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Guest Post: A Single Mom’s Letter to Rick Santorum

“Although I am certain that by now Mr. Santorum realizes (which is not the same as giving a hoot) that he has incensed an incredible amount of people regarding his comments and rants about single moms, I’m wondering if he is willing to come forward and share where he obtained his information.
As a mom who was married for 13 years and is blessed with an incredible daughter who is now 11 years old, I chose to leave the marriage because my daughter deserved a better environment to serve as a model for a healthy relationship between her parents as opposed to thinking emotional abuse is absolutely acceptable treatment. (I was fortunate enough not to be physically abused like so many single moms who have mustered the strength to leave for the sake of their child/ren.)

In August of 2008, I founded and have since run a group called “Alone Together: Single Moms’ Online Support Group.” Although the group started on Meetup.com, we recently shifted to using Facebook in order to help as many single moms as possible and have members spanning the globe. Alone Together is based on the principle of “teach a man to fish.” We believe in a hand up NOT a hand out. We in no way give people money, nor in the the past three years have we received a request for the same; rather we all support each other by offering advice, sharing experiences, and providing links to resources so members may attain their greatest wish—learning skills to become the best parent possible. (Sorry to burst your bubble, Mr. Santorum, but, no, their wish is NOT to drain the system—it is actually to make sure that the most important commodity this country has is nurtured. In case you do not know what that commodity is, it is our children, a/k/a the future of this country.)

Oh goodness, pass the smelling salts! I think Mr. Santorum may have just fainted in disbelief. What a shock to learn that I am just one of countless single moms who went to college and maintains a good-paying full-time job as a legal secretary while also volunteering for many charities. I apologize for shocking you without warning: “You’re kidding? A single mom who actually contributes to the betterment of society? Eeegads! IMPOSSIBLE!!!”)

As someone who has been an avid writer since age 7, brevity is not my strong point but I will do my best to get to the point of this post. I would very much appreciate the chance to speak with you and allow you an opportunity to back up your opinion. (I’ll even reimburse any phone charges you may incur.) A great start would be letting people know where you obtained your information and statistics regarding single moms. I feel strongly that the public deserves to hear from an actual single mother—the proverbial two sides to every story, so to speak—in order to allow them to make an informed decision based on more than just the spoutings of a political hopeful. I feel compelled to do whatever damage control I can and I have worked hard at reducing the stigma attached to single moms.

Brace yourself, Mr. Santorum, but our members consist of women with MULTIPLE Master’s Degrees, published authors, family law attorneys, and many others who work in high profile careers. They put themselves through college without any governmental aid or hand-outs. The single moms I have been fortunate to meet are very proud and humble and many have been raising their child/ren WITHOUT ANY FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE WHATSOEVER. In fact, the laws are so ridiculous that, at least in Minnesota, even if the Court awards child support, if a mom is not receiving it, she has to use HER OWN MONEY to go back to Court to plead her case that the Court ENFORCE AN ORDER IT ISSUED! And even then, her child/ren never see a dime in support. Oh sure, you can revoke his license and/or have him serve jail time, but what is the sense in ASSURING any chance of a stream of income allowing him to fulfill his obligation to his CHILDREN (this is NOT spousal support – it is used to feed and clothe those he helped bring into this world). Man, that is so hard to wrap my head around.

We did not get married or enter into relationships with the goal of having children just so we could quit work and hop on the welfare bus. While I absolutely agree there are women (not in our group or any of the other many single mom groups, simply because no one like that has asked to be a member) who do indeed have child after child as a means to continue to collect government support (which I am sure you know launches them into the lap of luxury—pardon the dripping sarcasm) that is NOT the portrait of a single mother and, I for one, am incredibly insulted by what I can only assume is your naivete.

