JOHN DONVAN, HOST:
And now, The Opinion Page. Jessica Olien has neither a husband nor a child, but she would eventually like to have one without the other - meaning she wants to be a mom, but she does not want to be a wife. She intends when she has a child to raise it on her own, as her mother raised her without a man around. Her piece titled "I Want to be My Child's Only Parent" ran in the online magazine Slate. It was in response to new numbers that show that more than half of the children born to women under 30 are now born to single mothers.
We would like to hear from single parents in our audience. If this is your story, why did you choose to raise a kid on your own? Did you choose to raise a kid on your own? Our number is 800-989-8255. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can join the conversation at our website, go to npr.org and click on TALK OF THE NATION. Now, joining us from the Netherlands, where she's on vacation, is Jessica Olien. It's nice to have you on TALK OF THE NATION, Jessica.
JESSICA OLIEN: Hi. Nice to be here.
DONVAN: So your mom raised you as a single mom...
DONVAN: ...and you aspire to raise a child as a single mom. What's the big difference between you and your mother and circumstances?
OLIEN: Well, I - my mother wasn't a single parent by choice. I mean, my father left my mother while she was pregnant with me, basically, and then he was in and out of our lives for the next two years about. And, yeah - but she never really wanted to be a single parent, but I think she ended up liking it more than maybe she would have thought, in my position.
DONVAN: Has she phrase - put it that way to you, explicitly said to you?
OLIEN: Yeah. And she has, actually. She's definitely said she enjoyed being a single parent and was glad that she did that.
DONVAN: So is this part of...
OLIEN: Raised me that way.
DONVAN: Is that part of your inspiration for deciding that actually you'd like to go that way as well?
OLIEN: Yeah. I think when I look back at my life, it was so - my childhood was so simple and so easy being raised by her, that when I think about having my own child I'd certainly wouldn't think that it would be a detriment to the child to not have two parents.
DONVAN: But you go farther than that, and there's the argument that it causes no harm or may cause no harm, but you go further than that. And you actually talk about there being an upside to being a single parent, and that's - nobody is talking about that, I don't think, at least in public. So now, here you are. Talk to us about that. What do you see is the actual advantages to being a single mom?
OLIEN: Well, I think that there's - I mean, when you have relationships that don't go well, which a lot of them don't - I mean, maybe that's a cynical way of looking at things, but it's quite often the case - I think that it - sometimes, it's easier to raise a kid by yourself. And I think I - you look at the demographic of women that I come from, which is educated and independent, and having more and more trouble finding suitable partners to have children with, as have been - there's been a lot of articles about lately, in The Atlantic, for one, and Slate, for others. And I think that that choice should at least be able to be discussed and open to them.
DONVAN: Well, what I was getting at is I thought that you were arguing in your article, that when you're alone, for example, you're not going to have arguments and disagreements over how to discipline your child, how to educate your child; that that the unidirectional nature of the dialogue - the monologue that you would have with yourself - isn't going to be interfered with and turn into argument-type material. Am I right about that? Is that part of what you see as the advantage?
OLIEN: I think that's part of it, but that's certainly wasn't the full point I was making in my article.
DONVAN: So go on to what the full point would be.
OLIEN: I mean, I just - I'm not advocating for anyone to be a single parent.
DONVAN: I see.
OLIEN: I was just - it's a - it's just an essay. It was about my own choices and what I think would work well for my situation. But I'm certainly not saying that it's - all women should become single parents now, and that we should, you know, men are expandable, and we should no longer have nuclear families. I just think that this has worked really well for me. And I feel very satisfied and fulfilled as an adult because of how I was raised.
DONVAN: So what you're really saying is that having a single mom can turn out really well, having a single mom - or dad, actually.
OLIEN: Yes. Yeah, oh, for sure, for sure. Definitely not just single moms. I think single dads can do it just as easily.
DONVAN: You know, we've asked listeners to call in with their experiences and their views on this, and I would like to go to Jane, who is in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Jane, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.
DONVAN: Hi. You're on the air, Jane.
JANE: OK. Hi. Yes, I'm a single - I'm actually a sole parent. I had a child late in life because I never wanted to be a single parent, and so then it turned out that the marriage wasn't good, and we split up, and then he passed away. And now I'm the only parent. But it's really easy, but...
DONVAN: Wait. Let me stop you there. When you say it's easy, you mean being single - doing it on your own is easy is what you're saying.
JANE: Well, it's easier than having somebody else to fight with, what. When somebody - when two people decide to have a child together, they should be sitting down ahead of time and talking about how they're going to raise the child, who's going to be the disciplinarian or maybe one or both of them, how they're going to handle all those things. And then it doesn't become a problem.
