A Thought About Single Parenting

 

I brought Darling Daughter back to college this week; the nest is, once again, empty. I don’t expect her to spend next summer at home as she did this year: she’s a sophomore now, and it’s reasonable to assume that my days of having a child in the house, other than for a brief visit, are over. And I’m okay with that.

I’ve been a single parent these past eight years, and I have some thoughts about the challenges of being a single parent. In particular, I’ve been thinking about the special challenge of being an only parent, someone raising children without the benefit of a partner, even a separated partner, who remains a continuing presence in their children’s lives. I know this is far less common than divorced or separated parents, but I know of several cases, and I’ve been thinking about them.

I believe that people come in precisely two sexes, male and female, that men and women are different, and that children benefit from the presence of both a mother and a father in their lives. Boys learn how to be men by watching their fathers, and how to relate to women by watching their mothers and fathers interact; the protectiveness and concern they develop for their mothers will, someday, be expressed toward the other women in their lives. Girls learn how to be women by watching their mothers, and how they should be treated by men by watching how their fathers treat their mothers. Their fathers are the first men in their lives and, we hope, show them the love and protectiveness they should expect in their future relationships.

As a father raising children alone — but I didn’t raise them alone. One of the wonderful things about being a man raising children is that children have friends, and the mothers of your children’s friends feel an irresistible urge to take care of your kids for you. Single men are perceived as generally incompetent on the domestic front (and for good reason), and that incompetence is assumed to extend to child-raising — and, most pointedly, to the raising of daughters. (I raised five sons; my youngest is my only girl.) It takes a stubborn man to resist the efforts and contributions of concerned mothers, and I never was that stubborn.

My children benefited, and continue to benefit, from the influences of other people’s mothers. That works for motherless boys and girls: while mothers are unique and irreplaceable, other mothers can nonetheless shower children with their maternal attention, giving the boys the tenderness and care fathers often fail to provide, while offering the girls the feminine understanding and support fathers rarely even recognize is lacking.

Similarly, young men in fatherless homes can experience the influence of a male role model outside of the immediate family. Extended family, friends, coaches — there are established surrogate male role models for boys without fathers.

The greatest challenge, I think, is for mothers raising daughters without the benefit of a male partner — even an often absent male partner. Because of the different natures of men and women, it’s difficult for young women to safely experience the attention of men: girls don’t have the options of surrogate fathers comparable to the surrogate mothers both boys and girls can enjoy.

None of this is intended to imply that mothers are less important than fathers; far from it. But I think there are more ways for motherless children to experience the maternal influence than there are for fatherless girls to experience the paternal influence.

I don’t have any thoughts about how to address that.

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There are 21 comments.

  1. TBA Coolidge
    TBA

    You will likely be dipped in merlot and fountain chocolate and fed to a pack of rabid feminists, which is to say; you are right. 

    Motherless houses are vanishingly rare, while fatherless houses are shockingly and steadily more common (not to mention weirdly celebrated). 

    As a result, where single mothers are more common, surrogate fathers will be thin on the ground. 

    • #1
    • August 24, 2019, at 11:44 PM PDT
    • 11 likes
  2. Arahant Member

    Henry Racette: None of this is intended to imply that mothers are less important than fathers; far from it. But I think there are more ways for motherless children to experience the maternal influence than there are for fatherless girls to experience the paternal influence.

    That is for certain. And girls can grow up badly if they don’t have a real father or father figure close to them. Step-fathers are not always safe, either. Had a friend who went through a lot of issues and bad relationships that really came back to her growing up in a broken home with a mother who used drugs and a step-father who supplied them. The day she came of age in her state (16), her step-father took her out for a drive and raped her, telling her it would be a he said-she said thing and nobody would believe her that it wasn’t consensual. He then put a knife to her unconscious (from drugs) mother’s throat and told her if she didn’t come through with sex for him or if she talked, he would kill her mother.

