I was around nine years old when my mom gave me my first self-help book. It was My Kind of Family: A Book for Kids in Single-Parent Homes by Michele Lash, Sally Ives Loughridge, and David Fassler. This simple but informative book was written for kids and filled with drawings and handwritten words by children from single-parent homes. My Kind of Family also doubled as a workbook in which I could express my thoughts and feelings through drawing and writing.
My mom said she gave me that book because she knew that some kids from single-parent homes felt insecure or even ashamed that they were not from “normal” families. She was fully aware that it was the responsibility of parents to correct the way their children thought about themselves and the families they came from. The book was a great choice because it conveyed an empowering message—you don’t come from a broken home; you come from a different kind of family, and it’s okay that your family is different.
Below are the lessons that I learned from the book, which I hope will help single parents make their kids feel as proud of their own kind of family as I do.
1. THERE ARE DIFFERENT KINDS OF FAMILIES
The nuclear family, or a family with a mom, dad, and kids, is still the predominant image seen by children in TV shows, books, and magazines. This sends a discouraging message to kids in single-parent homes because it tells them that if their family isn’t like this, then there must be something wrong.
I was spared from absorbing this message because I read My Kind of Family. Through this book, other kids from single-parent homes told me that a family was simply “people living together and taking care of each other” and that a family could even be “a group of people and their pets.” The kids’ drawings revealed just how different their families were. Being exposed to those diverse images of families comforted me in many ways.
That’s why, when some of my classmates felt pity for me because my father wasn’t around, I didn’t share their sentiment. The book helped me understand that there was no reason for me to feel like my family was anything less than normal just because I had one parent instead of two, and that I didn’t have to feel cheated because I didn’t have a “real” family. The book showed me that there were many ways people could form happy and loving families. This was mine, and I had a number of reasons to feel satisfied with what I had.
2. MANY SINGLE-PARENT HOMES ARE GOOD HOMES
People continue to have misconceptions about single-parent homes. Many believe that these homes are where frustrated parents lash out at their children or where rebellious kids defy their overworked parents, who lack the energy and authority to control them. These are unfair generalizations. Not all single-parent homes are problematic, just as not all nuclear families are happy.
With the help of My Kind of Family, I learned that many kids in single-parent homes had loving families. One kid wrote, “We all do things together and help each other.” Another shared, “My mom brings me soup when I’m sick.” There was humor too—one kid wrote, “I love everyone in my family, except sometimes my brother. He can be a real jerk.”
Knowing that my family wasn’t a bad family just because it was a single-parent home, I behaved like a member of a good family—I slept at naptime, ate my vegetables, and did my homework. I realized that it was vital for kids to perceive their families in a positive light. If kids believe the social stigma of a broken home, then they might act like broken children, and this will put a strain on the relationship between parent and child. Boosting their confidence is an important step to move them away from destructive behavior.
3. KIDS FROM SINGLE-PARENT HOMES ARE ALLOWED TO DREAM
The book showed me that kids from single-parent homes have wishes and dreams, just like any other children. One kid wrote, “I wish I had a puppy.” Another kid said, “I wish I had a million wishes!” Some kids already knew what they wanted to be when they grew up. One dreamed of becoming a teacher, another saw himself going on a rocket ship and blasting off into outer space, and there was one kid who simply wanted to work in an office. I wrote down my own wishes: “Maybe we’ll get rich, and I can stay at my school, Miriam. Maybe I can have a new cat.”
This taught me that other kids from single-parent homes were not hindered by feelings of abandonment or fear. They looked to the future and imagined the arrival of more good things. One of my teachers found out that I didn’t have a father and said, “Maybe that’s why you work so hard; you want to prove yourself.” But I knew that wasn’t the case. I knew I worked hard because those kids from “broken homes” and “abnormal families” taught me to dream, and I was simply making my way toward those big dreams.
For more from Jasmine, check out the link below or go to her blog, “The Self-Help Junkie”:
For more about single parenthood, check out these links:
(Screencap of Gilmore Girls courtesy of WB Television Network, Screencap of Yours, Mine, & Ours courtesy of Paramount Pictures, Screencap of Pay It Forward courtesy of Warner Bros.)