DONVAN: Mm-hmm. Well, I think that's what heard Jessica saying as well, is that - one thing, I think, we heard Jessica saying is that the two-parent household held up as the ideal is not necessarily always going to be the ideal or wasn't in her case. It sounds like it wasn't...
JANE: Yeah. Exactly. And it wasn't in my case as a parent, and I'm really happy to hear her say that things worked well with her with a single mom because I'm a single mom and I want my daughter to have, you know, a decent upbringing or, you know, an excellent upbringing, and I do my best for that. And it's - being a parent for me is easy anyway because I really enjoy it. There's nothing else that's more important to me.
DONVAN: All right, Jane. Thanks very much for you call. I like to next bring in Christina(ph), who is in Little Rock, Arkansas. Hello, Christina. You're on TALK OF THE NATION. Hi, Christina. You're on TALK OF THE NATION. My mistake.
CHRISTINA: Yes. OK. I wanted to say, you know, I grew up in a two-parent household, and I think it's just very important to get back to that tradition. And I understand that it may not work like that because, in my situation, my mom - or my biological mom was a single parent, and my dad raised my sister and I and remarried another woman. So she became our stepmom, and they both did an excellent job. But, you know, by having - I'm a single parent of three children, and if I can talk to young people out there and let them know that, hey, you know what, try to find, you know, be patient and wait on that person and try to find that person to – because you definitely need help. And try to find that - just wait on that person to assist you with those children because it's just - it's very stressful.
CHRISTINA: And I wouldn't want to wish this on nobody. I mean, it's just a lot, and it's a lot.
DONVAN: But I think what Jessica Olien is saying is that, actually, for certain individual women and possibly men, it can work. It can work for them. Am I right, Jessica, that that...
CHRISTINA: I'm not disagreeing with her. Yes, it can work. It worked with my mom but, you know, and even just one child, I feel like just the father figure being in the home can also be - I mean, it goes in with the balance of the household.
CHRISTINA: And I feel like, in a way, you know, if I had a choice, I would love to have my child's father be there in the home with - but it didn't work like that.
CHRISTINA: And I'm just saying it seems like she's kind of taking that away from that child who doesn't even have that - who can't even make that choice, who doesn't have that voice to want to have a father figure around.
DONVAN: Well, I'm not sure you are, Jessica, are you saying...
OLIEN: No. And I think, you know, people - every parent, potential parent - I mean, there are very few people who give their child every possible life advantage when their child is being born. I mean - and you just can't. And so when you look at people that, you know, if you're pregnant and your husband is about to lose his job, is that, you know, a bad choice then to have a baby in that kind of situation? I don't think that you can say that every...
CHRISTINA: I'm not saying you're making a bad choice. I'm not, so don't misunderstand me.
OLIEN: Mm-hmm. Oh, no.
CHRISTINA: But I'm just saying it seems like you're not aware of the consequences, and I'm not even going to use repercussions because there's no...
CHRISTINA: ...I mean, once you have a child, that's a beautiful thing, but it's just kind of like you're not even taking in consideration of the big picture. But you're probably basing it on because your mom was a single mom...
CHRISTINA: ...and you saw how, you know, you turned out awesome. You thought what, you know, she did or whatever, you're saying, oh, I can do that too, but it's kind of just really bigger than that, you know. That's all I wanted...
DONVAN: All right, Christina. Thanks very much for your call. Jessica, you want to respond any more to Christina's point?
OLIEN: Yeah. I just - I don't really understand - people always are saying that. I've been kind of surprised by some of the responses that I've gotten on this story, that, yeah, it's bigger than that - and it's, you know, very selfish to want to have a child as a single parent. And I think that it's kind of surprising to me because you look at the demographics now and how, you know, 50 percent of children born to women under the age of 30 are to single parents and those are, you know, for the most part not by choice. So I don't understand exactly why people would be so shocked that someone would want to do it by choice. You think that would be better to want to do it by choice.
DONVAN: Is there something lost to not having in a single-mother household a father figure and in a single-father household a mother figure? Do you want to have the some - do you want to have a father figure in the son - in the life of a son or daughter who is raised with a single mom in some way?
OLIEN: I mean, I kind of - to me that kind of depends on if you, like, look at, you know, your parent - like my mother, I feel like she fulfilled both roles pretty well. I don't think - I think it depends on how you view gender roles and how important those are to you in raising a child. I don't think that you necessarily need a father figure. I think that a child should be exposed to both men and women, and I don't think that that is necessary, though, to have a father and a mother in a home raising a child.
