Hail the non-nuclear family!
Being raised by a single parent has helped her children grow, says Tracey.
I’ve been divorced for so long that my children have absolutely no memory of our life as a nuclear family. I left their father when they were aged 1 and 2 (they are now 17 and 18), and while I knew that I was doing them no favours by embarking on a life as a single parent, the alternative – bludgeoning their father with a baseball bat – would have left them worse off. (Arguably.)

My kids have had to endure many of the disadvantages that beset single-parent (usually single-mother) families. We’ve never had enough money, so they’ve had to do without the mod-cons and add-ons (iPods, cellphones, label clothing) that so many of their peers take for granted. With only one parent to ferry them hither and thither, they’ve frequently had to forego social occasions for the simple reason that I can’t be in two places at once.

It has happened – more often than you’d think – that their friends haven’t been allowed to come for sleepovers because as a single parent I’ve been regarded with some suspicion. And sometimes when we’ve been in the company of a happy nuclear family (admittedly, these have been rare occasions), I’ve seen a look of heartbreaking wistfulness on my children’s faces, one that says, ‘Why can’t we have this?’

On the plus side, my children have learnt great coping skills. They’ve mastered basic cooking: both could make a passable family meal by the age of 12, because sometimes, when I was working to a tight deadline, I just couldn’t stop to make them food.

My daughter particularly has become very canny at organising her social life – sometimes she will arrange entire weekends here-there-and-everywhere without my once having to get in my car. They’re both good at managing their own money – they’ve never had much, so they have to be. They contribute to our household by running incisive shopping lists, caring for the pets, and keeping their rooms acceptably tidy and communal areas clean. And because my kids have always – of necessity – played some part in my social life, they’re marvellously able to conduct perfectly intelligent conversations with anyone ranging from their own age and upwards unto death.

My relationship now, with my two teens, is closer to a ‘communal living’ one (granted, one in which I pay all the bills): I happen to have two other adults (young, yes, but adults nonetheless) who live in my house, who contribute with cheerful willingness to the running of the compound, who have interesting things to say, whose opinions I value, who bring fascinating new music and books and movies into my life, whose friends I like (mostly), and who, even on a bad day, keep my life refreshingly bizarre.

I’m not saying there are nuclear families who don’t have this. I’ve just never met one.

What do you think? Do teens in single parent families grow up quicker?

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Second time dad

2010-03-08 12:27

Everything from parties to pre-schools in your area.

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