Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Reader Complains About Column On Single Parenthood

December 2, 1996

"Dear Dr. Farmer, Contrary to what statistics have shown, not all single parent children have or will become unproductive members of society.

"I became a single parent by choice. I was very much involved in what I deemed a loving relationship - to this two beautiful baby girls were born. Unfortunately due to a substance abuse problem the loving family atmosphere turned into a living hell. In addition to alcohol and drugs also came the physical abuse.

"I swear I was married to a mad man. When my youngest daughter was three months old, I made the biggest decision of my young life. I opted for being alone and raising my two girls or staying with a nightmare and hoping it would be better.

"I'm a high school graduate and have attended 3 and 1/2 years college, have had many jobs including managing a restaurant until I developed health problems. They now have forced me into a poverty situation. I live, not by choice, on $419.00 /month and yet know I can hold my head high because I did make the right decision.

"We may not have many material things that others have and yet in so many ways we have more. My girls are very involved in life. Because of my health, I'm unable to drive so we have no vehicle. They are forced to share a bedroom and have many hand-me-downs (cousins do wonders in helping with the clothes situation).

"I'm not too proud to admit they are on medical assistance and that we receive $127.00 a month in food stamps. Otherwise we live on my disability. Yet they both maintain as if they were queens of this world. I've enclosed copies of their report cards - as you can see school is a very high priority.

"In addition, they are both involved in weekly church, Sunday School, confirmation classes for my oldest, band and chorus, class president- again for my oldest, Awana (church youth group) 4-H (both have offices), Farmers Union for Youth, and Legion Auxiliary Jr. members. Both have successfully completed winning girls basketball seasons with both being in the starting five and now the oldest is beginning volleyball season.

"Looking at the report cards and all they are involved with - they both have proved not all single parent children turn out bad. Society has a bad notion that all will have problems because of poverty in the homes. Why must one bad apple spoil the whole crop?

"My children are very productive members of our community and are very anxious about a future with endless possibilities. It is unfortunate that people like you must judge a book by its cover before seeing the contents. I wish just once I could show people like you what life is really all about.

"Get off your high horse and see life as it really is - one individual at a time. Until you have had a chance to walk a mile in my shoes, please don't assume the worst.

"We have enough to worry about. If you can find the wisdom or courage to offer advice to me, I'd appreciate your insight. If all you can do is put us on a statistic poll, please keep your comments to yourself. Thank you for allowing me to voice my opinion." - A North Dakota single mother.

Dear Single Mother,

I try to leave readers with a hopeful note and practical advice. I don't want my columns to weigh down the spirit of those who are doing everything they can to give their children what they need.

In a few of my recent columns, I've written a pessimistic assessment of a problem in society in one column and followed it up with a second column with advice about what to do about the situation. I hope you saw in the second column that it is actual parenting behavior that makes a difference and not the categories of poverty or single parenthood that produce dire consequences for children or society.

Judging by your account of your parenting, your daughters are getting what they need. Also the main thrust of the column - which gets lost amid the statistics - was that the destructive social trend is the rise of single parenthood among unwed teen-agers.

Divorce does play a role in adverse consequences for children. The decline of the two parent nuclear family is a part of the problem. Children do best in a loving home with their two biological parents.

I believe divorce is warranted in cases involving character or addiction problems. Such things as unrelenting selfishness, rigidity, dishonesty, laziness, physical, verbal or sexual abuse, and addictions play havoc on a marriage. They have a destructive effect on family members. Even then, valiant efforts at counseling and treatment should be made prior to splitting up a family.

However, in most counseling situations, I encounter two people with good character who are having trouble with communication and not implementing principles that could lead to a happy marriage. Divorce has become too easy. Not enough effort goes into solving marital problems before the decision to divorce is made.

I have written advice for single divorced parents and acknowledge that the majority of these homes are positive. I'm sending you copies of these columns.