The Grown Progeny of Single Moms.

slb wrote an essay on what being raised by a single mother (mis)taught her about the male-female dynamic. Matriarchy, she said, taught her not to invest fully in men. Conversely, a matriarchal upbringing taught one of the men she dated to rely too heavily on her. Her piece read like a blanket statement with which G.D. took umbrage.

So… the two of them decided to open the discussion to the rest of you.

Our question: If you were raised by a single parent, how has this informed your romantic relationships?

We also want to hear from you if you’ve dated someone who was singly parented and their rearing had any discernible effect on your relationship.

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slb (aka Stacia L. Brown) is a writer, mother, and college instructor in Baltimore, MD. Check her out here: http://stacialbrown.com and here: http://beyondbabymamas.com.

26 comments to The Grown Progeny of Single Moms.

  • Lemme say that off-top, I don’t think that just because women are often the sole breadwinners that the families are ‘matriarchal.’ In a lot of families, there’s an assumption that boys of a certain age have to become the ‘man of the house’ which is a pretty patriarchal notion.

    I’d also argue that homes headed by single mothers, wherein sons are pampered and told the sun shines on their asses because they’re dudes, have some pretty strong patriarchal leanings as well.

    okay. i’mma shut up now.

  • slb

    You’re right, of course. I used the term ‘matriarchy’ as a catch-all in a way I shouldn’t have. The household hierarchy to which *I* was referring was one in which women were not only the sole breadwinners but also the Final Say, on some “as long as you live in my house” stuff.

  • ladyfresshh

    no i agree G.D.

    i was raised in a matriarchal home which part is the base of many conflicts with my father (distant parenting) raised in a patriarchal home

    as for how it informs my romantic relationships
    i have been told i do not know how to give over control (by males)
    i agree, i have no idea where that line is
    oddly though it’s made for great friendships with males
    and not so great with some females

  • I’ve only dated one person who was raised by a single parent, and his mother was a relatively big-time drug dealer who spent several parts of his childhood in jail… so his issues with her were slightly different than most, I guess. He needed a lot of personal attention and couldn’t stand me having friendly conversations with other men in his presence. He also had a weird dynamic with an uncle who was both his competition for female attention and a father-figure.

    My mother was raised in a matriarchal household by her great-grandmother and grandmother, with appearances by her often-absent-and-working-in-Cuba-or-the-UK mother (who had a tenuous relationship with her own mother after being raised by her grandmother when her mother left Jamaica to find work). My mom lionized her father, who was kicked out by her mother for cheating/gambling, yet she holds a grudge toward most men (much to her husband/my father’s chagrin).

  • I have so much to say on this topic!

    But first, I’m glad G.D. laid this out:

    “I’d also argue that homes headed by single mothers, wherein sons are pampered and told the sun shines on their asses because they’re dudes, have some pretty strong patriarchal leanings as well.”

    I’ve dated a series of those dudes, and was extremely hung up on one, and I frankly recommend friends away from male only children. Women only children, otoh, I find I have an unspoken kinship with right off the bat. It’s like we find each other.

    Ok, that’s my first thought.

  • I just left a very long response at slb’s original post.

  • slb

    It seems like the consensus here is that women raised by mothers have “control issues” and/or grudge-holding issues that impede the wellness of their relationships with men.

    Anyone have any suggestions on how to get beyond these hang-ups?

  • Hmm…interesing question.

    If you were raised by a single parent, how has this informed your romantic relationships?

    There is an idea that marriage is nice, but not mandatory. The idea of a wedding being “one perfect day” is laughable – there are a whole lot of days after that people don’t seem to plan for. I get panicky if I am not fully in control of my finances. I prefer to maintain control of my own space. I don’t have problems with emotional control in relationships (not my personality), but I tend to only enter in relationships with men who don’t force the idea that they should lead. I also have jumpy baggage surrounding men providing for themselves – I need a man who has a job, provides for himself, and can manage his own money. My mother was very clear that men who are dead weight aren’t worth the effort, and I saw that play out in her dating. However, I was raised with a heavy fatherly influence as well. Things weren’t really perfect, but my Dad made sure to always come by for his bi-monthly visits, to talk to us and understand us. (He was also very big into the men provide for themselves idea.) We spent occassional summers with him, and as we got older, saw that he still had some very patriarchial leanings, which is probably why he and my mom clashed.

    We also want to hear from you if you’ve dated someone who was singly parented and their rearing had any discernible effect on your relationship.

