Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Sole parenting: Mums raising boys without dad around

Being the mum of a son without a dad around is something I have always taken for granted. That is until recently when I started to doubt myself as a parent because of the instability in my mood and the subsequent deterioration of Noo's behaviour. I had this nagging feeling that he needed a father around to help with the discipline and routine in our lives. But is this really true? Have I done my son a disservice by cutting all contact with his biological father?

The short answer to that question is: no, in my heart I believe I did the right thing five years ago.

My little boy is growing up

The long answer is below. I apologise but this post has turned into an essay so if you don't get through it all, I completely understand!

If you've read my story The Dad Question which is part of the series From Rock Bottom to Parenthoodyou'll know my boy was born out of fairly precarious circumstances. Noo's father and I only knew each other for a few short months and in that time I came to the conclusion that it was safer for us both that his father played no role in either of our lives.

I'll never regret that decision because when it came down to it I'm pretty sure the man who got me pregnant would have caused emotional conflict, physical harm or just left anyway. I've dated other men since then but none of the relationships have turned into anything lasting. So right now we are a team of two: mother and son. Followed closely by our immediate family: Noo's grandparents and his two aunts and two uncles.

When I was a younger woman I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would be doing this gig alone. I always dreamt I'd have the husband, the house and at least two kids. But that is not my reality now and I have to make the best of what I've got and really, I've got a lot.

I am so lucky that I have a huge amount of support especially from my parents. Sometimes I doubt I'd survive at all if it wasn't for them. They put a roof over our heads and subsidise our lifestyle. The emotional support I get from my mum and sister is life saving.

But over the last couple of weeks there's been a number of incidents that have made me feel really alone in this parenting business. I'll give you an example of one of the situations we found ourselves in:

We were at a local market and I sat on the grass minding our things and watching as Noo kicked a ball around. The games had been set up for any kids at the markets to play with. A little girl and her dad came to join Noo in kicking the ball into the net. It was all fun and games until the girl wanted to be goalie which was the position Noo was playing. As the father attempted to play on Noo refused to move, getting angrier and angrier, and I nearly burst into tears right then and there with embarrassment. In retrospect Noo probably felt left out, as the father kept high-fiving his daughter, but I saw it as completely rude and unacceptable behaviour.

Maybe I am over analysing the situation, as usual, but now I worry the real reason Noo was angry and behaved really badly was because he didn't have a dad there to play with too. Just a mum on the sidelines nagging him to leave. He kept grabbing the two soccer balls to stop the little girl and her father from playing. I could see the anger and frustration in his eyes. My own anxiety escalated as I made offers of ice cream and face painting as lures to get him away.

Of course it ended in tears. I was humiliated and for the first time ever I told Noo he had embarrassed me with his behaviour, that no one wants to play with little boys that don't share and take turns. I dragged him out of there, past the ice cream and the face painting, back to the car while lecturing him the whole way on how to play nicely.

I couldn't stop thinking about it all as we drove away. That gnawing feeling that I'd behaved just as badly as Noo burned in my chest. Mother's guilt set in and I wondered how I was ever going to do this right. My little boy is growing up! He is turning five in December and he needs a father figure who'll kick the ball around with him on a Saturday morning. And I need to make some adjustments to my parenting style too. I can't just be his friend any more. I have to stand up and be his parent.

I have some idea as to how I hope to guide Noo as he grows from baby through to young man. And while I believe there doesn't have to be the socially accepted norm of mum and dad, as Noo's ever loving mum I know that I can't give all this guidance alone. Recent events gave me more evidence of that. I believe that having strong male role models in his life is essential in helping him develop into a well rounded individual, not just to have a bloke to kick a ball around with.

Of course I know that general society sees our family as being different despite the fact that the single parent household is one of the fastest growing social groups in Australia according to the 2011 Census. In fact a quarter of young Aussie families (those with dependent kids under 15 years of age) have only one parent at its head.

Science says you need a woman and a man to make a baby but it doesn't require a mother and a father to raise one. The solo mum raising a boy(s) is obviously not the only family arrangement where boys are being raised without a dad at home. There are lesbian couples with sons and hetero couples where the father is working in an industry that requires him to be away for long periods of time (eg defence, mining). In this day and age there are so many combinations of what makes up a family, in my view, there's no such thing as a 'normal' family.

According to Bernard Salt, undoubtedly our most well-known demographer here in Australia, "82% of lone parent households are headed by women". What I'd like to know is of the 82% how many are raising sons without a father present in any way? What do those mums do for parental support (and I'm not talking financially) and are there any resources out there for us and our boys? The most recent comprehensive Australian research on fatherlessness was done ten years ago and I've found little else more recent discussing this issue.

