Happy New Year. Unfortunately last year is following me into this year.
A Minute to Myself (128)

Reading List of a Single Parent

In the last week or two I have read the following books:

Dreams from My Father, by Barack Obama
Animal Dreams, by Barbara Kingsolver
Kissing Games of the World, by Sandi Kahn Shelton
Postcards from Berlin, by Margaret Leroy

There is an interesting thread to these books, three of which are novels and one, obviously, a memoir. Obama’s memoir I placed on hold a few days after the election and my turn (I was number 78) finally came about a week ago. Animal Dreams I read about on another blog (sorry I can’t remember where), the other two I found in the New Books section of my library.

First, before analyzing for that thread, I just want to say “Wow” about Barack Obama. Wow that the man who wrote a book that is so self-analytical and contains such an intense degree of honesty, intellect, inquisitiveness, compassion, and openness will become president is truly stunning. He surely is change not only because of his skin color, but also because of his family history, his desire to understand himself and his society, which is both America and the world, and because it truly doesn’t seem to be about him, but about what he can do and inspire and set in motion for the good of us all.

On the critical side of things, I could not finish the book; there is just so much I care to learn about his family and its roots and various contingents. I see no reason to know more about his family tree than my own. The Africa part of the book was more touristy or “these are my roots” than the rest which was more reflective, and, I believe, more insightful and worthwhile reading.  

Now onto those threads. Obama was raised by his mother, at times by his grandparents, and with a step-father for a few years, but, without his biological father’s involvement. The main character in Animal Dreams was raised by her father, her mother having died a few days after giving birth to her younger sister. In Kissing Games of the World there is a single mother, the father was out of the picture when her child was just a few days old; and a man whose father left when he was still very young, whose mother died a few years later, whose wife died when their child was four days old, they, of course, find each other. In Postcards from Berlin there is yet another girl whose father was never in her life, but here the switch is that the mother placed her in a home when she was thirteen and left the country with her new man. My goodness, unbeknownst to me I picked up three books—and read four—that feature aspects of either being a single parent or a child with only one parent, or none.

It’s not as if I knew what the books were about, sophisticated reader that I am, I generally read the author’s bio on the jacket and skim the blurb just to see if the book would be of interest to me. I try not to read the jacket to remember because I like the story to unfold as I read it and do not like waiting for a certain event that was specified on the jacket to appear. So it was an unintentional coincidence (which is surely one of the definitions of “coincidence”) that this was my winter break reading. Okay, obvious coincidence with my life is that I have become a single mother, even though ex-man is physically present and occasionally mentally present, especially for my older daughter. But since the girls were born, and when I was still “happily” married, I have raised my daughters on my own. Let’s just say that I breastfeed both of them for about a year each, without nighttime bottles, and ex-man never offered to change their diapers and put them to sleep after their feeding. That kind of set the stage for the next 17 years. 

What is it to be a single parent? Does it depend on how you feel? Is it to have a spouse who makes you feel that you are imposing on him if you ask him for help? Or to have a spouse who sees the children as your responsibility, and he only needs to descend from the incredible importance of his life on occasion to touch the lives of his children? In that case would you be a “solitary parent”?

And what if you are not married to the other parent and he is as involved in your children’s lives as you are? Does the legal term “co-parenting” work here?

But what if you are divorced and your ex has abdicated all responsibility for his children: he spends no time or money on or for them, are you a single parent, or are you a “sole parent”? Is it even fair to call a person who contributes nothing to a child’s positive world view a parent? Why does that non-presence get credit for something he does not attend to? Why should a man who does not buy milk or Twinkies or toilet paper for his children be called a parent? And what if the evidence of his existence is merely in his existence—is that a parent?

And what if rather than being a positive presence he is a negative presence? What if he mocks the world and mocks you and mocks everyone who isn’t him to his children? Should his value as a parent be the same as a parent who kisses booboos and attends band performances? As there is positive peace and negative peace (the absence of bombs but not dialogue), so there must be positive parenting and negative parenting. And is an empty hole in the heart of a child better than a keg of dynamite stuffed with more animosity toward the world than anyone could imagine? Does that “contributor” deserve to be called a parent?

Four books, four sets of ache for children and parents. Four original ways to be wounded and four ways to heal or hurt from those wounds.

