by WENDY FONTAINE
Over the weekend, I stumbled upon an online conversation about whether boys are underperforming in school because single mothers are unequipped to raise them.
As a single mother myself, I am intrigued by anything that pins a certain problem to a parent’s marital status, and this discussion was no different.
The discourse first appeared on a blog that belongs to Annie Murphy Paul, a columnist and learning consultant who reported on a University of Georgia and Columbia University study that says girls get better grades than boys because they show more “non-cognitive skills” like attentiveness, organization and persistence.
Her report triggered a lot of reactions, including a comment from a reader who identified himself only as “Coach.” Coach said that the real problem is too many single women are raising boys.
“Boys learn through physical contact and real-life scenarios,” he wrote. “Women are not equipped to cope with them on their own.”
Here’s a news flash: Nobody is equipped to raise sons. Or daughters, for that matter. Whether married or single, we all become parents wholly and thoroughly unequipped. As our babies grow, we embark on a never-ending crusade of matching questions with answers, of seeing the problems and setting out to find the solutions.
In other words, it’s not about being equipped. It’s about getting equipped.
I have a six-year-old daughter. Her father and I divorced when she was two, and I’ve had full custody of her ever since. Angie loves superheroes and sharks, and she would claw my eyes out if I ever asked her to wear something pink or sparkly.
I’m not sure that’s the same thing as having a boy, but I don’t think it’s entirely different either. Kids are kids, and the biggest part of parenting is seeing our children as individuals, with certain qualities and interests and learning abilities, and finding ways to make those qualities bloom.
When Angie was four, she and I moved across the country. It was a huge, transformative step, one that would improve our lives in many ways. A few weeks after the move, Angie started getting angry. She drew pictures of me and crossed them out. “You ruined my life,” she said to me.
Her words and behavior knocked me for a loop, and I considered moving back home, even though the retreat would have set us back financially and emotionally. Instead, I made a list of psychologists and called them one by one, searching for someone who could navigate me through the fog.
Angie and I found a therapist named Gloria, who said my daughter was testing me to gauge my reaction. If I got upset, Angie would sense a reason to worry. If I stayed calm, she would know that her new life was safe and supportive. I chose to stay calm, and after a few weeks, Angie’s anger dissipated. We’ve been in here two years now. Both of us are thriving.
When I didn’t know what to do, I found help. When I was confused, I sought answers. That’s what it means to be a good parent. It doesn’t matter if you’re a mother or a father, single or married, rich or poor. It matters that you do what you can to be the parent your child deserves. It’s hard work, but it’s important.
There’s something else at work in the comments section of Annie Murphy Paul’s blog, and that’s the myth that we must be perfect parents to our children all of the time. Parenting, particularly motherhood, has become a competitive sport in our society, one in which we are made to feel that being anything less than perfect means we are no good at all.
Truth is, we all fail our children. We shout. We lie. We cheat at Go Fish. We disappoint our sons and daughters in ways that we may never know or understand.
Perhaps some mothers don’t know how to be parents to their sons. I’m sure the same can be said for dads. Too often, we cling to the ideal of perfectionism, then judge ourselves when we fall short of an impossible standard. It’s a no-win situation, for us and for our children. Being married doesn’t put us any closer to perfection. Letting go of that illusion is bound to make us better parents.
There will always be studies that highlight our imperfections, and there will always be people like Coach who are certain they know exactly who to blame. As a single parent myself, I’m less interested in pointing the finger and more interested in giving hard-working parents a pat on the back.
This post was originally published on The Huffington Post here, and has been republished with full permission.
Wendy M. Fontaine is a writer, editor, columnist and single mother in Los Angeles. She holds a masters degree in creative writing from Antioch University. A former newspaper reporter, her work has appeared in many newspapers, as well as Brain, Child Magazine, Grace Magazine for Women, and the online literary journal, Apropos.
Do you think that children need the influence of a parent of the same gender? Or does it not matter?