I've done a fair bit of my own digging around into this topic for a while now and like all issues there are a lot of differing opinions. I've come across religious websites that think the dissolution of the traditional nuclear family is responsible for the steady breakdown of society and that having a shitty dad around is better than no dad at all (or a shitty mum for that matter). And then I've come across a lot of credible sources that say the opposite.

Dr Michael Flood, in his 2003 article for the Sydney Morning Herald "Positive parenting a key to child's wellbeing, with or without dad", wrote:

"It is not the presence of a father, but the quality of the parenting and family relationships, which makes the most difference to children's wellbeing. Conflict-ridden and unhappy relationships are damaging to children, in both "intact" marriages and between separated parents. If their parents are constantly in conflict, children are actually better off if their parents divorce."

That's not to say dads aren't important in the sole parent family headed by a mum with a son(s). Of course they are and if they can be involved in their son's lives in a harmonious way, then perfect (unless the son has come from donor sperm for solo mothers by choice or lesbian couples and either party has chosen no contact).

This post isn't meant to be about dad bashing or claiming that men are now superfluous when it comes to raising families.  In fact, a growing number of dads (18% of all lone parent households - up 14% over the last five years), are doing the parenting duties on their own too, according to Bernard Salt, which has its own set of questions.

Dr Peggy Drexler, who writes for the Huffington Post and wrote the 2005 book "Raising boys without men: how maverick moms are creating the next generation of exceptional men" agrees with Dr Flood:

"Beyond the specifics of how women are successfully raising sons, I came to see [from her research] that good, loving, growth-encouraging parenting is what sons need. Parenting, moreover, is not anchored to gender. Parenting is either good or deficient, not male or female."


There are some stats out there that say fatherless boys are more likely to do badly at school, become violent, have problems with addiction and join gangs but of course there are other socio-economic factors to take into account when you look into that side of the story. Conversely, there are people who believe that boys that are raised without a father or significant male role model will grow up to be 'mummy's boys' unable to develop their own masculinity. That just sounds stupid to me!

From all the articles and books that I've read, the key message is, boys need positive male role models throughout their life whether the biological dad is around or not.

The teachers at Noo's daycare say that when his little mates ask him why he doesn't have a dad he always answers with pride "I don't have a dad, I have a grandpa" which makes me so proud. Noo loves his grandparents and they love him.

Just a few weeks old: Noo and Grandpa

Dr Drexler wrote for the Huffington Post in 2009 that "boys do find their own role models - coaches, teachers, friends and others in the family". She specifically talks about grandfathers and how they can be the perfect role model for a boy growing up without his dad around. After all, they've done the job before and, if they are retired, they should have more time available to kick a ball around.

I do what I can to do 'boys things' with Noo. And please, don't get all thing about gender specific games, etc. Noo can play with dolls and dress up in girls' clothes if he pleases but that's not his thing. He loves superheroes, modern art, cars and cats. Oh, and playing ball. I've built Lego cars, Thomas track that would rival any father of young boys out there and seen all the Avengers movies tens of times. I am so happy to do boys things and Noo and I love hanging out but I do believe he needs positive male role models in his life.

I will always be Noo's mum but I can't be his a father too.

What I can do is strive to be the best parent I can be.


SUBSCRIBE NOW! Enter your email address to receive
babblingbandit.me posts direct to your inbox:

Delivered by FeedBurner


Dorothy said...

My two boys are growing up with a father and without any real male role models in their lives. I came to the conclusion some years ago that the lack of male role models was not as bad as the presence of really bad ones - the only kind that I always seemed to see around me. I am a strong mum for my boys, I am tough with them most of the time, provide the firm boundaries they need, but I also make sure they understand that those boundaries include being gentle with me and with each other. They migh miss out on rough play with a male role model, but thankfully they have each other for that, as well as their school mates.

I figure that one decent role model in their lives, is better than nothing and have stopped feeling guilty about not being able to provide a male one for them. I firmly believe that they will find their role models as they need them and the best I can do is guide them towards good ones.

Marnie said...

Have you read the book Raising Boys?

Lynne Wambeek said...

Wow what a powerful post... also a very factual post.... For me Vanessa it is what we can do best for our kids, whether they be boy or girl... and it is just not possible to have both Mum and Dad at times.... I also think that maybe the media have made it difficult for folk who bring there children up in a single parent household... we have to be seen to be doing the right thing always.... not possible in my book, mind you I am saying this as a two parent household of an only child being a boy, where we struggled at times to do the right thing so I can hardly imagine how incredibly difficult it must be for single parent households - and very simply for me is the end result 'are our kids happy' that is what I personally strive for, not how well educated and financially successful they are, ARE THEY HAPPY and of course are they nice people to be around....

babblingbandit.me said...