    She ran away after a couple of years. Started shacking up with a man who beat her. She left him after her first daughter was born, fearing he’d beat their daughter, too, and hooked up with a “gentleman” in a motorcycle club. Had another daughter by him, and they married. But, he would disappear for a month at a time on his motorcycle. Then there was the day she found out he was having sex with her older daughter, his step-daughter, and she got out of there. So, it became a multi-generational nightmare.

    • #2
    • August 25, 2019, at 2:40 AM PDT
    • 8 likes
  3. Jimmy Carter Member

    Henry Racette: The greatest challenge, I think, is for mothers raising daughters without the benefit of a male partner — even an often absent male partner. Because of the different natures of men and women, it’s difficult for young women to safely experience the attention of men: girls don’t have the options of surrogate fathers comparable to the surrogate mothers both boys and girls can enjoy.

    You ain’t kiddin’.

    Speaking for Myself, I won’t have anything to do with a Lady that has kids; non-adult. 

    I will not be left alone with a child. If there ain’t at least three of Us, I’ll leave. Sad, but that’s the world We live in. 

    • #3
    • August 25, 2019, at 4:55 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  4. The Great Adventure! Member

    I’ve heard several sermons in church over the years saying, in effect, that if a man doesn’t love his daughter and show her appropriate affection she will go out and seek someone who will (and often the word “appropriate” gets lost in that search). I’ve heard many things in sermons I consider dubious, but that is definitely not one of them.

    • #4
    • August 25, 2019, at 5:10 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  5. Full Size Tabby Member

    Henry Racette: None of this is intended to imply that mothers are less important than fathers; far from it. But I think there are more ways for motherless children to experience the maternal influence than there are for fatherless girls to experience the paternal influence.

    Schools are an almost exclusively maternal influence.

    • #5
    • August 25, 2019, at 5:50 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  6. Susan Quinn Contributor

    Hank, your love and commitment to your children radiates from your post. It’s so beautiful. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this important topic, and for having such dedication to your kids.

    • #6
    • August 25, 2019, at 6:58 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  7. EB Thatcher
    EB

    When I was in high school I read Only Parent, by Louise Dickinson Rich, written in the early 50’s. She and her husband were living in the North Woods (rather primitively) with their two children when he died unexpectedly. The book is really excellent – at turns touching, humorous, and informative about the trials of being an only parent.

    Rich wrote a number of books about her life in Maine and Massachusetts, as well as books on nature and history of New England.

    • #7
    • August 25, 2019, at 7:12 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  8. Arahant Member

    Jimmy Carter (View Comment):
    I will not be left alone with a child. If there ain’t at least three of Us, I’ll leave. Sad, but that’s the world We live in. 

    My definition of child has gotten up to anyone under forty.

    • #8
    • August 25, 2019, at 8:18 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  9. GrannyDude Member

    Thoughtful and accurate—spot on, in fact, at least by my experience. Thank you, Henry. And I think you’re right: I have “motherless” relatives who have lots of “mothers” around, even if it’s never quite like having your own Mum. 

    Uncles and grandfathers are a great blessing to my fatherless kids along with (Oh, God Bless Them!) their late father’s friends, men at church, male teachers and coaches… though there is, in the end, no substitute for your own Dad. 

    Though they love their stepfather, my kids benefited a lot from having good relationships with men whose presence and investment in their lives was not dependent on Mom’s romantic interests. The “father figures” available included their late fathers’ male relatives who remained (and remain) deeply connected to them and, for that matter, to me despite the end (I am inclined to put that word in quotes too; does it really end?) of the marriage. 

     Still…

     

     

    • #9
    • August 25, 2019, at 8:30 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  10. TBA Coolidge
    TBA

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Henry Racette: None of this is intended to imply that mothers are less important than fathers; far from it. But I think there are more ways for motherless children to experience the maternal influence than there are for fatherless girls to experience the paternal influence.

