Because my minor is criminal justice, I’ve studied multiple societal, familial and personal risk factors to juvenile delinquency.
Alongside drug abuse, poverty and antisocial behavior, growing up in a single-parent household is listed as a common predictor of early criminal behavior. According to the American Psychological Association, children who grow up without one of their parents are more likely to struggle in school, have strained relationships between extended family members and act out as a reaction to stress.
By his own choice, my father has been absent from my life for more than 10 years. It’s difficult to know these negative statistics are related to people like me. When people find out that I am detached from one of my parents, their first reaction is to give me pity. I’ve heard things like “I’m sorry,” “That’s horrible,” “Does it bother you?” for more than half of my life.
I’ll be honest. It doesn’t bother me at all. I don’t spend a lot of time ruminating about how my family isn’t a traditional family. I’m sure most of your families don’t fit that bill either. Divorces, stepparents or the death of a parent shifts the whole definition of what a normal family is. The 2.5 child household with two married parents probably can’t be considered normal anymore. According to the Kids Count Data Center, approximately 24 million children lived in a single-parent households in 2013.
I won’t say I held my head high and puffed my chest out during my parents’ divorce. No child does. Divorces are hard and emotionally taxing. But I never missed out on having people who loved me and helped me through everything. During those times, my mom was two parents in one.
She then married my stepdad, who took on the responsibility of raising two troublemaking teenagers without ever doing it before. He never wavered and continued to be there through some of the best and worst moments of my life. I try to let him know as often as I can how thankful I am for him coming around and how he has been nothing but a positive role model and father figure when I was sorely missing one.
I didn’t write this to be sappy and let my mom and stepdad know how great they are (that was only part of the reason). I’m writing it because I’ve read so many parenting articles, motherhood blogs and websites that say children who grow up without their biological father might as well be doomed.
A negative presence is worse than no presence at all. If a pivotal person in a child’s life, like a parent, is cruel, dismissive or even abusive, there is absolutely no way to justify that they should be around. That’s why I don’t give people the time of day who say things like, “Well you should just reach out to him. He’s your dad.”
It’s not the presence of two biological parents that makes a child’s life stable and thriving. It’s the love, reassurance and support they receive from people who love them unconditionally. It could come from a grandparent, adopted parents, stepparents- the list goes on.
If you are like me and weren’t raised the “traditional” way, let those who raised you know how much it means to you. You likely would only be a fraction of who you are today without them.
Column by Carly Besser, Opinion Editor