[Bella’s intro: I’ve never met Tricia Parker, but when she sent me a very moving and wise e-mail about her experiences as what she calls an “independent parent,” I immediately asked her if she would share her observations here with Single at Heart readers. Happily, she agreed. In this first of two parts, she describes the most painful years. In Part 2, she reveals the keys to her emergence into a happy, healthy, empowered, and productive place for herself and her children. Thanks so much, Tricia!]
Single or Independent? Debunking Parenting Misnomers and Myths: Part 1
Guest Post by Tricia Parker
Almost five years ago I became a single parent. I joined the ranks of women raising children without the father, and fathers raising children without the mother. My rank of single mother was one I came to understand through social conditioning and through blind trust in research positions on child development, parenting and family. I had a hierarchy view of family relations, and a sole parent wasn’t a privileged position. It was the ‘less than’ of parenting models. Raising healthy children was a two-parent endeavor, and so I found myself overwhelmed with the fear that my sons would now be susceptible, by default, to school failure, gangs and drugs, promiscuity, and juvenile delinquency. Furthermore, who was going to teach them to be men? Even though I had come to know all kinds of families through my work and through my sons’ friends, some being single parents who were wonderful examples of functioning units, it wasn’t what I wanted for myself.
As a single mom, I was experiencing unbearable mental angst. Early on, I did the best I could at continuing my established routines. Mealtimes. Doctor appointments. School functions. Sports. I know now that I was simply on auto-pilot and in anticipation of something suspected yet unknown. The pictures of doom and gloom as a single mom were deeply ingrained, and when they began to happen to me, I reacted poorly. I played the blame game. I pointed to everything outside of my home as contributing to this slow demise of normalcy that had defined my new, yet different, family. I declared myself a victim by pointing to forces beyond my control as impacting my life and the lives of my sons in negative and hurtful ways. Sadly, I eventually adopted a defeatist attitude. Life as a single mom was proving to be exactly as I was conditioned to believe, and I sat by and took it. What I didn’t understand then was that the way we became a one-parent household was the key factor in the upheaval of our lives – not necessarily the lack of that second parent.
When the middle school started calling regarding social-emotional issues and academic failure, it was suggested that getting the father involved was going to present admirable solutions and overall improvements for my son. I cannot count how many times I had to reiterate that I was on my own. I needed their father to ‘save the day’? When the juvenile courts used the single mother meme in addressing the significance of my high school son’s pattern of behaviors, the pang in my heart brought me to tears. Even after being the only parent present for at least a dozen court appearances, I didn’t count? When an adolescent psychiatrist spoke to me as a ‘working-single-mother’ regarding the importance of getting my son to his appointments on time, I felt belittled. I wasn’t capable of managing a schedule? When an emergency room doctor was stitching my young adult son’s forehead after an accident, and the accompanying police officer stated he’d probably end up in prison if I didn’t get him some help, I stood with dropped jaw. I’m going to be the one to send my son to prison? When I found myself being systematically excluded from social events because I no longer had a husband, I felt as if I had done something wrong. Was I not good enough alone? Not only was all of this hurtful to me as a mother, it was also sexist and discriminatory.
I’m not sure exactly when it happened, or what the defining incident was, but there came a time when I decided to set down the connotation of single-parenting as a failed model, and to stop buying into this dismal picture. I had to prove to myself that this conditioning I had been subjected to for my entire life was wrong. My sons and I were not broken, beyond repair, or headed into the outcasts of society. They needed help in coming to terms with an absent father, and I needed to examine the prejudices and judgments I was being subjected to, and which I had believed for so long. The best way I can describe my newfound mindset was that I made a conscious commitment that no matter how long it took, I was going to reframe my role without those preconceived, limited beliefs, and I was going to help my sons out the darkness in which they were living.
What would this look like and what were my new beliefs? I started with the word ‘independent’ and everything else just fell into place. [From Bella: Readers, stay tuned for Part 2; and for more about independent parents and the children they raise, click here.]
About Tricia Parker, in her own words: “In my professional life, I have worked for twenty-five years with at-risk youth, and as an educational consultant for youth mental, physical, and intellectual disabilities. My three sons are solely responsible for my growing up strong and independent as a person and a mother.”