    That is for certain. And girls can grow up badly if they don’t have a real father or father figure close to them. Step-fathers are not always safe, either. Had a friend who went through a lot of issues and bad relationships that really came back to her growing up in a broken home with a mother who used drugs and a step-father who supplied them. The day she came of age in her state (16), her step-father took her out for a drive and raped her, telling her it would be a he said-she said thing and nobody would believe her that it wasn’t consensual. He then put a knife to her unconscious (from drugs) mother’s throat and told her if she didn’t come through with sex for him or if she talked, he would kill her mother.

    She ran away after a couple of years. Started shacking up with a man who beat her. She left him after her first daughter was born, fearing he’d beat their daughter, too, and hooked up with a “gentleman” in a motorcycle club. Had another daughter by him, and they married. But, he would disappear for a month at a time on his motorcycle. Then there was the day she found out he was having sex with her older daughter, his step-daughter, and she got out of there. So, it became a multi-generational nightmare.

    The prizing of/insisting on virginity in marriageable females might have had the positive effect of removing some of this multi-generational pathology. A young woman who is mistreated sexually may in some sense be ‘ruined’ after all. 

    I’ve no wish to return to the bad old days of blaming or stigmatizing women and girls, but as with Chesterson’s fence there is more to old folkways than control for the sake of control. 

    I wonder what we might learn if molested/raped children were studied carefully throughout their lives with an eye towards finding a way to break these cycles. 

     

    • #10
    • August 25, 2019, at 8:47 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  11. The Great Adventure! Member

    And through it all…

    I’ve had numerous “titles” in my life – in business up to President and CEO, in life Husband, Coach, Mentor. But…

    The one I wear most proudly is Dad, Daddy. I love my wife dearly and used to tell my kids that if we were on a boat that capsized and I could only save one person, it would be their Mom. 

    But nothing swells my heart-strings like hearing “I love you, Dad”. God bless you Henry for enduring the hard route and yet coming through for the better.

    • #11
    • August 25, 2019, at 8:55 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  12. iWe Reagan
    iWe

    What a great post – and what tragic comments.

    I am good at boys (we even collect teenaged boys from other families)- but I failed with our one daughter. I salute the men and women who succeed!

    • #12
    • August 25, 2019, at 11:36 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  13. TBA Coolidge
    TBA

    iWe (View Comment):

    What a great post – and what tragic comments.

    I am good at boys (we even collect teenaged boys from other families)- but I failed with our one daughter. I salute the men and women who succeed!

    Accepting responsibility, and blame, for how our children turn out is great for keeping the heat on ourselves. 

    At a certain point, though, the person the kid is – temperament, point of view, spine, inner joy, spirit, and assorted other intangible things of ‘nature’ – are only ever under the kid’s control. And the choices they make after acquiring various stages of autonomy are their responsibility. 

    My point is that we rightly take pride in our children’s success, but ultimately their success or failure is on them. If you did the best you could with what you had available, then you didn’t fail. And, more to the point; don’t beat yourself up. 

    • #13
    • August 25, 2019, at 12:39 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  14. James Lileks Contributor

    I brought Darling Daughter back to college this week; the nest is, once again, empty. I don’t expect her to spend next summer at home as she did this year: she’s a sophomore now, and it’s reasonable to assume that my days of having a child in the house, other than for a brief visit, are over. And I’m okay with that.

    Because there’s really no choice, is there? You walk to the car, check the tire pressure, ask they have enough folding green, slip the kid a fifty, stand in the driveway and wave until they’re out of sight. You hope, you trust, you pray. You will the innumerable filaments around your heart to loosen a bit, and they do, as they must. 

    My version of Darling Daughter goes off to college tomorrow. First year. But she was gone last year on an exchange program to Brazil, so this is a walk in the park. Back for Thanksgiving! Back for Christmas!

    But I know better. It’s the next step in the inevitable incremental diminution, as it should be. Like any ache, you learn to live with it. 

    • #14
    • August 25, 2019, at 10:47 PM PDT
    • 10 likes
  15. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette Post author

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    I brought Darling Daughter back to college this week; the nest is, once again, empty. I don’t expect her to spend next summer at home as she did this year: she’s a sophomore now, and it’s reasonable to assume that my days of having a child in the house, other than for a brief visit, are over. And I’m okay with that.

