Yes, I am a product of single parenting; and no, I turned out just fine!
While it’s fine to emerge from a typical nuclear home, it’s not a crime to be trained by a single parent. After all, the world is filled with examples of successful people who are products of single parenting. Ask Barak Obama, Angelina Jolie, Price Williams, Jane Fonda and even the biblical personage Timothy.
Thanks to the amazing worldview prevalent in the African and especially Nigerian society, single parents, who are often times single mothers, tend to be victims of stigmatization. This situation isn’t all together strange as it’s easy to cast aspersions at people when one has never gone through their kind of experience. After all, only he that wears the shoe knows where it hurts most.
The Single Parent
Who exactly is a single parent? One who is saddled with the sole responsibility of nurturing/training a child or children from the early stages of life to maturity without support (or little support) from the other party – either man or woman. The single parent plays the dual role of a father and mother in the life of his or her child(ren). Such parent is one the child turns to whenever he/she has a need.
One should point out the fact that there are two categories of single parents – the unintended single parent and the willing single parent. The unintended single parents are those who, due to unforeseen/unplanned circumstances, happen to train their kids in the absence of the other party/parent. Such cases manifest when one of the parents die, when the need for divorce arises, due to divorce, and also as a result of unpleasant unforeseen occurrences e.g. war outbreak. On the other hand, just as the name implies, the willing single parents set out to raise kids without the support of the other party. This set desire to have kids but do not wish to raise them in a nuclear-family-setting. Most of the people in this category are women. They get to achieve their aim through different means: Some simply adopt children and raise them, some engage in sexual intercourse and plan to take full/sole responsibility for the child that results from the encounter, while others search for sperm donors and go for artificial insemination. Most lesbians prefer the latter means.
I find the unintended single parenting to be the ideal case in point and intend to expound my view of single parenting from that perspective.
My Single Parenting Story
The first personal encounter I had with my father was when I was eight years old. Before then, I only had an idea of who my father was from the accounts given of him by my mother – most of which were positive. I grew up knowing my mother as my only parent. In this capacity, she served as my sole provider, private tutor, spiritual mentor, life coach, and personal adviser. Being a low-income-earning civil servant (a teacher), she didn’t have ample resources with which to meet my every needs. To make matters more interesting, she was the first born of her family hence zero luxury of having older siblings to fall back on. Nevertheless, she gave me the best possible. A quality albeit unsophisticated academic background, three-square meal of whatever the Lord provides, a moral cum spiritual upbringing, and fair supply of my material needs. I can remember her telling me how my school fee – per term – in primary school was almost the same amount she earned as monthly salary. Life was pretty hard for low-income-earning civil servants during the military era.
I’ll have to write volumes of books in order to share accounts of sacrifices she made just for me to have a good life. There were occasions where she had to do without a meal just so I could eat feed well. In those occasions, she had to lie that she was not hungry or something. What she wasn’t saying was that whatever meal there was was barely enough for one person. Many at times, she had to be strong for me although she was either ill, depressed or emotionally down. She was understandably protective of me and was extra-careful about who I mingled with or stay with. Funny and good enough, I didn’t have the luxury of much extra parental circles. Whenever I wasn’t with my mother, I was either with her siblings who lived together at the time or with a family friend whose children I grew up with. My mother’s siblings – all males – were father figures in my life. Interestingly, I shared facial semblance with them and people often confused me to be a son or much younger brother to either of them. The children of the family friends provided me the peer-group platform where I could relate with children of my own age.
It Took some Doing
Was the parenting process a walk in the park for my mother? No! It was an uphill task. There were moments of ups and downs. Now that I think of it, I believe the most trying period to train me was during my teenage days with its manifestations of youthful exuberance. At that point, a child feels on top of the world and feels he is free to do what he pleases. I didn’t make her already difficult task less easy for her at different points. Sometimes, I was wayward; at other times, I was unruly. Yet, in all this, she persevered, through fervent prayers, constant counsel, and appropriate disciplines for offences.
Would I have turned out better under the ideal nuclear family setting? I don’t think so. Perhaps there are some life lessons I could have learnt or family-life experiences I could have garnered – perhaps. But the idea that there is a gap that could have been filled if I grew up with both parents is most unlikely. To be candid, it’s my opinion that my manner of upbringing was a blessing in disguise.