I've read a good portion of it, Marnie. Steve Biddulph annoyed me when he said boys should stay home with their mothers until school rather than attend daycare. My son has thrived in daycare since he was 14 months old so I thought when Raising Boys said flat out NO boy should go to daycare it turned me off the whole book because so many parents HAVE to put their kids in daycare in order to earn a living. Maybe I should have another look though. Thanks. V.

babblingbandit.me said...

I totally agree with you Dorothy. I admire you so much how you parent your two boys on your own. You definitely have a strength that I lack. I also agree, and Dr Drexler mentions this too, that boys will tend to find their own male role models throughout their lives.

The following blog post, which is quite old now, but still resonates, is an excellent post from a man whose father was an alcoholic and abusive to his mother until his parents divorced when he was in kindergarten. He says he found 'father figures' for himself over his lifetime that helped guide him to be the man he wanted to be.


I know Ned and I are really lucky to have my parents live with us part time and have a huge emotional and financial part of our lives. We both cherish that and never take it for granted.

Thanks for your comment! V.

babblingbandit.me said...

I agree, I think most parents, whatever the make up of the family, are just trying to do their best for their kids and for themselves within the constraints and pressures of modern day life.

I've written this post from the perspective of mums with boys, because that is my situation, but I understand that doing the 'right thing' is a parenting issue that all people with kids deal with.

Thanks for your comment Lynne!


Dorothy said...

I found the book really unhelpful. Raises the expectations way too high for single mothers.

Dorothy said...

Thanks, V. Will check out that post. It's taken me a long time to accept my role as both mother and father. I used to feel so angry about it, but now I simply acknowledge the gaps and move on.

Debbish said...

When I was trying to have a child (alone) I wondered about the male role model thing but hoped that my brother and father would play a big part in their life. Having said that, I think it's an important thing to be conscious of and positive role models can come into kids' lives in so many ways: sporting coaches, teachers, friends' parents etc.

Seana Smith said...

Hello there, this is so thought provoking. Many mums end up raising boys alone, for all sorts of reasons. My neighbour is a sole mum to a daughter and two wee boys; their very wonderful, loving dad died a year ago. What can anyone do? There will always be boys without dads and girls without mums. How great to have a grandad though, I think that will make a huge difference, all good male role models will.

But I think it is hard for any parent to be a lone parent as life is so much easier when things are shared. A loving partner is great... I'm lucky to have a part-time one, and when he's here things are SO much better. It's all probably much harder for you then him, and you have to find your love and support elsewhere - thank goodness you have a good family around you. And your wee lad is fortunate to have a mum who cares and thinks and wonders and heals.

Jeanie said...

I had a girl - there is plenty of stuff out there to make you feel inadequate as a sole parent whatever the gender - but all that is stats and blanket statements, I quite agree that the quality of parenting is paramount.

What they don't discuss, which I find intriging, is the strength of relationship between sole parent and sole child and the positives and negatives in that.

Grace said...

Love this post, V. And the extensive research you've done for it has made it all the more fascinating. I do agree that it doesn't necessarily have to be a biological father to play that father figure role. I think we need to accept that our society is going to be made up of all sorts of different types of families. We're slowly getting there but I still think we have a long way to go.

kim said...

Hi Vanessa - raising kids alone brings up so many complex problems - and so many are made more complex by our guilt because we think we lack in providing our kids all they need. I go through it myself sof often. The day at the park - i can see you sitting there - brings a lump to my throat actually - don't be hard on yourself. It's really hard to cope when our kids get out of order - no matter what the reason. Ned may not have reacted because of the dad being there at all, you don't really know, but one thing I do know is that once he's at school he's going to be around a lot more males both children and adults and you will be able to breathe a bit easier in your concerns about his ideas on male relationships. Your parents being on hand to help is such a wonderful foundation for him. Child resilience research shows kids who have another role model around who isn't the parent gain additional resilience skills and often fair really well even if their circumstances are difficult - so he's already covered there. I've done everything I can to keep my poppet's dad involved - it's been an incredible uphill battle - he's been os for more than a year now and i remind him all the time to call her etc. sometimes i throw my hands up and say it's all too hard, why bother, but she now has a relationship with him and all i can do is try to sustain it. There is so much i'd love to talk with you about, just sharing, there aren't many people around that play both parent roles and it's good to shoot the breeze, our different ideas etc. All i know right now is that you are doing an amazing job Vanessa. You are real, intelligent and the love of little Ned comes across so strongly. Just keep exploring and questioning like you're doing and let's do coffee some time. kimxx

Sophie Allen said...

Sole parents, in whatever combination face many big hurdles I think. We struggle at times raising 4 sons, and am so grateful my husband is able to share the journey because it is pretty rough at times, and literally.. the wrestling! argh! #teamIBOT

EssentiallyJess said...