    Because there’s really no choice, is there? You walk to the car, check the tire pressure, ask they have enough folding green, slip the kid a fifty, stand in the driveway and wave until they’re out of sight. You hope, you trust, you pray. You will the innumerable filaments around your heart to loosen a bit, and they do, as they must.

    My version of Darling Daughter goes off to college tomorrow. First year. But she was gone last year on an exchange program to Brazil, so this is a walk in the park. Back for Thanksgiving! Back for Christmas!

    But I know better. It’s the next step in the inevitable incremental diminution, as it should be. Like any ache, you learn to live with it.

    But it isn’t symmetrical: her world will expand more, ultimately, than yours will contract.

    And if she believes that, and if she goes out into the world with optimism and confidence and the conviction that it’s hers for the taking, then you gave her what she needed.

    (“Folding green” is so early-21st-century. We use Venmo.)

    • #15
    • August 26, 2019, at 2:22 AM PDT
    • 8 likes
  16. TheRightNurse Member

    TBA (View Comment):

    I wonder what we might learn if molested/raped children were studied carefully throughout their lives with an eye towards finding a way to break these cycles. 

     

    I just wanted to let you know that they often are. If the abuse is found early, they are often put into therapy. I don’t know how many of the parents consent to longitudinal studies after their children have been abused (likely not too many).

    Many of those kids end up in therapy throughout their lives. The key, as I have seen through work with my own therapist, is unlearning bad red flag systems. It is consciously learning what other people already have known. It’s relearning survival skills and what good people vs. bad people look like. It is learning what the early warning signs are, what signals you put out that indicate that you’re an easy target, and then working like hell on that throughout the  rest of your life. It isn’t exactly something that gets perfectly better.

    It’s a struggle. It’s constant reminders.

    And that’s how we break the cycle. Eventually, the child of abuse has a child that is not abused. But even that child has to have skills to recognize the thing that the parents never did. Otherwise the cycle will start again.

    • #16
    • August 26, 2019, at 7:13 AM PDT
    • 8 likes
  17. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member

    Henry, great post.

    I have a comment about the following:

    Henry Racette: Boys learn how to be men by watching their fathers, and how to relate to women by watching their mothers and fathers interact; the protectiveness and concern they develop for their mothers will, someday, be expressed toward the other women in their lives. Girls learn how to be women by watching their mothers, and how they should be treated by men by watching how their fathers treat their mothers.

    I observe an asymmetry in your characterization. Boys learn “how to relate to women,” while women learn “how they should be treated by men.” What about how women should relate to men, or how women should treat men?

    I don’t mean to be critical of you specifically, Henry. I hold you in high regard. I suspect that your phrasing is indicative of a deeper social issue, which I suspect is a major cause of our current moral and social rot.

    How are women supposed to treat men? I think that the answer is obvious, but much more controversial than even your post, Henry.

    • #17
    • August 26, 2019, at 9:19 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  18. TBA Coolidge
    TBA

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):

    Henry, great post.

    I have a comment about the following:

    Henry Racette: Boys learn how to be men by watching their fathers, and how to relate to women by watching their mothers and fathers interact; the protectiveness and concern they develop for their mothers will, someday, be expressed toward the other women in their lives. Girls learn how to be women by watching their mothers, and how they should be treated by men by watching how their fathers treat their mothers.

    I observe an asymmetry in your characterization. Boys learn “how to relate to women,” while women learn “how they should be treated by men.” What about how women should relate to men, or how women should treat men?

    I don’t mean to be critical of you specifically, Henry. I hold you in high regard. I suspect that your phrasing is indicative of a deeper social issue, which I suspect is a major cause of our current moral and social rot.

    How are women supposed to treat men? I think that the answer is obvious, but much more controversial than even your post, Henry.

    “Cautiously” if history is any judge. 

    “Contemptuously” seems to be the new hotness. 