Different Strokes For Different Folks
My familial case is just a drop in the ocean in the scheme of things. Other cases come in varying shades and degrees. While I think I grew up under a hard economic condition, my experience was nothing compared to what some others went through as children from a single-parent set up. Conversely, quite a number of children were lucky enough to be nurtured by parents who were financially buoyant to take care of their every need.
The Bulk Falls on the Woman
Research has shown that women bear the responsibility of single parenting the most, which is naturally because they are considered to be the primary care givers. Except in cases where the father becomes a widower and is left to take care of the children, most men shy away from being singlehandedly responsible for the children’s upkeep. The female gender is said to be more tender hearted and affectionate towards their issues. They are therefore most likely to want to keep the children when the man is avoidably/unavoidably absent. This is the reason why the image of single mothers readily comes to mind whenever the name single parent is mentioned.
The Single Parent Stereotype
It’s common, in this part of the world, to hear people say that children from single parents always end up being recalcitrants and social menace. This stereotypic notion is prevalent because the African worldview detests the idea of single parenting. The nuclear family is seen as the only ideal setting where healthy children can be raised. Anything short of this standard is an anomaly. For instance, hardly had a couple been bereaved than he/she is ‘counselled’ to remarry: You can’t train these children by yourself, they’ll say. You need a helping hand. Since men are considered to be sacred cows in most African societies, women who are single parents are often scape goats and end up more to be the victim of stigmatization. Most of them are considered self-willed, immoral, and unworthy of respect. So much is the stigma for single parents that it is reflective in the way adverts and movies are scripted. Hardly will you find an advert where the lifestyle/activities of a single parent/mother are esteemed. Every advert relating to family has to revolve around the father, mother and the children. In most cases where the storyline of a movie revolves around the single parent, the child/children turn out to be recalcitrants and street urchins.
To say that all issues from single parents turn out fine is to tell a big lie. Some end up becoming hooligans and personae non gratae. There are instances of children who, no matter what length the single parents went to meet there needs, ended up making a mess of their lives. In the same vein, to say that every child brought up under the ‘ideal’ nuclear family setting turn out fine is to be miserly with the truth. Countless numbers of ‘proper parents’ products roam the street as miscreants and reprobates. Loving and caring parents bring some of them up. Others happened to be raised by ‘proper parents’ who were always at loggerhead, fathers who physically or psychologically harass the mother and perhaps the children, couples that fail to cooperate to train the children as a unit. Bottom line, just as children from single parents have the tendency to go wayward, seeds from ‘proper parents’ can end up worse.
If what goes for the single parent also goes for the ‘proper parents’, it stands to reason that how a child turns does not necessarily have to do with the singularity or plurality of the parent who brings him up. A child who is unruly or immoral does not have to be a product of single parenting. After all, instances of outstanding products of single parents have been given earlier. There is much more to how a child turns out than whether he his raised by a single parent or ‘proper parents’.
What it Takes to Raise a Child
The issue is not the number of people that raise a child. Rather, it’s about the personality of the people involved, whether single parents or couples. In essence, the attitude of the caregiver or givers to parenting is what determines how far the offspring will go. Just as two loving and forward-thinking couples will do a good job at parenting, a single parent/single mother who is determined to give her child the best will do same no matter the daunting task. Conversely, it’s sometimes better to be trained by a single parent who can go the extra mile for the child than by couples who do not have a sense commitment and responsibility.
The Summary of the Whole Matter
While I do not advocate the practice of single parenting, I also do not appreciate the stigmatization of unintended single parents who are doing their best to give their issues a good life. After all, not all couples in a nuclear family setting are responsible enough to do what is right and needful by their kids. For all its worth, they deserve to be respected and treated fairly. The attitude and sense of responsibility of the individual(s) in charge of the upbringing of a child should be the yardstick for according respects and social recognition and not the status of the individual(s) as a single parent or ‘proper parents’/couples.
It takes a strong and enduring personality to take on the duties meant for two people and accomplish it successfully. The amount of emotional, physical, psychological, and material input the single parent puts into raising children is so much that one cannot afford to relegate them to the background in the scheme of things. The responsibilities of juggling maintaining a job, caring for the children and keeping up with household chores is overwhelming enough for them to be ostracized .
Image credit:Titus Single Parent Mentoring