Would you be willing to engage in an interview with me so that the public can hear another perspective? By the way, that’s another wonderful trait single moms have: sticktuitiveness and resourcefulness. We truly are a force to be reckoned with because we will do whatever is necessary to take care of our child/ren. If you aren’t willing to come forward, I apologize in advance for chalking that up to deciding to hide behind your supporters and let them do your dirty work for you. Afterall, if you really are convinced that single moms are the cause of the countries’ problems, then I would think you would jump at a chance to stand up for your extremly vocalized beliefs and opinions. Surely you aren’t scared by a simpleton like me who has no idea how to care for herself without draining the system. (Sorry, I can’t seem to control my sarcasm as I find what you state to be absolutely ABSURD—but everyone deserves a chance to “prove” their point.) As I stated above, when it comes to our children we will fight to the end, so rest assured that if you choose to ignore me, I will use my media connections and all other resources to make sure the country knows that you are nothing more than the little man behind the big green curtain.”

Sincerely,

Monique Swanson
(A founder of Alone Together Single Moms Online Support Group)

(Editor’s note: Ms. Swanson’s letter was posted March 12 on Rick Santorum‘s Facebook and campaign sites. It is reprinted with permission and with the hope that it resonates with you, too. For more Santorum news on this matter, see: Mother Jones article Santorum: “Single Moms Are Breeding More Criminals”.)

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Helping Your Kids Open Up

When’s the last time one of your children came to you for a real heart-to-heart chat? Has it been over a year since you’ve held your sides with giggles while doing something silly together? Do you feel like you are constantly battling video games, cell phones and the Internet in order to get a one-sentence response—let alone a conversation—with your kids? In this fast-paced, over-scheduled world, months can go by without real conversation and that’s too much for my liking. I’ve thought about the times when I’ve really connected with my kids to recall what triggered our closeness. And since no two kids are a like, I’ve reached out to experts as well for more ideas. Here are the top tactics that may help you bridge the communication gap and get your kids talking.

