[Bellas intro: Sometimes people pursue graduate degrees out of intellectual curiosity, or because they think an advanced degree will help them get ahead. Other times, the motivation is intense, meaningful, and deeply personal. That’s how it has been for Amy Andrada, a single mom whose son asked her a poignant question. She is determined to answer that question, with her own original research. Her studies are going to mean a lot to so many other people. I’m so grateful to her for her willingness to share her story with us. This is the first of a 2-part story.]

Why Arent the Other Kids Playing with My Son? (Part 1)

By Amy Andrada

It’s funny…I never thought I’d be here. People like me don’t get here. If anyone had told me ten years ago that I’d be in academia, living abroad, and teaching for a living I would have said they were nuts (and then promptly asked to have a bit of whatever they were smoking).

I am currently working toward my PhD. I study family and gender. Although it is common for women in my field to study this area, my research focuses on “deviant” topics, such as: Why are single mothers always presumed to be “bad” parents? Why do women undermine each other at times? Why do women stay in unhappy romantic relationships? And so forth. (Yes, academics really do consider these topics to be “deviant.”) Now, I’m a feminist, but let me tell you, these questions make me highly unpopular among them. Ironically, studying deviant topics in gender studies has made me seem more “deviant” to other people. The cosmos definitely has a sense of humor, if you ask me.

But I’m okay with all this. I’ve worn deviance a lot. I started out poor, a product of a single parent family, the daughter of an immigrant, and a mixed bag of race, ethnicity, and religion. So, whatever would have been expected of me statistically, happened. What wasn’t predicted was my education. Especially in the context of single parenthood. Those things just don’t seem to mix in generalized data.  Academic + single parent  is not a likely combination.

I pursued academia anyway.  But why? And how did I beat the odds? Well, it’s simple. I wanted to answer a question my son asked when he was a little boy, “Mama, why don’t the little boys play with me?” I was confused when he asked, because it seemed as if they did, whether he was playing soccer, baseball, karate, or any of the other endless activities I shoved him into.  At the time, I told him that I didn’t know, but I would find out. As a mother, that was the best answer I could give him and I meant it.  I would find out.

This prompted me to pay closer attention to his own behavior and how he was treated. Like most parents, I immediately assumed he might be misinterpreting things. He was sweet and sensitive, so there was a chance. Or perhaps he was fugly? That could be it. But after watching his interactions with teammates I realized he was a right…and wrong. They would play with him on the field, mat, etc., but once the activity was over, although the children would engage him, their mothers would promptly remove his teammates from any continued interaction. I also noticed my son would be invited to teammate birthday parties or sleepovers by his peers, but then the invitation would be rescinded by their moms. Odd.

After this I made it a point to engage these parents. Many of them were familiar with me, having seen me at the practices, tournaments, games, etc.; I was easy to spot, being the lone parent that looked like the ragged mess I felt I was, exhausted and stressed. Most were cordial but often the interaction was fairly limited. At the time I figured, eh, to each their own. We all have a little hot mess in us, right? But the more I paid attention to the treatment toward my son, the more I noticed the treatment I received. I’d also compare these interactions to other teammates and parents, but didn’t notice them getting treated the way my son and I were. Weird.

Frustrated, I went to work one day and vented my confusion to coworkers. A male colleague turned to me and asked a very poignant question: “Hey, are you the only single mother?” And I replied, “Well, yes I am, but that doesn’t have anything to do with this.” He quizzed me again, “Are you sure?”  So I thought about this. I thought, women are feminists. We have championed for our rights to work, to pursue education, to design our own families, etc. There’s no way they would have an issue with another parent because they’re single. There’s no way. It doesn’t make any sense. But also, none of the other explanations I considered made sense either, so I sat on it.

I started paying closer attention to many of the details I had overlooked. Perhaps the treatment my son received was because of me. So, like any researcher, I tested it. I dressed more modestly, then more provocatively. I was more proactive in the activities. I encouraged my son to be more outgoing and friendly. But no matter what I did, the effects were the same. I even arranged with other family members to help out at these events, and I would watch from the sidelines…and they would be engaged by other parents. Every. Time. WTF.

Again, I vented my disbelief to the same coworker. He laughed. (At which point I wanted to punch him.) He asked, “Are the other parents married?” I said, “Of course they are. We already went over this.” Then he encouraged me to try a different approach, “Well, why don’t you pretend to be? Put a ring on and see what happens. It might be nothing, but nothing else you’ve tried has worked.”

[From Bella: Amy Andrada did what her coworker suggested. She started wearing a wedding ring. What do you think happened? She will tell you in the second part of this two-part post. Here it is.]

About the Author:

Amy Andrada is a PhD candidate with the University of Edinburgh. She studies gender, family, and deviance. She holds an M.A. in sociology and a B.A. in sociology and English literature from California State University at Bakersfield. Amy has worked for various American universities and colleges as an instructor and researcher. She continues to teach for American colleges and tutors for the University of Edinburgh as well. She spends her time between Los Angeles and Edinburgh with her family.