For example, Walker and Hennig add that, "It has frequently been found that children (particularly boys) in divorced, mother-custody families exhibit lower levels of well-being than children in intact families, with more externalizing and internalizing behavior problems and lower levels of cognitive and social competence" (p. 64). My son is also currently at a formative period that has special significance for single-parents families. For instance, Walker and Hennig also point out that, "Single-mother families are often affectively charged, with high instrumental affection combined with high negativity and conflict, particularly in the transition to adolescence" (1997, p. 64).
The "transition to adolescence" can be a rocky period in anyone's life, of course, and it is reasonable to expect my son to experience some problems in general and with me in particular during this transitional period. Fortunately, this challenging developmental period is eased somewhat as children grow into mid-adolescence. As Walker and Henning report, "In early adolescence, parent/child communication patterns are poorer in single-mother families than in two-parent families, although this improved by mid-adolescence" (1997, p. 64). Despite this trend towards improved communications, empirical observations of other mother-only families indicates that the next 8 years will be characterized by experimentation with drugs, premarital sex and other potentially self-destructive behaviors that many young people experience during their adolescent years.
To help my son overcome these challenges as well as those that go hand-in-hand with simply growing up in the 21st century, I have made extra efforts to explain our economic circumstances in ways that he can appreciate, and to maintain amicable relations with my former spouse as being in the best interests of our son. In this regard, Yingling (2006) emphasizes that, "In families without fathers, children tend to do less well on standardized intelligence tests. In general, fathers' involvement is related to better school performance for children; but, in particular, boys seem to do better with interactive fathers. Boys perform better in school when they have highly involved fathers" (p. 126). Furthermore, I have taken steps to improve our long-term economic circumstances through higher education and believe this has gone a long way in motivating my son to also achieve academically. We frequently do our homework together, for example, and we discuss each other's school assignments in order to keep abreast of what is going on in each other's academic pursuits. My son even likes to joke that, "He'll ground me if I don't finish my homework and do well on my tests." More importantly, though, by demonstrating the importance of higher education to my son now, he will likely be more enthusiastic about pursuing his own college career when the time comes.
This type of friendly banter is characteristic of our close relationship, but I have tried to fuel his interest in learning all of his life. For instance, I read to my son on a regular basis almost as soon as he was born, and he learned to read by the age of 3 years using commonly available resources such as Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss. Indeed, I distinctly remember the spark of learning and recognition that took place when he was first able to follow along in the text of the book and went from rote memorization of phrases such as "Sam I am" (which he enthusiastically repeated every time) to actually recognizing the letters and the words they formed and being able to read on his own. This was such an exciting experience for both of us! In fact, by the time he was 5 years old, my son was reading to me instead of the other way around and he continues to enjoy print media despite the availability of online resources. Since that time, we like to frequent used book stores to locate age-appropriate reading materials and my son has accumulated a large library of books on a wide range of topics of interest to many young boys, including rocks and minerals, wood carving and drawing.
No one knows when this spark of learning and recognition will occur, of course, but it was an important event for both of us since it represented the beginning of my son's lifelong path to learning as well as convincing me that I had an important role to play in helping my son become a better learner and student -- and I have tried to take this role seriously. Likewise, although I no longer read to my son, I try to use his questions about life as learning opportunities that we can both build on to promote outside interests and to improve his understanding of the world in which we live. A good recent example of this occurred recently when my son encountered a "Battle of Stalingrad" scenario on the Call of Duty 4 game he enjoys playing on his X-Box game platform. After my son came to me and asked, "Did this [Battle of Stalingrad] really happen?," we used this eventful episode in world history as a point of departure for further analysis. For instance, we explored the Battle of Stalingrad online and through several visits to the public library where my son became fascinated with the part played by the former Soviet Union in helping win World War II.
Prior to this learning opportunity, my son told me that he knew that the Russians helped the Allies win World War II, but he also emphasized to me that he had no idea that they played such a major role and sacrificed so much to do so. Since this episode, my son has gone on to search out other materials on World War II and has shared his knowledge about the Battle of Stalingrad with his friends who play role-playing games online as well. Other learning opportunities abound as well, even during otherwise purely recreational activities. For example, during our visits to the local zoo, we have learned about species survival plans and how they are used to help endangered species such as cheetahs and great apes. During our walks in the woods, we take along field guides to help identify bird species that we do not recognize and we try to outdo each other in identifying plants and trees. Although these activities are a great deal of fun, they also serve to provide my son with the foundation for future learning that will help him later in life.
These shared activities have also helped us to form a strong bond that assists us both when faced with adversity, and we have experienced our fair share. As Hart (2002) points out, single parenting by women requires a great deal of effort, much of which goes unrecognized by family members and the larger society in which they live. According to Hart, "Caring signifies an overwhelming emotional burden. Because it is at the core of motherwork, however, and because it involves a multitude of tasks, skills, abilities, and forms of knowledge, it also signifies an overwhelming amount of work and responsibility" (p. 5).
Although the single-parenting task itself may be overwhelming, I am not overwhelmed by these responsibilities but I am discouraged from time to time when problems pile on and there does not appear to be a viable solution in sight. During these periods of time, I remind myself that only dead people do not have any problems and reassure myself that the future will be better -- and it almost always is. Certainly, there have been setbacks and obstacles along the way, but I am confident that the strong relationship that exists between me and my son will help him overcome the challenges that face him on his road to adulthood. Likewise, I feel that by refraining from speaking ill of my former spouse and keeping the relationship as amicable as possible, my son will be able to benefit from his father's parenting input in ways that might not otherwise be possible. While it is a simple matter to assert that one intends to do the best for the family's children as possible, it is quite another matter to actually perform the day-to-day tasks that make the difference between muddling through and excelling, and it all boils down to a personal and unwavering commitment to do so.
Growing up in 21st century America can be a daunting experience, with substance abuse, premarital sex and gang activity being ever-present dangers. Moreover, many young people in the United States today live in a world that has never known the absence of terrorism on their own soil following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 with the threat of further attacks always present. These and other issues are further exacerbated for children of single-parent families, and the research suggests that these children have the social, academic and developmental deck stacked against them. In fact, the research was consistent in showing that children in single-parent families are faced with a number of challenges that are not shared by their traditional nuclear family counterparts, including fewer economic resources and inconsistent parenting…