  • Get Active:
    Experts agree kids chat more with you while busy doing a physical activity together. I learned this when I was a camp counselor one summer break from college. Campers between the ages of six and 17 stayed the entire summer at this camp in the Pocono’s that catered to Manhattanites.  My job was to take each child out in a canoe, teach them the basic strokes, and later take small groups on trips. I was amazed at how the children, from the youngest to the oldest, would open up after 10 minutes or so of hard work in the canoe—especially the boys. The repetitive motions in the sun and fresh air, seemed to get even the shy kids babbling about friends, parents, school, pets, etc. I was overwhelmed with the sadness of some of the stories: a daughter raised by a slew of nannies; a son whose dad left when he was a baby; an eleven-year-old girl terrified her mom wouldn’t visit unless she landed the leading role of the camp play. …It goes on and on. I would listen and correct their J and C strokes. By the end of the summer, I was convinced that the best therapy in the world occurred while canoeing, hiking, running, or just walking with someone you trust. Even if you have a demanding work schedule, mini hikes on weekends or even walking into town for an ice cream, can inspire meaningful conversation or simple fun.
  • Family Dinner:
    Doing research for my article “How the Family Dinner Can Help Your Teen”, I discovered a survey conducted by Columbia University’s National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse that found teenagers who eat with their families at least five times a week are more likely to get better grades in school and less likely to have substance abuse problems.Today, only about half of American teenagers say they have regular family dinners and the survey suggests that family time may be more important to children than many parents realize—even more important than a host of extra-curricular activities.Will Courtenay, Ph.D, psychotherapist in Oakland, Calif., father of two, and author of Dying to Be Men agrees family dinners work—but only if limits are imposed. “Family dinner is great—and research shows they’re beneficial for kids—but these benefits are lost if your daughter or son is texting at the table or engrossed in tunes streaming through their earbuds. It’s important for kids to learn that dinner time is a time to communicate with others at the table and to share stories of the day.” (I’d add that some parents are just as bad. Make sure the television is turned off before sitting down at the table!)
  • Family Game Night: (And, YES, this is possible for us single parents, too!)
    This may seem corny for some, especially teens, but give it a go anyway. Experts say it works if you incorporate your kids’ interests. So if your children hate scrabble or charades, don’t impose that on them.“It’s all about finding out what they like to do. What are their interests? And what is their temperament?,” points out Rona Renner, R.N., a parent educator, mom of four, and founder and host of Childhood Matters Radio Show. As an example, Renner says she purchased a ping pong table when one of her sons was 13-years-old and put it in the living room.“We just needed something to do together that we both enjoyed. When he turned 13 and entered junior high, it felt like overnight we just had nothing in common,” she reflects. The times playing ping pong were “precious” as it helped them reconnect and just have some fun.
  • Volunteer at School:
    I know this is a hard one for some. It may not be feasible to volunteer often at your children’s schools. But, if possible, find out all the different events and activities with parent involvement and sign up for one. Even if you’re only able to take off one day of work and spend one day being a chaperone on a school trip, you’ll get a chance to see your child’s friends and meet more parents. Dipping into your kids’ worlds at school opens up a host of things to talk about.
  • Sleep Talk Therapy:
    Can’t squeeze in quality time during the day? Try it at night! That’s right. Sleep talk therapy is becoming recognized by experts as a way to reinforce your love and encouragement to your children. Believe it or not, it works! A child hears differently in a sleep state and once you introduce yourself as his/her parent, your child rises into an alpha state of sleep where he can hear you, but doesn’t wake up. Please read my article “Connect With Your Children While They Sleep” to see how it works in detail.
  • Limiting “Kids’ Exit Strategies”:
    I call these the zone-out toys. For my oldest son it’s video games—but for others it can be online chat, Facebook, texting, Nintendo, TVs and computers in bedrooms or other solitary activities that keep kids away, silent and in their own worlds. Put limits on these and offer up fun activities to do together when possible and see what happens.
  • Family Pet:
    If you have the space and finances, a family pet, like a dog who needs to be walked every day, is a great way to bring unconditional love, silliness (and activity) into the family. Courtenay said one of his clients tried this strategy with great results: “A mom who was struggling with getting her adolescent son to open up, recently told me she decided to get a puppy—which she knew her son would like. The two have since been able to connect more deeply with each other, as they both care for their new addition to the family.”
  • Stay Present and Patient:
    It’s hard to connect to a parent who has his laptop on his knees at all times. So try to leave your work behind when you’re home and hanging out with your family. Experts say carving out family time—even if just for an hour in the evening—sends the message to kids that they are important. And if your teens (especially boys) barely notice, Courtenay says to have patience.
    “Patience is also important. A man I work with just today talked about how grateful he was to his mother for giving him time to “warm up.” Driving home from school, he’d be silent for what seemed like an endless amount of time—which she wouldn’t interrupt—and then finally, he’d be ready to open up to her.” The morale to that story is not to nag or push. Sometimes becoming a friend (even to your children) takes being a friend. Lighten up, listen and take the time to get to know one another.

Another article for inspiration: Stay Connected: Family Fun That Doesn’t Cost a Fortune.

Female Objectification in an Online World

I’ve been a fan of Lisa Belkin’s for a while. The writer of the New York Time‘s blog Motherlode recently reported on the seemingly increasing objectification  and exploitation of women on college campuses across our nation. In her latest Sunday Times blog “Gender Roles On Campus” Belkin points out many instances when college (mainly fraternity) men publicly and aggressively harassed women. Belkin’s first example is an emailed invitation from a Duke University fraternity to hundreds of women on campus asking them to attend their Halloween party dressed in slutty costumes. Some on campus protested, but in the end, many girls attended in nurse good-body attire.  Is this shocking, in and of itself? Not really. I’m more concerned by the example Belkin gave of a University of Southern California frat boy who emailed many men on campus last year recruiting them to target women for sex, rank them within a particular system, and then to remember when hunting these women that they weren’t “really people like us men.” This is not just good ole fun as the Duke University Halloween party invitation seemed to be. This young man has to be deeply troubled and I don’t think he’s the norm on college campuses across the nation.  (At least, I hope not!)

Surprisingly, I tend to agree with many points Amanda Marcotte of Slate wrote in her retort Smart Girls Wear Short Skirts, Too. She argues that women aren’t to blame for this exploitation just because they want to wear sexy clothes and enjoy the attention they receive from men. Her main argument is that women don’t hold it against a man if he is sexy, goes to bars on weekends, dates more than one woman, and also earns As in the classroom. In fact, we applaud it. There’s a double standard there.

