Boys and girls are different. Everyone knows that. So how hard is it for single mothers to raise boys and single fathers to raise girls? Fortunately, since I have two girls, it’s a question I don’t have to grapple with. And my ex-husband has remarried, so their stepmom handles all things girlie. But I have plenty of single-parent friends for whom this issue is an added wrinkle in the fabric of their lives.
The answer, I believe, is a simple one: Done right, all parenting, no matter the gender mix, is difficult, PERIOD!
Sure, there are predictable plights within some mixed-gender, single-parent households. For instance, buying little-girl lingerie is an awkward scenario for 42-year-old Allan Harriman of Huntington Beach, California: “I have no idea what size training bra a little girl should get. And I’m not convinced women are comfortable with me in the lingerie department.” Harriman has been raising 13-year-old Rachel single-handedly for the last seven years. He welcomes the day when he’ll remarry and his new wife can handle these more delicate tasks.
Then there’s the public restroom dilemma for single mom Clair Dolan. “I’m afraid to send my son [Nicholas, 8] alone into public restrooms. It doesn’t feel safe. I would like to take him with me into the women’s bathroom, but he’s too old and sometimes other women look at me funny.”
So yes, raising a child of the opposite sex can be awkward and embarrassing at times for single parents. But puberty and restroom dramas aside, it all comes down to good parenting—the love, compassion and healthy role modeling we teach our children, no matter what our gender.
John Jolliffe, a marriage and family therapist in California, says that to raise a well-adjusted child you must be a well-adjusted adult. “A single parent’s job is to provide the best possible gender example for the developing child,” then surround your kids with extended family and people of the same sex to give them “a more complete picture of what it means to be fully human.”
My nephew recently became a single dad after his wife packed up and moved to San Francisco, leaving behind their adorable 4-year-old daughter. Although it’s not an ideal situation, I am so very proud of him for stepping up to the task and becoming both a father and mother to his young daughter. I have volunteered to watch my great-niece a few days a week so her dad can go to work. I’m looking forward to taking her to Mommy and Me groups, playing with Play-Doh and reading books to her, as I did with my own daughters. I’m hoping in some small way it can help fill the gigantic void in her life left by her negligent mother.
When you think about it, single parents and their opposite-sex children perform a public service, day in and day out. They are the bridge between the gender gap. By living together and growing as one family unit, they’re helping each other better understand the differences between men and women, which one day may lead to healthier intimate relationships.
And fewer single parents.
Lynn Armitage is a freelance writer and enrolled member of the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin. She also writes the biweekly business series, “Spirit of Enterprise” for ICTMN. She welcomes your e-mails at: Boatfolk@aol.com.