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Meet The Single Parents: Yes, We Do Read

PJM's Sibylla Nash says single parents are getting a bum rap. And she should know, she is one. Responding to Aaron Hanscom's Meet the Parents columns, Sibylla takes on the misconceptions and stereotypes surrounding single parenthood, and writes that, "Our kids are in your private schools, in your ballet classes and they even go off to Ivy League Universities! Imagine that!"

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August 23, 2007 - 4:00 am

By Sibylla Nash

Why is it that single parents get dumped on all the time? In the first installment of Meet The Parents, it seems as though ALL kids from single parent homes were portrayed as saggy pants wearing, gum smacking, trouble causing, future inmates while the mothers (because the fathers disappeared after inception) were MIA as well. In the second installment, Steve Malanga’s City Without Fathers article was referenced, in which he makes the link between unwed mothers and poverty absolute. “Single parenthood is a road to lasting poverty in America today,” wrote Malanga.

Will someone please tell former President Bill Clinton, Sen. Barack Obama, Oprah and NBA player LeBron James, because apparently their single moms didn’t get the memo about everlasting poverty.

This is a broad statement (especially considering a third of all families in this country are being raised by single parents) that doesn’t take into account the many variables about single parenthood or poverty. It’s lazy journalism at best, racist at worst, and irresponsible for anyone to keep promoting this stereotype. That’s like me saying we should keep an eye on all anti-social white, teenaged boys because they have a propensity for planning massacres on school grounds. I mean, hey, 90% of the school shooters have been white males who felt bullied (and many of them came from two parent homes mind you). It’s inflammatory and insulting and so is the perception that unwed mothers are incapable of raising productive and self-sufficient kids.

Let’s face it, when the word unwed mother comes up, the faces of Elizabeth Hurley, Brynn Cameron (Arizona Cardinals’ Matt Leinart’s baby’s momma) actress Bridget Moynahan or Heidi Klum don’t come to mind. It’s the stereotypical welfare mom with too many kids that’s often preceded by buzz words such as “low income” and “urban.” Go ahead and say it, you mean black.

In case you couldn’t tell by my indignation, I’m a single mother and I lived in Maplewood, NJ, which is only a few miles away from Newark. According to Malanga’s and Hanscom’s assessment, my daughter will more than likely grow up to be a violent, poverty stricken baby machine likely to become a single mom with multiple baby daddies…except, I own my own home in Maplewood, my daughter’s been in private school for the past three years and already at the age of five understands that she will be going to college. Am I different? Am I the exception to the rule? Nope. Unfortunately, it’s easier to stereotype single parents and assume the worst rather than recognize that unwed moms have infiltrated the mainstream. Our kids are in your private schools, in your ballet classes and they even go off to Ivy League Universities! Imagine that!

Many times the reporting of a sub-par existence for children from single parent homes is lopsided because mainstream media likes the shock value. They don’t venture to examine the complexities of the American family. Malanga throws out these numbers to back up his claims, “In Newark, single parents head 83 percent of all families living below the poverty line.” Take it at face value and it seems that Newark is over run with poor single mothers sucking up the resources of the county.

Putting the numbers in context tells a different story. Let’s take a look at Newark, New Jersey shall we? According to the Census, there were 91,382 households out of which 35.2% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 31.0% were married couples living together, 29.3% had a female householder with no husband present. The average household size was 2.85 and the average family size was 3.43. Now out of the 91,382 families, 25.5% are living beneath the poverty level. Now let’s examine the poverty level in NJ.

According to Serena Rice, managing director of Legal Services of New Jersey Poverty Research Institute, “The other reality about who experiences poverty is that it includes a lot of working people. Of all New Jersey families and individuals with income below poverty in 2005, more than 45% included at least one working adult, and many had three or more working adults.” Wow, this would lead one to believe that NJ is a very expensive place to live and that many residents are struggling, not just single parents.

Tom Hester (Newark Star-Ledger, 2006-01-24):

“The average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in New Jersey climbed to $1,085 per month, leaving the state’s rental market far too expensive for low-income households, according to a report planned for release today by a non-profit housing coalition. For the third straight year, New Jersey remains the most expensive state in the nation for a low-income wage earner to rent an apartment. … Furthermore, affordable housing advocates say, 53 percent of the renters in the state cannot afford the cost.”

What does all of this prove? Nothing except that the issue of poverty goes beyond whether or not a woman has child and is not married. There are education factors, background, number of children, so many things to go into how and why there is an epidemic of fatherless children and that’s another can of worms that I’m not going to attempt to address in this piece.

Basically, you can skew the numbers however you want to make a point but the bottom line is that bad parenting crosses all racial and economic lines, from the predominantly white, male high school shooters with an upper class background to the recent crop of befallen starlets, married couples have struggled just as much as single parents when it comes to raising their kids. The success does not depend on how many able adults are in the household or even how much money is made, it comes down to the quality of consistent parenting by the adult that is in the house.

When Malanga wrote his article about fatherless kids and violence, it was assumed that the killers who executed the three college kids in Newark where the typical black gang-affiliated boogeymen. What a surprise that one of the killers happened to be an illegal alien from a predominately Catholic country… hmm, how do we do turn his behavior into a stereotype? Perhaps all Peruvians who move to Newark will become cold blooded killers. Right, that makes sense.

The problem with the general assessment about single parents is that it excludes those that chose to be single parents, those parents who may be unmarried but living together. And it makes the large assumption that living in a single parent household means that the other parent is automatically excluded from participating in the child’s life. While this may be true in some cases, the danger is applying this theory to all families.

In regards to Hanscom’s open house experience in the first Meet The Parents, it is assumed that many parents did not attend because they didn’t care. Maybe the reason was financial. What time was the open house? I’ve noticed that many of the events at my daughter’s school took place before 5 pm, when many parents were still at work and for those events that are in the evening, some people may have night jobs. Who knows? Sometimes a parent’s lack of involvement is more of a financial choice as opposed to apathy. Don’t ever think that parents in low-income neighborhoods don’t care about their children’s education. Unfortunately, because of their location, they are acutely aware of the shortcomings in our public school system.

Our schools in Maplewood were often over-run with kids from Newark and Irvington being creative about their address so they could attend. All too often, in the neighborhoods that need it most, they have the least resources when it comes to school. Do I believe that parents have a responsibility in being an active participant in their child’s education? Definitely! Is there a disparity between certain public schools in low income areas and affluent areas? You bet.

Rather than point fingers and blame the parents or just blame the administration, we need to come up with a plan to fix the schools so that all children have an opportunity to receive a top-rate education and to be looked upon as equals and treated as such. Not written off as gang bangers and bangettes. Didn’t anybody see %%AMAZON=B000NOK1KC “Freedom Writers”%% or %%AMAZON=6305133514 “Lean On Me”%%? Or better yet, the “Primetime” report that said the American school system on a whole was a joke when compared to international schools .

And one more thing, don’t tell me whether or not my child will be success, you don’t know me like that.

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