In one book, obviously, the wound is used to create a powerful understanding of self and the world, and enables the author to reach the presidency. In another book the wound is eventually solid ground to stand on and accept the man who offers love and strength. In another, the two wounds eventually heal by the pumice of the other’s insight and tragedy. In the last book, the wound is healed only after more wounds are inflicted and instead of turning away from the sight, there is finally a looking in.

As there is no single way of being a single parent, there is no single direction that the child of that parenting takes. It seems to me the insight from these books for solitary, co, and sole parents to take is that your heart is your true partner, that it provides all the strength that you and your child need—for there is nothing more that you can give, regardless of marital status. You status is your heart and how you use it to raise your children. Your status as a parent is not determined by your relationship with another parent, but with yourself and your child, each individually, from where it really matters—from the only place that really matters. From heart to heart.  



Excellent post! I haven't read 'Dreams From My Father' yet, but it just vaulted to the top of my reading list ;) . Your final analysis is SO right on - even non-single-parenting is best when it's heart to heart.

Happy New Year!


"...your heart is your true partner." Wow! Amazing words that I will be pondering for quite some time. And maybe even build a post of my own around.
I read Obama's second book, but haven't read the first one yet, although it's on my list.

Laura of Rebellious Thoughts of a Woman

goodfather, thanks for the exclamation mark! Parenting should really be a no-excuses zone.

April, you are truly a woman with a heart extended to her children. It is comforting to know that you are, in truth, all the partner you need--for the fundamental things.


I loved ANIMAL DREAMS. You may have read about it on my blog! : )

Laura of Rebellious Thoughts of a Woman

Sheila, did you write about the two sisters and then quote some lines that they said? Let me know then I can put in a link to your site. By the way, I loved that post.


Obama is really a fascinating guy and I am really looking forward to see what he can do about getting this country back on the right track. He comes from such an interesting background that I think it gives him a great perspective on so many issues that come up during a presidency.

You pose some interesting questions here:

" Is it even fair to call a person who contributes nothing to a child’s positive world view a parent? Why does that non-presence get credit for something he does not attend to? Why should a man who does not buy milk or Twinkies or toilet paper for his children be called a parent? And what if the evidence of his existence is merely in his existence—is that a parent?"

As someone who was raised by my grandparents, because my biological mother and father fit perfectly into what your talking about here, I can't really call them my parents. My biological parents? Yes I can use that term. But they did not feel like my "real" parents. I think to be referred to in this term, you have to be involved with the kids. You have to be. I think it's a title that's given to you at birth but must be earned over the years because it's a long term commitment.

So they got mad at me when years later I told them that I didn't feel a sense of obligation to them despite their titles. They felt entitled to my attention and obedience but I was 21 at the time. It was too late to turn back the clock and I wasn't about to for them.

This story goes one every day unfortunately. The absentee parents will regret the disconnect they feel later in life.


Oh, and thank you for the comment over on my blog :-)

Laura of Rebellious Thoughts of a Woman

Ricardo, thanks for visiting and for your insightful comment. What you say about being conferred the title of parent at birth but then needing to earn it to keep it is truly the point. As the child grows and needs different things at each stage of her development, so, too, do the parents need to grow to meet the child's needs. Or at least to try to keep up. Otherwise you leave the child ostensibly alone, to be her own parent--if suitable ones don't come to the rescue. I'm glad you had grandparents who were able to parent you.


I'm glad I had them too and yes, as the kid grows up he or she still needs parents. Even if they are 30 something they still will need a good parent or parents. It never really stops. the role of providing support just changes. I see a lot of parents wanting to put cutoff dates on kids and figure after a certain age they can just walk away because the kid should be able to take care of things on their own and figure it all out. but really they still need to know that there is someone there. Especially as they venture out into the world and build a life for themselves. That support may seem passive but it does wonders for confidence.

Laura of Rebellious Thoughts of a Woman

Ricardo, you are so right. I cannot believe how much I still depend on my parents (and I am past 30). Perhaps it's because I don't have a spouse with whom I can bounce off ideas or get comfort and encouragement, but certainly being a good parent is to extend your care and concern for a lifetime. And why would someone want to stop that at a certain point? Why would you not want your child to know that he can depend on you--always? Sure, I'm glad I don't have to wipe any bottoms any more, but make food for my daughters (okay, sometimes) and be there to listen to their stories and offer support, that is certainly not a role to get tired of.

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