Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

September 20, 2012

Two-parent ideal, one-parent reality

By Tracy Grant
The Washington Post

— Being a parent is hard.

Being a single parent is harder.

Being a single parent made to feel guilty about that status is cruel.

I've written in this space before about the challenges big and small of being a single parent.

But with the presidential election campaign in its final weeks, the celebration of the American nuclear family that played out at the Democratic and Republican conventions and now on the campaign trail is unintentionally (I assume) excluding more than 10 percent of the country's population.

You see, according to a Census Bureau report from December 2011, almost 36 million Americans live in single-parent homes. The breakdown of that is 13.7 million parents raising 22 million children. And because only the parents can vote, maybe there's a sense that these voters can be marginalized with few political repercussions.

But not without emotional ones.

When Michelle Obama delivered her moving speech at the Democratic convention earlier this month, she offered up what amounted to a love letter to fathers. She spoke of her father's struggle with multiple sclerosis: "But every morning, I watched my father wake up with a smile, grab his walker, prop himself up against the bathroom sink, and slowly shave and button his uniform." Because, she explained , going to work to take care of his family was "what it meant to be a man."

She went on to describe her husband's role as dad-in-chief to Sasha and Malia "patiently answering their questions about issues in the news, and strategizing about middle school friendships."

And when that beautiful family took to the stage on the last night of the convention, Dad and daughter Sasha could be seen sharing a private joke that made me, at least, believe it's all true.

Michelle Obama's speech prompted colleague Kathleen Parker, who leans conservative, to describe it as "perfection." Parker's takeaway: "It was that being a man means taking care of your family. It means showing up and being there. It means that children need a father."

For millions of children in this country, that's a need that cannot be met. And even when single parents intellectually realize that they're doing the best they can, they are racked by a sense of failure. On a daily basis, we are reminded that, to much of the traditional family world, we are invisible.

So the girl whose father has died still gets an invitation to the "Father/Daughter Dance." Paperwork from school comes home with a notation: "Must be signed by both parents." "You and your parents are cordially invited to the convocation where you will be recognized for your academic excellence."

Is the model of family as shown by the Romney and Obama families the one most of us wish all children in this country could experience — that is, being loved and supported by two loving parents (regardless of their gender)? Absolutely.

But to parents who lay awake at night worrying alone about their kids, with no partner to bounce ideas off, I would remind them that the political landscape in 2012 provides a testament to the power of the single parent.

What do Barack Obama, Julian and Joaquin Castro and Paul Ryan all have in common?

Single moms.

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Grant, the editor of KidsPost, writes about parenting issues every other week.