    • #18
    • August 26, 2019, at 9:39 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  19. TBA Coolidge
    TBA

    TBA (View Comment):

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):

    Henry, great post.

    I have a comment about the following:

    Henry Racette: Boys learn how to be men by watching their fathers, and how to relate to women by watching their mothers and fathers interact; the protectiveness and concern they develop for their mothers will, someday, be expressed toward the other women in their lives. Girls learn how to be women by watching their mothers, and how they should be treated by men by watching how their fathers treat their mothers.

    I observe an asymmetry in your characterization. Boys learn “how to relate to women,” while women learn “how they should be treated by men.” What about how women should relate to men, or how women should treat men?

    I don’t mean to be critical of you specifically, Henry. I hold you in high regard. I suspect that your phrasing is indicative of a deeper social issue, which I suspect is a major cause of our current moral and social rot.

    How are women supposed to treat men? I think that the answer is obvious, but much more controversial than even your post, Henry.

    “Cautiously” if history is any judge.

    “Contemptuously” seems to be the new hotness.

    It is my contention that people tend to celebrate any lifting of restrictions with idiotic and self-destructive excesses until an equilibrium is reached – if an equilibrium is reached. 

    • #19
    • August 26, 2019, at 9:44 AM PDT
    • Like
  20. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette Post author

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):

    Henry, great post.

    I have a comment about the following:

    Henry Racette: Boys learn how to be men by watching their fathers, and how to relate to women by watching their mothers and fathers interact; the protectiveness and concern they develop for their mothers will, someday, be expressed toward the other women in their lives. Girls learn how to be women by watching their mothers, and how they should be treated by men by watching how their fathers treat their mothers.

    I observe an asymmetry in your characterization. Boys learn “how to relate to women,” while women learn “how they should be treated by men.” What about how women should relate to men, or how women should treat men?

    I don’t mean to be critical of you specifically, Henry. I hold you in high regard. I suspect that your phrasing is indicative of a deeper social issue, which I suspect is a major cause of our current moral and social rot.

    How are women supposed to treat men? I think that the answer is obvious, but much more controversial than even your post, Henry.

    Jerry, the asymmetry was deliberate. When it comes to relations between the sexes, I think of women as having essentially one choice: to yield or not to yield. Whether they choose to yield too readily depends largely, I believe, on how they value themselves, and on how they believe men should demonstrate their commitment and respect to women.

    When discussing relations between the sexes, I don’t think the situation is at all symmetric.

    • #20
    • August 26, 2019, at 11:08 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  21. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member

    Henry Racette (View Comment):

    Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… (View Comment):

    Henry, great post.

    I have a comment about the following:

    Henry Racette: Boys learn how to be men by watching their fathers, and how to relate to women by watching their mothers and fathers interact; the protectiveness and concern they develop for their mothers will, someday, be expressed toward the other women in their lives. Girls learn how to be women by watching their mothers, and how they should be treated by men by watching how their fathers treat their mothers.

    I observe an asymmetry in your characterization. Boys learn “how to relate to women,” while women learn “how they should be treated by men.” What about how women should relate to men, or how women should treat men?

    I don’t mean to be critical of you specifically, Henry. I hold you in high regard. I suspect that your phrasing is indicative of a deeper social issue, which I suspect is a major cause of our current moral and social rot.

    How are women supposed to treat men? I think that the answer is obvious, but much more controversial than even your post, Henry.

    Jerry, the asymmetry was deliberate. When it comes to relations between the sexes, I think of women as having essentially one choice: to yield or not to yield. Whether they choose to yield too readily depends largely, I believe, on how they value themselves, and on how they believe men should demonstrate their commitment and respect to women.

    When discussing relations between the sexes, I don’t think the situation is at all symmetric.

    I agree that the situation is not symmetric, but I think that it is still important for women to know how they should relate to, and treat, men. And vice versa, of course. I think that the answers are somewhat different, though perhaps more in emphasis and detail

    • #21
    • August 27, 2019, at 4:28 PM PDT
    • 1 like