Some Kind of Help is the Kind of Help We All Could Do Without

I am still in Iowa; everything here is still unbelievably sad and horrifying. This is just an attempt to take my mind off all that for awhile.

My father died when I was five and a half, and thus I was effectively raised by a single mother, with a fair amount of help from my grandmother. My two oldest friends in the world were also the children of single parents.

My mother, and their mothers, got a lot of grief from people. People were generally not allowed to come play at any of our houses after school because there was not a Responsible Adult at home. In fifth grade, a girl had a party for the whole class. I went for a bit, but my asthma started to act up from the crowd and the English sheepdog, and so I went to the organizing mothers, thanked them for the party, and said I would be leaving now. I lived a few blocks away and it was, I think, not even dark out yet. They insisted on calling my mother, who was not home as she had, god forbid, gone grocery shopping. After a lot of hemming and hawing, during which I said they could either take me home to my inhaler or they could take me to the ER, they finally took me home — and the next day they called my mother to excoriate her and to tell her that I was having a “panic attack.”

There was an immense prejudice toward single mothers when I was young. It did not seem to matter how you became single — my father had died; one friend’s parents divorced; another friend’s had never really been together. I had the easiest time, but it was still not easy.

I bring all of this up because I was reading through the comments on Walt’s post, and I was reminded of how deeply judgmental people are about family structures. My father’s death was and remains the saddest thing that has ever happened to me, but I don’t think I am less of a person because of it, or that my family is somehow deficient because of my single mother and single grandmother. A lot of people do seem to think just that, however, and I imagine that many of these people are the same people who view gay marriage as such an abomination because it somehow undermines conventional family structure.

I am not a fan of Hillary Clinton, but the adage that it takes a village to raise a child is far older that she is. It suggests to me that our ancestors knew something that we did not: it takes a village, to me, is a recognition that no one’s family structure is perfect, that even two happily married people of opposite sexes may have deficiencies, and that we as a society should strive to help each other in looking after our children rather than tearing each other down for some real or imagined failing. There are people in this world who make bad parents, but there is, perhaps sadly, no one filter we can use to rule them out of the child-rearing process. Or perhaps the inability to filter isn’t sad — perhaps it is a reminder to us that we must always think; that we cannot and should not rely on any single factor or litmus test to make all our decisions for us — and that, I think, is a good thing.

2 comments

  1. I agree wholeheartedly! I submit that some people just don’t know how to deal with the “other” – a family structure or situation different from their own.

    AND – with that said, I’ve found that many, many people (sadly including myself) will make all kinds of statements “I would never do that with my child” – “I would never allow my child to do x” – but the realities of each child and each parenting situation are much more complex. Just as you have written, there isn’t one way of looking at things, or one way to raise a child.

  2. We were talking this morning about the gospel for today (Matthew 6:24-34): don’t worry about tomorrow, don’t worry about what you will eat or what you will wear; consider the birds and the lilies of the field; but seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all things will be given to you [apologies for the long summary, but for those who may not know it]. One of the points made was that this means we should put first our relationship with God and then, because we are children of God, with each other–we should worry about what our brothers and sisters have to eat, to wear, to live. That community (or, in religious terms, the kingdom of God) is how we live best. And I think that’s what you’re both getting at: we should work together to support each other, to raise our children, to live in better in the world.
    It was and is sad. Laura, but we came through. You have taught and continue to teach me much.