I think both Marcotte and Belkin make good points. Yes it seems that female exploitation is wide spread on American campuses and elsewhere (Think Eliot Spitzer and Arnold Schwarzenegger for instance.) While Belkin and some of her readers ask where the parents went wrong, I tend to think that the problem is much larger than that of just parental example, or lack thereof. Yes, if a young man sees his father treat his mother poorly or cheat on her, it will leave indelible scars. (At the same token, the same can be said if the young man’s mother divorces many times or consistently dates many men.) But by and large, I think the biggest influence on this type of male behavior is our media-driven society today and how women utilize social networking to garner attention and tip the scales of gender power. If men do truly rule the college campus and the social agenda—where women wait to be invited or are pursued and then submit—than what better way to get an invitation or to get pursued than by posting promiscuous pictures online? Heck, girls, in junior high school begin utilizing social networking in this way. It may be harmless, as perhaps Marcotte may argue, but I tend to think that it can create a clouded perception in young boys’ minds.

If you have middle or high school age children on Facebook, friend their friends and look at their profiles. You’re likely to see many young ladies posting pictures wearing barely any clothing or appearing in a provocative stance—perhaps even boasting about their latest party. The problem most parents have (and that their children don’t) is that the world can see their children’s pictures and send messages. It isn’t rare for a pretty young girl to receive multiple friend requests from strange men, or for men to ‘befriend’  models or ‘hot girls’ to improve their own profile status. But Facebook allows them to interact—to send notes, pictures and share personal contact information that teenage girls need to be aware of.

Experts such as Pat Allen, PhD, behavioral marriage therapist and best selling author of several books including “Getting to I Do” say men, by nature, are just predators. And social networks expand their territory.  I had the privilege of working with Allen in 2009 and read her books, including her latest: “The Truth About Men Will Set You Free … But First It Will Piss You Off.” What both books point out, is that men instinctually want to hunt and be with many women. Not all men act on their instincts, however. But women need to understand that these instincts are there biologically.  That’s where nature and nurture may come in and instilling ethics and morality in our children can help tip the scales. But some things can not be controlled by good parenting alone. Sexual addiction, for instance, is one of them. And good men can become addicted to cyber sex and the old fashioned kind as well. But objectification of women like the USC frat boy’s claim that women aren’t like men, is quite terrifying.

As the single mom of two young boys, I wonder what I can do. Most parents of young boys don’t want them growing up to be sociopathic predators like that USC frat boy. I don’t know what the answer is, but untethered access to the Internet at an early age can’t help. I’ve explored this issue somewhat in the past when Parenting Editor of DivineCaroline.com. In my articles Internet Safety and The Real Online Threat I interviewed experts who exhorted parents to monitor children’s online lives. The seeds of mysogyny or objectification of women start in middle school. We shouldn’t allow our children to create profiles online before they are 15, they say. Surprisingly many of my nine-year-old’s friends in Los Angeles have Facebook pages. They lied about their ages to create them and their parents don’t follow their activities very much. I know we’re all insanely busy, but parents need to monitor their children’s online world, especially if middle school children are involved, as experts claim they aren’t mature enough to handle the additional pressure and influences. Middle school is tough enough. Sexual images that objectify women abound in the media: whether on television or in magazines. You can’t shield your children from it, obviously. But there’s a different element to those found on the Internet or via social networking—as your children can quickly communicate with others.

I’m not sure where the foundation for frat boy attitudes in this country is rooted, but the online world sure provides a quick and convenient outlet to express it. Sadly, this type of attitude can also be found “offline as well.” I hope that my boys never join in any antics like that at Yale where Belkin reported men paraded through campus last year shouting  “No Means Yes! And Yes Means Anal!”

I pray that nine years from now, when my intelligent, thoughtful and precocious son begins college, our society will have evolved a bit. I know he’ll pursue pretty girls, (as he has already started to do!) but my hope is that his pursuits will always involve respect for the young women involved, regardless of whether a relationship begins. As a single mom, the onus is on me to instill these belief systems and morals. But at the end of the day, our children are their own people and they have to find their own way in this world. And today’s world is one with a million online and media temptations.