The statistics are staggering.
75% of children/adolescents in chemical dependency hospitals are from single-parent families. (Center for Disease Control, Atlanta, GA)
1 out of 5 children have a learning, emotional, or behavioral problem due to the family system changing. (National Center for Health Statistics)
More than one half of all youths incarcerated for criminal acts lived in one-parent families when they were children. (Children's Defense Fund)
Nine million American children face risk factors that may hinder their ability to become healthy and productive adults. One in seven children deal with at least four of the risk factors, which include growing up in a single-parent household...The survey also indicated that children confronting several risk factors are more likely to experience problems with concentration, communication, and health. (1999 Kids Count Survey - Annie E. Casey Foundation)
63% of suicides are individuals from single parent families (FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin - Investigative Aid)
"Separation, divorce and unmarried parenthood seemed to be a high risk for children/adolescents in these families for the development of suicidal behavior". (Atilla Turgay, M.D.American Psychiatric Association's Scientific Meeting, May 1994)
75% of teenage pregnancies are adolescents from single parent homes (Children in need: Investment Strategies...Committee for Economic Development)
Staggering - and clear. Here's what I don't get...
I had the misfortune of being seated between two women the other night who were having this conversation about their 19 year old sons...
Woman 1: "Well, at least he's not using drugs anymore and he's starting to understand where all of his behavioral problems have come from".
Woman 2: "That's good. I think it definitely depends on what age they were traumatized".
Woman 1: "Yes! The age they were traumatized definitely makes a difference!"
***At this point, I'm thinking..."What the heck happened to these women's kids? Were they molested? Kidnapped? What on earth are they talking about?"
Apparently, Woman 1 noticed the confused look on my face and said, "Don't you agree?"
PI Mom: "What do you mean WHEN they were traumatized? What happened to your kids?"
Woman 1: "OH! We mean when the divorce happened! You know, when their dad left".
I was floored! I'm a single mother. I've been divorced for 11 years. I have always hated the tag, "broken home" because in my case, as in many, many cases - my home was broken when I was married. When I left - I fixed it. I committed to giving my children a happy, healthy, well-adjusted life and that meant I had to divorce their dad. I never once assumed that my kids were going to have behavioral, emotional or health problems simply because there was only one parent in their home. It's not always easy. It's not always fun. It IS, however, always, always, always worth the effort and whatever sacrifices are made. It is simply a decision that you make. I have great kids who don't consider themselves victims or measure their successes or failures based on a timeline that began when they were "traumatized". Why? Because it has NEVER occurred to me to use my divorce as a crutch or allow my kids to use it as an excuse to behave badly. It's never been an option.
Now, here's the thing girls (and boys). Divorce is difficult - it's really hard on kids, but tagging that moment in their life as the moment their lives were irrevocably traumatized is a cop out. Kids are as traumatized as we allow them to be by our divorces and it's our job as the parent who didn't walk out - or DID walk out to give your kids a better life - to commit to making our kid's lives as normal as possible in spite of the circumstances. And yes - I had just as difficult a divorce as anyone. My marriage, divorce and the aftermath was nothing short of the makings of a Lifetime TV movie. And contrary to Woman 1's suggestion to me that divorce is somehow different for girls and easier on daughters than on sons - my kids didn't turn out o.k. because they were girls. My kids turned out o.k. because I didn't...sell out. Yeah, I said it.
I wouldn't suggest that two-parent homes aren't the ideal. I'm not suggesting that it doesn't matter whether kids have both parents in their lives or that input from both parents isn't very, very valuable or even that some children aren't more "traumatized" than others by their parent's divorce. What I would suggest is that the reported statistics on behavioral problems, emotional problems, incarceration, chemical dependency and suicide are not just the result of children growing up in single-parent homes - they're the result of bad parenting. Yeah, I said it.
I know plenty of women and men who blame every single problem in their lives on their failed marriages/former spouses and if you want to cop out on taking responsibility for your own failures - knock yourself out. But let's be real. If your kids fall apart, misbehave, get pregnant, addicted to drugs, whatever....it's not because you got divorced. Not unless you use your divorce as a crutch to the degree that you cripple your children and their ability to take responsibility for their actions. You have a choice - you can either teach your kids to be victims - or teach them to rise above their circumstances. You can teach them to be statistics - or survivors. Make no mistake - it's entirely up to you.
I am so tired of seeing statistics like the ones above presented in a way that supposedly explains WHY kids act the way they do without giving credit where it is due. Whether your kids are growing up with a father or with a mother or with both - HOW they are raised, WHAT they are taught and WHO they are exposed to will influence the outcomes in their lives way more than whether or not both parents resided in the same household. It's time for single parents, both dads and moms to take responsibility for the upbringing they're providing for their children and it's time for our society to stop giving single parents excuses not to do right by their kids.
I'm not incapable of sympathizing with single moms. I AM one - but sympathy won't keep your kids out of rehab. If I could do...say...express ANYTHING to help empower single moms (or dads) - it would not be, "There, there! It's not your fault". It would be that you only get one chance to do the right thing with your kids. Don't sell them out. Quit feeling sorry for yourself. Quit waiting for your x-husband/wife to step up to the plate. Do...your...job. You'll never be sorry that your kids aren't part of the statistics.