Honestly, my opinion is that every child is going to do better with a mother and a father, because that is the way biology has designed it. Obviously there are times when that can't happen. It is better for a child to be raised in a single parent family than in a negative or abusive environment.
But like you've said, boys do need male role models. I read once that a woman can not teach a boy to be a man; only a man can do that, and so the challenge to many families today, is to find a man that will help carry that responsibility. And if you've got your dad and uncles on standby, I'm sure Ned will be fine xx

Neets said...

I've got the same book and that same part annoyed me in the book too. My son also thrived in daycare.

Neets said...

Great post Vanessa, I think you're doing a fabulous job as a single mum. My parents fought a lot as I was growing up and they finally parted when all the kids were grown up. Honestly, I wish they'd done it sooner as I would have been a happier child. xox

Lila Wolff said...

I completely understand your concerns, but positive role models like yourself and your parents are what your son needs and lucky has. I personally differ from many people who feel the need for male or female influence, I personally want my children to grow up as good people not necessarily sticking to society's ideal of what is masculine or feminine. I prefer to show my kids that activities aren't exclusively male or female. I guess what I'm saying is that sometimes there are advantages to growing up with fixed ideas of what a man (or woman) should be or like, it's worked well for my kids so far. And always better than growing up in a household where they learn fear or to be aggressive!

Maxabella said...

I think our generation is all in danger of overanalysing things that don't really need analysing. It is what it is and what's the point of speculating differently? A happy home, a loving parent, a supportive team, a warm home, good food, opportunities to discover... what more does any kid ever need??? x

babblingbandit.me said...

I tend to agree, we do over analyse, but when the media or anyone throws around lines like "fatherless sons are more likely to be violent....blah, blah, blah" then I'm glad that there are academics out there that are doing the research and analysis to prove it as opinionated rubbish. Or that statements like that are based on more variables than the simple fact that a boy doesn't have a dad in his life. Thanks for stopping by!

babblingbandit.me said...

Great comment Lila. I have always tried to avoid making statements to Ned like "that's for boys" or "that's only a girl thing". I've always allowed him to choose what he likes. Eg, Ned loves cats. All his toy cats are girls. My dad was worried he would get teased if he continued with this when he started at big school next year and suggested I find a way to get him to lose interest in his girl cats. Ned also loves pretending to be a girl cat. I told dad no, there was no way I was going to make Ned change who he was because of some preconceived idea of what games a boy should play.

I guess, through this post and asking myself if my boy is missing out by not having a dad, I've found the answer to that question. I don't think he is. And it won't be until years from now, when he can tell me himself, whether or not he ever felt like he was lacking anything.


babblingbandit.me said...

Thanks Neets. Its a hard one that situation. My parents fought all the time too when I was young. I hated it and always thought it was my fault. I blame a lot of my issues on it still. They, and my sister and I, have been lucky though. In September my parents celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary! They've never been happier and are my biggest support. V.

babblingbandit.me said...

Neddy does have great men in his life and I'm very grateful for that. Thanks Jess for stopping by. V.

Emily Morgan said...

fantastic post - you read my mind in a way - when I was preggers with my little girl, I worried and worried how I would manage if she turned out to be a boy - and these are the thoughts I had. I also agonise over my little girl not having a father - but that's because I have such a wonderful relationship with my own father, and it breaks my heart that she wil never have that experience. I am lucky in that I have three brothers, and some very close male friends, and a dad who's still around, so I have come to the conclusion now that she will not lack for strong male influences in her life. I think that a father figure doesn't have to be a biological father - keep up the amazing, incredible work, awesome mama! PS - I'm interested to know if you are open to a relationship between your son and his father in the future - or even if you know how to contact him? It is something I wonder about - will my girl want to try to get in touch with her biological father one day..

babblingbandit.me said...

Thanks for your comment Emily.

Re contact with Ned's biological dad, honestly, no, I hope there's never any contact. At least not until he is over 18 years old and able to make a decision for himself whether he wants a relationship with him. If Ned's father continued living the way he did when I knew him I doubt he'd live long enough to meet him anyway. And there's no way to find him. Because of his criminal activities he lives off the grid. He's a ghost basically.

Let me say though, I wouldn't stop Ned from looking after he turns 18. As an adult the decision will be completely his. V.

Emily said...

Such an amazing post, and yes you're doing a bloody fantastic job. My dear friend isn't with her partner and she has similar thoughts, but she also has very supportive parents. IMHO - single parents deserve the biggest medals ever, esp ones such as you that are promoting male role models. From the sounds of it, it's in Ned's best interests that his dad isn't on the scene x Em

Post a Comment

Thank you for leaving me a comment. I love comments!