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Solo with a son

Single moms face challenges in raising sons, but with a little help, boys do just fine.

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Fran Capo has always been a bit of a tomboy. So when her 11-year-old son, Spencer, asks her to play catch, climb a tree, or go camping, she's always game. Spencer is especially pleased about this since his dad lives several hours away, and they can't pal around as easily.

When Ms. Capo has to work - performing stand-up comedy or writing at her computer - Spencer seeks out Grandma, who is always up for a round of Monopoly. Or, he might strike up a game of cards with his aunt or uncle.

Capo, who has been divorced since Spencer was an infant, is typical of many single parents who rely on support from extended family. In her case, the relatives share a two-family home in New York. This not only gives Capo a little time off now and then, but it also creates a wonderfully nurturing environment for both of them.

It's not necessary to live under one roof with relatives, but it is crucial for single parents to cultivate a broader community of support for both themselves and their children, whether it be among family, friends, schoolteachers, coaches, clergy, or best of all, some of each, say parenting experts.

As the American family continues to drift from any semblance of what was once "traditional," an increasing number of single-parent families are being formed. According to recent Census figures, 26 percent of American families are headed by single parents. Of those, 85 percent are headed by mothers. And it's estimated that 50 percent of all children will experience a single-parent home at some point during childhood.

As a society, we may not like those figures. Most people agree that a happy, loving, two-parent family is the ideal environment in which to raise a child. But many families fall short of this ideal. Situations such as death, divorce, and adoption without a mate often create families headed by one adult. Mothers with sons are often considered particularly vulnerable. One common concern is that without dad around, Tommy won't learn how to become a man.

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