice

By Megan Stanish - 27th July 2011

The other day, I was checkin’ the Tweets, gettin’ all social-media-esque and stuff, when I came upon a Tweet that brought me up short. For my in-the-flesh friends, I can already hear your comments: “Brought you up short? That wouldn’t be too difficult!” 

The Tweet that halted me stated: “One of the blessings for children with two parents is learning that life has more than one voice."

This seems innocuous enough, right? Fair statement, sweet reflection. Still… having been the child of a single mother (my father was very involved in my life, but he lived 1,000 miles away) and having known many kids who were brought up both well and broad-minded by single parents, this statement did give me pause.  I figured I should read the full article to which the Tweet linked. I don’t want to “out” the Tweep or organization in question, because I think they meant well, so I’ll note the text here rather than link to it. It was a short question and answer-style post:

     “Q: My husband thinks I’m too protective of our six-year-old twins and I think he’s not careful enough. How can I convince him to be more attentive?"
     “A: One of the blessings for children with two parents is learning that life has more than one voice. Fathers and mothers nurture, discipline, love and struggle with their children quite differently. My own research has shown that dads tend to encourage more exploratory behavior, while moms play it closer to home. These normal tendencies, though not absolute, are intriguing to children. So enjoy the differences – don’t regret them.”

I understand what the answering author was trying to convey – in the Tweet and in the brief article itself. While way over-generalized, there are key elements of truth in his  answer. However, in its brevity, I find the statement leans toward ignorant for a few reasons. To me, it:

  • Disregards/dishonors single parents (whether single due to individual adoption, divorce or death of a parent)
  • Disregards the impact/influence of other adults that parents include in their children's lives
  • Disregards the benefits of parents who themselves actively help their children see different points of view
  • Disregards single-sex-parent households with its 'dads tend to do this' and 'moms tend to do that' commentary

Again, I'm not saying the entire concept is wrong, but I think it's conveyed too narrowly.

So anyway, as I mentioned, I was raised in a 'non-traditional' though unfortunately very currently traditional family, and I was self-aware enough while reading the Tweet and article to know that I may be reacting to this with a bit too much sensitivity. So I reached out to my friends for their insights. Below are four reactions from moms of widely varying age ranges and family situations. I’ll let their eloquent responses do the talking. (Yes, I got their permission to use their statements and names.)

“That response was BS and not helpful at all to the question.  They just didn’t want to tackle what was appropriately guided behavior for the 6 yr olds (and I find myself asking that question a lot for my 4 yr old who thinks he’s almost ready to move out and get a job).

"Most single parents (and even most 2-parent households) are not an island.  Our children experience a variety of approaches to life, boundaries and more importantly problem-solving skills, when they are outside of our care.  That may include family, babysitters, daycare, schools or just hanging out with friends.  I noticed the last time I went somewhere with a friend and her 2 children that we have similar but slightly different approaches and language that we use to keep an eye on our kids and get them to behave appropriately.  I learn something from nearly every parent I encounter and our kids are probably keeping notes too.  I don’t think the idea that 2-parent households are the only (or even primary) way that children learn the world has more than one voice."

“So, the woman who posed the question needs to read 'Fifty Dangerous Things (you must let your kids do)'.

“Now, on to [the organization’s] response. It is narrow-minded to think that children learn 'more than one voice' from any number of parents in the home - children learn voices from everyone if, and only if, you teach them to pay attention. I am a single mom and my daughter has certainly learned that there is more than one voice to be heard - hers is first, mine, her dad's, her teachers', her friends', her friends' parents', her elders', her minister's, her neighbor's - the voices of the entire village that help bring her up in this narrow-minded, oft one-sided world. But note, hers is first on my list. Why? Because she must learn now that hearing what others say is good but making her own 'right' decisions is what is best for her.”

“I think in the context of the question that was asked, this answer is okay-ish.  (But sometimes I think two parents can do more harm than good if they can't find a common ground.)

“But I don't think the response 'dishonors' single parents. It does make the point that 'more than one voice' is important for kids to hear.  I think single parents need to figure out how to get 'more than one voice' in their kids' lives.  Single parents can get real overprotective of their kids, since they're the ones who have sole responsibility!

“My friend, P, was a single mother who bemoaned not having a 'man's influence' in her kid's life.  But the bottom line is that not only could she have arranged that - she didn't want to.  She didn't want others to have much influence at all in her kid's life, and the kid suffered (I think to this day) for not having the 'other voice' all the years.”

“You might want to Google 'Al Franken' and 'Focus on the Family'.  He's recently made comments rebuking their opinions on same-sex marriages by going through the research that they defend.  He talks about the health, stability of kids, etc.  When I saw the [organization’s] quote (and I haven't read the article, so perhaps there is more in there), I didn't necessarily think that they were excluding same-sex parents, but it did promote the same reaction as you - far too narrow, and likely offensive to some of [the organization’s] parents. Just something to check out. I heart Al Franken.”

So there you have it, from one of the best panels I could have hoped for. But there are just 5 of us commenting here, and all of us women. What’s your reaction?

Editor's note: The photo above is the author Megan Stanish with her Mom on her wedding day.

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