    I see no clear pattern, to be honest. Some guys turned out fine, some were clingly and childish. I dated someone from a two parent, traditional home for a long time, but found that relationship expectation too clingly and ultimatley stifiling. I also resented him for not having to work so hard for everything – I do think being raised by a single parent (as a girl) forced me to be a lot more independent and forward thinking than many of my two-parent peers. This is probably because single parents don’t have the time to coddle you or second guess themselves. My current relationship I am very pleased with, boyfriend was raised primarily by his grandmother, with both parents exerting secondary influence. I like his mix of traditional and modern values – it suits me. But his brother turned out fucked up because his parents were the primary influence. It really depends.

    @SLB -

    It seems like the consensus here is that women raised by mothers have “control issues” and/or grudge-holding issues that impede the wellness of their relationships with men.

    Anyone have any suggestions on how to get beyond these hang-ups?

    I disagree with this premise, but I think the key to having healthy relationships is to know (1) what you can change in your self and (2) what you invite into your life with others. I think the best thing to do is to get to know people – really, to know them – and figure out whose baggage best compliments yours. After all, we all carry some. Best to admit it and work with it while trying to reduce what you’re carrying.

  • I was raised in a two-parent home, but I was also raised to be independent and resourceful, so I can relate to slb’s essay more than I thought I would. Despite the presence of a working (very patriarchal) dad at home, I was always told by my mom (who tired of being told what she could or couldn’t spend) to learn to be responsible for myself and not to depend on a man to take care of me. I obeyed, having seen the improvements in my mom’s life – actually the whole household – after she started making her own income and adding to the household finances. All my friends and peers grew up in single mom households, so I thought my two-parent situation was exceptional and less likely to be my own destiny.

    None of the guys I’ve dated grew up in a two-parent home past the age of 10. Most of their parents either never married or divorced early. I find the differences in the guys kinda correlated to the differences in the women who raised them. Independent, resourceful, career-minded moms tended to make more responsible sons who were patriarchal in their ideas about their own role… but who also seemed more comfortable with and respectful of my independence and resourcefulness. Moms who struggled more financially and had less education tended to make sons who had a harder time with responsibility, yet they still managed to be more patriarchal about both their role and mine, and less comfortable with my independence.

  • geo

    very interesting post and responses.

  • SLB -

    Oh, forgot to mention, props on the post. Your experience is very different from mine, but your narrative flowed with equal parts pain and logic. I wish more writing about relationships was more you and less ditzy girls with shopping habits making the same bad decisions over and over.

  • slb

    Latoya – Finding someone whose baggage best complements yours is a great suggestion. And while, I think the whole “single mothers raise daughters who are impatient/intolerant/dismissive of men who attempt to fulfill patriarchal roles” is, indeed, a faulty premise. But it’s one I hear echoed over and over among women who believe they’ll be “relinquishing too much of their autonomy” if they get into relationships with certain kinds of men (or any man). It does really depend. And relationships are so nuanced that evaluating them according to the way both parties were raised seems arbitrary and counterproductive. It just felt like something to consider.

    Also: thanks! :-)

    glory – I really think you’re onto something with this:

    Independent, resourceful, career-minded moms tended to make more responsible sons who were patriarchal in their ideas about their own role… but who also seemed more comfortable with and respectful of my independence and resourcefulness. Moms who struggled more financially and had less education tended to make sons who had a harder time with responsibility, yet they still managed to be more patriarchal about both their role and mine, and less comfortable with my independence.

    I’ve encountered more situations like the latter than the former.

  • I’d also argue that homes headed by single mothers, wherein sons are pampered and told the sun shines on their asses because they’re dudes

    Huh. My experience and friendships with men raised by single mothers is that they’re responsible, generous, caring men–the kind of guys who have seen a woman in an unidealized light, had to help mama out, and do their part without even thinking about it, because that’s just how things are.

  • it’s one I hear echoed over and over among women who believe they’ll be “relinquishing too much of their autonomy” if they get into relationships with certain kinds of men (or any man).

    Well, but, by and large, they’re right, aren’t they? Says the old married lady. You *do* relinguish a lot of autonomy in marriage, and by and large I suspect that even the most progressive men get more out of marriage than women do. Primarily because it seems like women provide a lot of emotional support to their men, which is a fair bit of invisible work for the ladies and a big, big benefit for the guys.

  • *Primarily because it seems like women provide a lot of emotional support to their men, which is a fair bit of invisible work for the ladies and a big, big benefit for the guys.*

    Yeah. If it were only possible for men to provide emotional support to their wives things would be better. Too bad that’s impossible. Or something.

    Sorry–I’m pretty sure you didn’t mean it that way, but it struck me as pretty one-sided as stated.

  • Dr. B: maybe i should clarify. i meant the kinds of homes where that’s the case, not that single-parent homes are more likely to be those kind of boy-worshipping households than other ones.