DONVAN: Let's have Tony in Traverse City, Michigan, join us. Hi, Tony. You're on TALK OF THE NATION.
TONY: Hi. How are you doing?
TONY: My comment is with regard to gender, and that I really believe that until we establish a positive gender neutral identity for parents, I find that the discussion gets sort of lost in, you know, the identity of mother versus father.
DONVAN: As it just was.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
TONY: Yes. Yeah.
DONVAN: All right. Keep going.
TONY: Yeah. Well, you know, as a parent, you know, with a child who has, you know, two-household child, I find myself embodying both the mother and the father. And you know, as that role, I'm seeing what my co-parent is going through. I see that we're not necessarily male and female. We're parents and parents, and that what we effectively do is co-parent. And, you know, essentially what I see as necessary is the discussion to be about co-parenting versus a single parent without the co-parent.
DONVAN: All right, Tony. Thanks very much for your comment.
OLIEN: Yeah. I really agree with that. That's really interesting, I think. And I think that, you know, when you say, like, parenting, you know, people look at this established, like, you know, you have a father, you have a mother, and you don't even, you know, acknowledge that there are so many people that, you know, it takes a village to raise a child. It's true because you have all these people supporting you. You have - when I grew, I had friends. There's my mother. I had my grandmother. And I certainly wouldn't want to do it alone, like go for it alone. I wouldn't want to do that. That's not what I'm saying here. You want huge support.
DONVAN: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION on NPR. Jennifer in St. Louis is joining our discussion with Jessica Olien, who has a piece called "I Want to Be My Kid's Only Parents." Jessica, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.
JESSICA: Hi. I had a very positive experience being an only child of a single mother, and I think that the two main benefits was it really expanded our family to where - because there was just my mother and I because we brought in - I mean, she had three siblings who had children, and then her parents played a big role in my growing up. And so it was just like - it made our family even larger because they were around supporting us when we needed it. And the other positive influence is that I feel like I gained a lot more responsibility in a good way, very young, because I - it was just me and my mother, and so I - well, you know, I was there when she was making decisions about our lives and things like that.
DONVAN: Well, could you see yourself making the same choice for the same reason that Jessica is making the reason, she had a good experience, and she knows it can work? Would you - and I guess, Jessica, you're saying in your piece that's the plan. So I want to ask Jennifer, could you make a similar plan?
JESSICA: I have - well, my plan is to actually not have children, but I would definitely consider being a single parent just because - I mean, I don't think that it is any worst than having two parents. And I mean, in my personal experience I think it would have been better because my mom made a choice to raise me as - by herself because if my father would have been in the picture, it would not have been as positive. And so if - I mean, I think the bottom line is you want to make the best choice for your child. And if that best choice is that I can, you know, raise her without, you know, another partner, then that would be the best choice, and I would do that.
DONVAN: All right. Thanks, Jennifer, very much for you call. Jessica, I just want to come back to you. Earlier, when I asked you what the upside to this, I think you took my question to mean that you were advocating this for everybody, and I'm really not...
DONVAN: ...I'm not really asking you why this is right for everybody. I'm really trying to understand why it's right for you, and I don't feel that I got it.
I did get from you why you're saying it's as good - it can be as good or better than two-parent households, but I'm not getting why you feel it's right for you. So let me put the question to you this way. Are you pretty much mind made up on this, that this is the way that you want to do it, or could you see yourself...
OLIEN: No, no, I'm not made up. I mean, I'm nowhere near being pregnant. I haven't started any sort of adoption process. I'm definitely not - my mind is definitely not made up about this, but I do think that the more that I think about having a child in the future, and the more that I think about parenting in general as I get older, the more I think it could be done the way that my mother did it and not - and I wouldn't necessarily need to have a father figure in the picture. And I don't usually think about a father figure in the picture when I think about raising children, mostly because of the way I was raised.
But I think, mostly, I just - I really wanted this to be a discussion because I think it is important that people are able to talk about it, and it can be like an option that's open to them when it's so much harder for women to find partners these days. I think it's really good to have an option and to be able to talk about it.
DONVAN: Well, you've unbelievably started a discussion. Let me say that the response to the piece online is astounding, and I just want to let people know that there's a link to Jessica Olien's piece, which is called "I Want to be My Kid's Only Parent." It's on our website. Go to npr.org and click on TALK OF THE NATION.
Jessica Olien, thanks very much for your time today. Enjoy the rest of your vacation. Thanks for joining us.
OLIEN: Thank you.
DONVAN: So tomorrow, what has been lost in Afghanistan as a result of the accidental burning of Qurans? Join us for that. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm John Donvan in Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.