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'You'll Never Raise Him Alone'

Parenting: The biggest obstacle to single parenting is everyone telling you it can't be done.

March 01, 1997|ERICA WASHINGTON | Erica Washington lives in Los Angeles. She works as a receptionist

"You'll never be able to raise him by yourself. You know that, don't you?" It's Saturday night. I am at a friend's apartment, waiting to watch the big Tyson-Holyfield fight. My 4-year-old son is bouncing off the walls of the tiny one-room apartment. My requests to settle down and not play so roughly with the other children are falling on deaf ears. The comment is delivered by my friend's uncle, who considers himself good father material. He is currently unemployed, looks for work only sporadically and has the most negative attitude I have ever encountered in any one person.

Despite that, I am not fit to raise my son alone, he says, and if not him, then any man will do. He continues on in this vein until, tired of his constant sniping, I pick up my son and leave, 15 minutes before the main event.

As much as I wish this were an isolated incident, it is all too common in the lives of single parents. No matter what you are doing to insure that your child has a stable life, you are still wrong.

From the press, I learn that my son will come to no good because there is no male presence in his life. Desperate for a male role model, he will eventually turn to the dominant male figures seen most in primarily minority neighborhoods: drug dealers, gang members and other assorted low-lifes.

Do people really believe that children raised in single-parent homes will always get nowhere solely because of their circumstances?

I do not believe in predetermination. I believe each person makes his or her own fate. Single parents must make the effort by involving their children in meaningful activities and providing solid, supportive role models. The only people that fail at this task are those who either lose their influence on their children or buy into the belief that they cannot do it alone.

Very little is said about those who do not fall in line with the popularly held theories about solo parenting. These are women (and increasingly, men) who have not only met expectations but surpassed them. Whether by choice (never married), or by force (death or divorce), these people have the monumental task of maintaining both job and family, some even going to school in addition to that, and they work at it daily. I don't mind saying that this vast majority are doing beautifully at it. At the end of the day, they can look back on some small accomplishment--be it finishing a project at work or not being too tired to read to their children at bedtime--and feel fulfilled. It is those fleeting moments of contentment that keep single parents like me going.

Still, being a single parent is not something I would wish on my worst enemy. This is a 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week job. There are no vacations or holidays. There is no one to share the discipline or to deflect some of the hundreds of questions kids like to ask. All decisions, good and bad, large and small, are yours alone.

There is an awesome responsibility to being the only guiding force in a child's life. It can be done, though, and it is being done, every day. As long as there are hard-working determined people out there, it will continue to be done. By college graduates and those with only high school diplomas. By people of every race and nationality. By company presidents and their support staff. And by me. Definitely by me.

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