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Parenting - it's tougher for singles

Rearing children in today's world, a challenge when there are two parents in the home, becomes dramatically more difficult when parents are single.

This opinion was shared by several single parents who spoke of their experiences and feelings in recent interviews.Their pre-eminent concern is the welfare of their children. As the greater number of single parents with children in the home are mothers, single mothers typically bear the greater burden of child rearing when couples separate. One such mother is Hilda Bailey of the Ammon 5th Ward, Idaho Falls Ammon Stake, who has been a single mother for 17 years. Her four children are now adults.

"I think single parents need to be spiritual and give all they can to their families," she said. "They need to learn to see the cup as half full, not half empty - it is easy to be negative."

Sister Bailey, who is now a grocery store manager, became a single mother and the sole support of her children when they were young. She had limited education, and wasn't able to find employment for six months.

"We mainly lived on our two years' supply of food, and I baked a lot of bread," she said.

She found employment at a grocery store but that took her away from her small children from 2 p.m. until 11 p.m. The older children cared for the younger children.

"It was very hard emotionally and physically for me to get up every day and care for a young family and then go to work and try to keep track of them," she said. "But my children have always been responsible, even though it was hard for them to have so much responsibility."

Sister Bailey explained that before her divorce, she had served as a Primary president and counselor and expected her marriage to last forever.

"I still have faith in marriage, but I was bitter for years," she said. "I had to become independent and strong. I recognize that I would like a companion, but because I was so busy raising children, I didn't have time to search out a companion."

She said that "when times were hard, my children gave me the reason to go on living. I can't imagine what it would have been like without them."

Her oldest daughter filled a mission and then was married in the temple, and her second oldest daughter also has a temple marriage. Her youngest, a son, recently returned from serving a mission. Church members in the ward helped her children, especially her son.

"I feel very good about myself and the way the children have turned out," she said. "Positive things came out of this. There is so much tribulation that you can't always deal with it, unless you look at the positive aspect. There is so much that is positive and beautiful in life."

While Sister Bailey gives credit to "staying close to the gospel," she also said that she and her children often felt like outsiders among a family-oriented people. "When you are alone, you are really alone and people treat you differently. They send a lot of non-verbal communication. We were a family, but we didn't feel like a family."

But she said a service project by the ward where about 100 people painted her home and worked in her yard was an unwanted but uplifting blessing.

"I had a lot of pride. The bishop asked if they could come and I said no. He said they were coming anyway. It was hard for me, but it made a great impact to see that many people who cared. I remember that a lot."

Many men also have the responsibility of being a single parent. One of them, Glenn S. Perry of the Green River 2nd Ward, Green River Wyoming Stake, feels strongly about teaching children the gospel.

"We talk quite a bit about values and the way we should act. We are more open in conversations about the gospel now.

"As far as things they want to do, we will talk about the pros and cons, and if it is something I don't have strong feelings about, I will let them decide. If it is something that affects our values, then I am a little firmer on my stance. I let them govern themselves if they can."

Brother Perry said that in his observation, lasting effects of the separation may well remain with children. "I think some parts stay with them. My son is more cautious around women and even girls. At his age, he wonders about attitudes."

He said that in supporting his children, the "biggest thing for me is to be available to them, time-wise."

Another single parent who is rearing a son while trying to be a father to his other children in another state is Clark Passey of the Westminister 1st Ward, Huntington Beach California North Stake.

He said one challenge he faces is not being able to regularly talk about his children with a spouse and get another perspective, or suggestions.

"I have to go by my instincts," he said. "I continually come back to a certain path to be consistent."

Financial challenges also face single fathers, he said. When he was laid off from his employment, bills and child support obligations quickly added up.

He tries to participate in the lives of his children and provide support and encouragement to them. "We have a warm relationship," he said. "I don't know that my children are perfect, but they are the best. All of them are exceptional; I want them to be all they can be."

He sees his role to provide "gentle, sustained pressure toward what you think is right, to stay the course, keep them doing the right thing. Children are like plants; you don't pull plants out of the ground to make them grow. You have to allow plants room and water, and have patience and faith."

Youth need to make their own decisions and not let their friends make their decisions for them, he said. They need to draw a line that they will not cross.

"It is a very difficult thing, but it is easier if you follow the standards of the Church. I am optimistic about all of my children. I don't know how much my influence will be, but if the truth were known, I might be surprised."

Finding time for her children is a monumental challenge for Kathleen Dutcher of the Centerville 5th Ward, Centerville Utah South Stake.

She tries to find time to do "all the things that matter, so they know they still have a mom, because I am always gone."

Single for the past two years, she is the mother of five children, with three at home. She works part-time and studies accounting at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah, part-time.

"If I don't get it done in a day, it doesn't get done," she said. "I can't do everything. I pick what is important and let some things go."

She said she has received a great deal of emotional support and service from ward members and her bishop, Norlan G. Walker. "They just rallied around. I think it made a big difference to me as far as my outlook on the Church is concerned. My self-esteem was so low that their support helped me keep my trust in the Lord and move on. Others caring help build you up when things are falling apart."

She believes the ordeal of family separation can be lasting. "Personally, I don't think children ever recover from something like this. It will go into their relationships with future spouses. A terrible thing is happening to our society."

She said that in the past two years, her family began to read scriptures and hold prayer and family home evenings more often. "We are all trying and it is hard because the children haven't had a lot of that. But there is a peace and comfort that wasn't here before. We try not to be discouraged when things don't go right. We take one day at a time, just following what the prophet said."


ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

U.S. Single heads of families

Source: U.S. Bureau of Census, from Statistical Abstract of the United States, courtesy University of Utah, Marriott Library

Year

1950 4,863,000

1955 5,573,000

1960 5,782,000

1965 6,187,000

1970 6,830,000

1975 8,741,000

1980 10,438,000

1985 12,357,000

1990 13,774,000

1995 15,446,000

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