What Does ‘Single’ Mean, Anyway?

February 12th, 2013 posted by Family Corner Staff

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I am fascinated by the expression ‘single parent.’ I was technically a single parent most of the years my children lived at home. At the risk of boring you with my personal stories, I’d like to share my questions and ask for your response. I was married when my first three children were born, though my husband and I lived separately by the time the third arrived. We tried being a live-together family again and discovered it still wasn’t possible. He left the area soon after that and had very little contact with the children until a few years ago — after they were well past the age of 18. Was I a single parent? Yes. Was I the single person responsible for those children? Legally, yes. Financially, yes. Technically, their father was supposed to participate in their lives but chose to communicate only seldom. The reality, though, was that I never felt precisely single. I always had other people around. I came from a large, friendly extended family that’s spread across the entire United States. My mother and my in-laws lived nearby and were in and out of my house, part of my children’s lives. We were a single-parent household but distinctly not a single-parent family. We were one household in a multi-generational family that stretches back generations in this country and overseas. When filling out forms that offer choices of Single or Married, I often left them blank. I wanted another category. Yes, I was the only adult in the house, but I was anything but single. I was me plus three (later six) children. The children were not the sons and daughters of a single parent. They were the result of loving moments shared by two parents. They had both a mother and a father, even though their father didn’t live with us, didn’t participate in their lives as they grew up. To write him off as non-existent wasn’t fair to the children. They knew he existed. I believe it’s important that each of us know who we are, that we be able to describe ourselves properly. I loved being the parent in residence. I loved the years with a house full of children. Sure, there were hours, even days, when I was driven to distraction by them, aggravated beyond what people are designed to withstand, but those were and still are far overshadowed by the pleasures of watching these children grow up. Of seeing them become their own visions of themselves. Of wishing them well as they headed out on their own into lives full of dreams, hopes, work, play, family and friends. Now I can check ‘Single’ on a questionnaire without wondering what would be more accurate. I still wonder, though, what word would more adequately describe the non-isolated household with only one parent in residence. I’d be comfortable with categories that included ‘Single,’ ‘Married’ and ‘Parent.’ Those groups overlap, but wouldn’t leave out so many who don’t fit into just the two slots. How about you? How do you describe yourself? I’d love to hear from you if you want to send me your answers. I’d like to know what phrase works for you. Until next time, I’ll be the one out here rewriting other people’s questionnaires.

Chas Ridley has written since she could hold a pencil. She writes of life as she knows it, and especially of transitions — joys, sorrows, changes, children growing up, children who don’t grow up, relationships, business. She lives much as she writes, with enthusiasm and embracing variety. You can visit Chas on the web at http://www.hotbooks.com

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