Single parents contributing strength, love in households
''We know single parents have made it when they stop looking back to the thing that put them there - being widowed or divorced - and start looking ahead to their lives as single parents,'' says Ginny Nuta, spokeswoman for Parents Without Partners, an international organization for people raising children alone.Skip to next paragraph
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One out of every 5 families - over 6.5 million, nearly 6 million of which are headed by females - fall into this category, according to the Census Bureau. This is nearly double the number 10 years ago, they say, largely because of the higher rate of divorce.
But feeding, clothing, and housing these children is a challenge for many in a marketplace where women still earn only 62 cents for every male-earned dollar. Median income for female-headed families in 1981, says Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children's Defense Fund, was $10,960 - versus $22,388 for all families. ''Another way to look at this,'' says Ms. Edelman, ''is to examine the poverty of children. In 1981, almost one out of every five children lived in female-headed families, and they accounted for 52 percent of all poor children.''
Deborah Mulkey, a former welfare mother of three outside Washington, D.C., talks of how she manages on a tight budget: ''We go to the park, or the zoo - that's free - and watch TV instead of the movies,'' she says in her third-floor walk-up, charmingly decorated with second-hand-store furniture. ''I go to a lot of thrift stores for my clothes, but whatever's left over after paying the bills , I spend on the kids' clothes. I like them to look nice.''
Ms. Mulkey works a flexible schedule at a local grocery-store chain so she can be home when her children return from school, and she has developed a network of other adults - family and friends - to spend time with them as well.
''You need your family around you at this time,'' says Stan Fabian, the widowed father of two young children in Arlington, Va., ''because you'd use up friends fast by asking them for the kinds of things you have to ask for.'' Like Ms. Mulkey, Mr. Fabian relies on his parents to be there when he can't be.
''But I'm still the parent; I make all the decisions,'' he says. ''We talked about that for a while before my parents moved in here.''
Taking full responsibility presents challenges, says Connaught Marshner of the Child & Family Protection Institute in Washington, D.C. ''In a two-parent situation,'' she points out, ''there is more flexibility for the parents to deal with a child's needs.''
Ms. Marshner suggests that schools should act as a backup to the single parent by supporting school-age child-care programs, cracking down on truancy, and setting high standards of behavior: ''It is more than a pity, it is devastating, if the school does not back up the mother's desire for and attempt at discipline and standard-setting.''
Even though many single parents are busy managing economically, all those contacted for this article pointed with pride to the extra steps they take to get involved in their children's lives. Mr. Fabian, for example, heads up the local Brownie troop for his daughters, and is a vice-president for their school parent-teacher group, ''because you have to let them see that you care.''