Yesterday’s Washington Post featured an important article Poor boys are falling behind poor girls, and it’s deeply troubling, which dives into studies that find that the education gender gap — in which girls kick boys’ butts — is especially acute in poor communities.
Researchers’ conclude that boys need more parenting, and in poor communities, fathers are more likely to be absent.
In other words: Boys raised by single moms fare worse in school and life.
From the article:
A 2015 study from economists Marianne Bertrand and Jessica Pan showed that boys are particularly at risk when they grow up in single-mother households. When boys don’t get enough parental attention, they misbehave. Girls, in contrast, are less likely to misbehave regardless of how much time parents spend with them.
That is a bitter reality to swallow for even not-poor single moms, or moms whose kids do know and often see their dads, like in my own divorced family. My son and daughter, ages 5 and 7, live primarily with me, but see their father two or three times per week — sometimes more when school and sport activities call for his presence. I still worry about my son — what affect it will have on him long-term to be raised by a single mom — especially one who has such a strong personality, and until-now no long-term romantic partner.
I haven’t found any hard data on absentee dads — not just dads who don’t live in the same household as their kids, but guys who are mostly or entirely MIA from their children’s’ lives. This crappy article by the Washington Times, Fathers disappear from households across America, presumes that men who do not live with their babymomas are not involved in their kids lives, which we know is not true.
Pew estimates that 67 percent of black dads who don’t live with their kids see them at least once a month, compared to 59 percent of white dads and 32 percent of Hispanic dads. [Aside: note how these stats defy stereotypes, as black dads who are not married to their kids’ moms are actually more involved than white dads. More on that later.]. Those numbers are woefully low, and there is little sign of improvement. Anecdotally, I was shocked to realize how common it is for dads to be more or less checked out, based on the viral reaction to this post I wrote earlier this year: The real reason your ex doesn’t see the kids, as well as experiences shared by readers here on this blog.
Long story short: Dads are not involved as much as they should be, and that hurts boys in particular.
What can single moms do about it?
If boys crave more adult attention and guidance, we must give it to them. That does not all have to come from you, the mother. Give the bird to all that societal pressure to do it all, all by yourself. Do not be shy about asking your friends, or neighbor, or siblings, or cousin to be more involved. Just ask them: “You know Tyler’s dad is not around. He really needs more adults in his life. Can you take him out for dinner once a month?”
If you don’t have great family support, create your own family. Create your own network of other single moms, or get involved in your church, or host a weekly Sunday night potluck dinner in your apartment building. There are other families who are eager to love yours, who may also feel a deep lack of community and connectedness, and are too shy or unorganized or ashamed to initiate get-togethers and new friendships.
The bottom line is that while you may have little control over whether your kids’ dad shows up, you do have control over who is in your kids’ lives.
Remember: You need support and community, too. It’s not all about the kids.