  • Big Word

    I guess the thing is that there isn’t really a definite role for men to assume since feminism, women’s lib and the economic necessity of women being in the workplace. Men used to be heads of the household. By and large it’s not that way anymore and there really hasn’t been a culturally recognized substitute for it. IMO, that dynamic plays more of role than being raised in a single parent home. Of course men are still sorta expected to be able providers and good fathers, but there’s not much a man can go to a woman nowadays and expect from her.

  • BW: Jesus, there’s a lot of shit to quibble with in your post.

    Why do you think feminism has stripped men of their roles as breadwinners? Men still make more than women on average, right?

    Also, the whole one-breadwinner, stay-at-home mom model was almost completely a media concoction. it was true of upper class families, but most families had two incomes coming in.

  • robynj

    BW: What do you mean by this?

    “… but there’s not much a man can go to a woman nowadays and expect from her.”

    I’m not sure I understand what you’re trying to say here.

  • Dr. B: I suppose this can vary depending on where we’re talking about and the structure of the family. Here in the Caribbean single mothers are the order of the day and it’s a pretty well known phenomenon a lot of these women raise their daughters and spoil their sons. It’s rather bizarre. They push the girls to do well in school, to “make something of themselves”, to not have to depend on men because, well, clearly men are unreliable. But they don’t necessarily push the boys to be better men. A lot of them do what they want while their female relatives are busy making a way for themselves alone with the necessary sacrifices. As a result some get the impression that women are around just to do things for them.

    The guys I know who are like the ones you described grew up with their dads around, but the marriages were non-functional – just a two people who happen to live in the same house. Most of those guys had dads who cheated or were abusive and were ineffectual where it came to being emotionally present and mothers who stuck around for the kids.Their moms occupy this kind of sainted, almost martyred role in their thinking. I’m not positive why this is. Maybe because their dads were actually there so they got to see the *reason* their moms struggled first hand whereas in the single parent situations there’s no-one to *miss* plus the moms tend to do this overcompensating, “I don’t need a man”, supermommy thing?

  • Jessica

    Jason, at least as I interpreted it, the one-sidedness was exactly Bitch PhD’s point– that even in this supposedly enlightened feminist era, hetero relationships still are frequently imbalanced, both in terms of who does the majority of the physical work around the house and who tends to take the role of emotional supporter more of the time.

  • UE: In my old neighborhood, what you described in your first paragraph describes the culture in the neighborhood I grew up here in America in pretty well. Certainly, not all families where I grew up were like this, but many seemed to be like this.

  • Jason, I was describing things as they often are, not as I think they must or should be.

    Universeexpanding: Yes, I see what you mean–and definitely the single-mama situation in a broader context where men are culturally privileged (in a way that also leads to the single-mom thing to begin with) is definitely different than what I was thinking about. Not that the US middle- and working-class structure isn’t within the context of a sexist society, but it obviously functions differently in terms of how it’s manifested. By and large, men in the US don’t *generally* get away with not being expected to do any domestic labor these days.

  • Aisha

    I too was raised by a single parent but I saw my father everyday before school. I relate to so much in this thread.

  • As mentioned upthread, I left a long revealing post over at slb’s place and then got sort of embarrassed for getting all web-confessional. But this discussion is awesome.

    I don’t know if you all saw the NYT magazine article today about single-mothers-by-choice that profiles older college-educated (all white – in the photos, at least) women raising children alone. Their remarks about co-parenting with men are sort of striking, because, correct me if I’m wrong, there’s a real undercurrent in our discussion here about women raising kids w/o men because the fathers couldn’t be counted on (whether or not they stayed in our lives, they were not in our homes).

    In this piece, the women had kids via sperm donors or adoption, and yet, some of their sentiment about men sounds similar to some of our learned impressions about men:

    All the single mothers I met talked about the satisfaction of being able to make decisions about their kids, from when they are excused from the table to where they go to school, and how hard it would be to share that authority. Though they acknowledged some of the advantages of marriage, they mainly saw it, at this point in their lives, as an entry into constant and mostly unwelcome negotiation over all of this terrain.

    In treating co-parenting as the alien and potentially harder state, Anne-Marie and her friends say they are different from the divorced women they know. “I have a few friends who are divorced, and they are more interested in getting married than I am,” Anne-Marie said. “For them, it’s going back to the couple’s life they’ve known. For me, it seems like adding on a big mess to something that’s comparatively stable.”

    On the way to lunch, Anne-Marie and I circled the parking lot of a strip mall looking for the right restaurant. When I suggested stopping to ask for directions, she turned around her light green VW Passat for another tour of the lot. “Independence, it’s my blessing and my curse,” she joked. Now she tilted her head, imagined being married and said: “I’d have to give up my independence. I don’t always want to admit it, but that’s a lot of what’s stopping me.”

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