By Kara Trojan
Many people assume negative conclusions about single mothers, especially when there is more than one child involved. I always heard from the media, other people, and even teachers about how students with single mothers were more likely to drop out of school, turn to drugs, or develop de- pression because there wasn’t a father around to help rear the children. My mother Catherine Trojan, however, knew which decision to make if she wanted the best life for her children.
“It was either I took the easy way out, which was stick around with my husband, or swallow my pride and try to give you a better life,” my mother, Catherine Trojan, told me. Understanding that not only the stressfully emotional toll that she would undergo but the financial situation was unpredictable, my mother separated from my father and divorced three years later. By making this decision, my mother would enter society with a new label: divorcee, single-mother.
Single mothers carry a social stigma with them, their own scarlet letter that seems to bring them shame. Catherine was never ashamed of raising my two siblings and me on her own. She knew what the consequences could be if she chose to stay with our father. Catherine’s biological father died when she was three years old, and her mother married a man by the name of Jim Spurlock. He turned out to be the flawed image of a caring father.
“I knew what it was like for my mother when she decided to stay with Jim,” Catherine remembers. “Everything would have been better if he just was never in the picture.” My mother grew up living in poverty with her mother, her stepfather, and two brothers. Her stepfather rarely worked while her mother did everything she could to provide for the family. They moved all over Chicago because her mother’s meager wages weren’t enough to feed five people and pay for rent. Thus, landlords kept tossing them into the streets. Eventually, all the frustrations of inadequacy festered within Jim Spurlock and he grew violent against Catherine, her siblings, and her mother. Although Jim abused Catherine’s mother, she stayed with him. My grandmother’s decision still haunts my mother.
“I couldn’t and still can’t understand why my mother tolerated him,” Catherine commented. “I knew that life would’ve been better without him there… he didn’t work, he hit my mom and I… he was useless.”
Adamant against her stepfather and the undying tolerance her mother had, my mother wasn’t going to venture down that road again. Married at 19, my mother and biological father lived on the south side of Chicago. Hoping to “get away,” from the stresses at home, my mother agreed to marry my father, Kenneth Trojan.
Nonetheless, Catherine felt as if she stepped into her mother’s shoes. Kenneth rarely worked yet remained controlling with Catherine by dictating when to be home, not letting her wear makeup, throwing out any sexy underwear of hers, and hitting her when she stood up for herself. In fact, since my father couldn’t go to college, he wouldn’t allow my mother to go to college, either. He believed that a woman shouldn’t be “higher up” than her husband should. The newlyweds had to resort to food stamps because my mother’s paychecks couldn’t support them. When my brother was born, nothing seemed to improve.
Some teachers, principals, neighbors, and anyone else who has regular interaction with single-parent families will assume that the children are from a “broken home.” Society developed this apathetic, sometimes even abrasive, attitude with single mothers. According to the U.S. Census Bureau in November 2009, there are approximately 13.7 million single parents in the United States today, and those parents are responsible for raising 21.8 million children. Although single parents are prevalent within our population, dissenters ignore the numbers and continue to explicate how single-mothers are out of sync the norm. Out of those children living with single-mothers, six out of ten are near or below the poverty line. Although the number of single-mothers in America is exponentially growing, the public sparingly dishes out any sympathy for these mothers and their children. When I was younger, my mother recalls a disturbing encounter with one of my teachers, validating the fact that the title single mother carries a social stigma.
“I remember taking you to school and your teacher asked me if all my children came from the same father,” Catherine discerned. “Because I’m a single mother, this woman thought that I must’ve been a cheating whore or something. You would think that a woman, another mother, would have more respect for a single mother, but I guess not.” Assumptions like my teacher’s comment only scratch the surface of society’s critical scope when it comes to single mothers. By assuming the worst when encountering a single mother, there is less support for the women that are bravely doing what they can to make a life for their children.
What makes my mother so unbelievable, however, is how she never once complained. Of course, she made an effort to receive support from her ex-husband, but she never whined to my siblings and me about how rough her life was. Although my father never gave my mother any child support money to help pay for our necessities (school, clothes, doctor visits, groceries, etc.), my mother still found ways to make ends meet and plenty more. Actually, my family had more money without my father than when we lived with my father. Custodial mothers who received at least some portion of child support payments had a higher income on average, ($18,144) than those that did not receive any payments due them ($14,602) and those not awarded payments ($10,226). The aggregate amount of child support received was $11.9 billion in 1991, 33 percent or $5.8 billion short of the $17.7 billion due.
My family continued to be an anomaly in the world of divorced families. My father never made the effort to see my siblings or myself, and he never wanted to give up any money. My father was among the lowest of the low since approximately 4.4 million noncustodial parents with visitation privileges and/or joint custody owed child support in 1991. Seventy-nine percent of these noncustodial parents paid all or part of it. By comparison, 56 percent of the 0.9 million noncustodial parents having no visitation or joint custody provisions but owing child support paid all or part. My father played his role in this drama perfectly since fathers often become disinterested and detached from their children; in one study more than 60 percent of fathers either did not visit their children nor had no contact with them for over a year.
In the first few years after a divorce, the children have higher rates of antisocial behavior, aggression, anxiety, and school problems than children in two parent families do. However, some of these problems may be attributed to a decrease in available resources and adult supervision. Many of the negative effects disappear, nonetheless, when there is adequate supervision, income, and continuity in social networks.
Single mothers, however, actually improve the child’s life if they choose to leave an abusive husband, like my father, who directly affects the children within the household. My father not only emotionally and physically abused my mother, but he also vented his aggression toward my siblings and me. I remember those constant battles between my mother and father when my father would storm off in a rage and release his anger onto one of us children. Single mothers actually improve the children’s psychological development if they leave at the right time. Adolescents are more negatively affected by parental discord prior to divorce than by living in single-parent families and actually gain in responsibility because of altered family routines.
Catherine was our mother and our father. We did not need anyone else.
As it turns out, my siblings and I are the first ones in our entire extended family to go to college. My brother graduated and now works as an accountant for Ernst & Young. My sister became a nurse and works as an Oncology Nurse at LaGrange Adventist Hospital. She is currently pursuing her Master’s degree to become a Nurse Practitioner. After I received high scores on my ACT exam, everyone wanted me to become a lawyer. However, I am more of a carefree person and I’m pursuing my bachelor’s degree of English for Secondary Education.
I will not say, however, that our lives were at all easy. I remember awkward conversations with my friends who didn’t know whether to call my mother “Mrs. or Miss Trojan.” I remember how we could not afford my braces until I was eighteen years old because my father would never help my mother pay for anything. I remember how my siblings and I had to return my mother the favor of taking care of us when my mother almost died of pancreatitis in 2001, then again when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in the second half of 2008. Since there was no one else living with us, we took turns caring for mom between her chemotherapy sessions. Moreover, we remembered all the things that Catherine did to take care of us, so we never complained.
The purpose of this feature was to explain to the public how single mothers deserve respect for their hard work. In a single family, the mother must play the role of the mother and the father, the nurturer and the provider. By playing both these roles, there is more pressure on single mothers to make selfless sacrifices for their children and to make their lives as livable and as happy as possible. The social stigma must end because, as demonstrated by my mother’s struggle, not all single mothers are irresponsible and it is possible to raise a successful family without the aid of a father in the picture. Single mothers everywhere can now raise their heads high and not allow others to criticize the single mother’s struggle.