Sunday, September 16, 2007

Single Parent Families

I had a rather tumultous childhood. Back and forth. Here and there. I moved a lot. For the most part, I was raised by my maternal grandmother. Young for a grandmother, she was still straddled with the lack of a formal education and an age which prevented her from getting stable, long-term work. We struggled at the best of times. Even when things were better, she was so bad at managing money that we were never able to save for a rainy day. In that backwards way, she taught me a lot about money.

When you have a two-person household, it's hard to keep secrets. It's hard to pretend like everything's OK. And kids are very observant; they know what's going on. Reading this article by Barbara Ehrenreich reminded me of that. Kids have so much more insight than adults give them credit for, but they have such little control over their surroundings that they can't really have an impact on their environment. In her article, Ehrenreich discusses single-parent homes headed by mothers. The job(s) that some mothers have don't provide sick days, so when her child falls ill, she has to choose between her child or her paycheck because a missed day will result in her termination. Of course, we all want to say that our child comes first, but no paycheck means no rent, food, or clothes. The clear-cut question gets harder. Kids, feeling like a burden, find themselves shielding their mothers from these tough decisions by not telling them when they're sick or injured.

The most severe story she shares:
"Eric, then age 7, got hit by a car on the way home from school but chose not to tell [his mother] for fear she'd lose her second shift job if she didn't go in to work. Later an older sibling called her to say that Eric was crying because his arm hurt from being hit by the car and she had to take him to the hospital. When [his mother] informed her boss, he was adamant: 'Leave and you're fired.' Her pleas didn't move him. She did leave; she was fired. Eric turned out to have a broken arm."
A two-parent household makes life so, so, so much easier for so many reasons beyond money. That said, keep in mind that when you are struggling with something, communicating with your kids is a great way to help them learn and grow, and it's only fair. They expect a lot from you, and if you're preoccupied with other concerns, letting them know and help in their own special way is so important. Whatever you do, don't pretend your kids don't know something's going on. You'd just be fooling yourself.

I'm just saying.


MamaGeek @ Works For Us said...

Wow, what an interesting upbringing Meta. I love how you said you learned so much from what your grandma didn't do - isn't that the truth.

I give single parents so much credit - I have NO idea how they do it. Great post.