Performing America’s toughest job alone

I was riding in the back of a cab on a recent afternoon when the driver looked up and said he had a message for me.

“The 21st century belongs to China,” the man, in his 50s, said in Mandarin. “For every 10 cents we earn, we save 9, that’s why the Chinese were not really affected by the global financial crisis … Foreigners are now coming here to learn how to save money.”

I smiled and kept my mouth shut, as I often do when I’m told that China will pass the United States as the world’s top economy. It’s a common belief these days, not only here but in the rest of the world. The reason? As Bill Clinton would say, “It’s the economy stupid.”

“This is especially the case in Western Europe, where the percentage naming China as the world’s top economic power has increased by double digits in Spain, Germany, Britain and France since 2009,” Richard Wike, associate director of the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project, said last month in a discussion on US-China public opinion.

A luxury hotel under construction beside the gleaming China Central Television tower in downtown Beijing. Construction projects can be seen in many large cities in China, the world's second-largest economy.

Meanwhile, the Chinese, by almost a 2-to-1 margin, still rate the US as the world’s top economy, Wike said.

Pundits cite a slumping GDP, high unemployment and falling house values as reasons for the United States’ decline. I’m more worried about a different issue: The rising number of children being raised in single parent homes.

According to the 1980 US Census – one year after I was born – 6 million children were living in single parent homes. By 2008, the number had grown to 10.5 million, a 75 percent increase.

I’ve spent most of my life in a single parent home. When I was 10, my father died unexpectedly, leaving my 34-year-old mother to raise me and two younger siblings. Insistent on not relying on my father’s life insurance to provide for us, my mother went back to school and earned a nursing degree.

She then returned to work, sometimes putting in 12 hours, seven days a week so we could have a good life. She did the best she could under the circumstances, but it was hard. There was one less person to cook dinner, help with homework and drive us to basketball practice. One lesson person hug us when one of our pets died, or pat us on the back when we earned an A at school.

The sun sets outside the home where I was raised by my mom in Eastern Kentucky.

And when everything seemed to be going to hell – my 6-year-old brother punching a hole in one of my dad’s musical instruments, my teenage sister staying out way past her curfew, me coming home drunk and reeking of cigarette smoke – there was one less person to comfort my mom and remind her that raising kids, under any circumstances, is hard.

I turned out OK – I finished college and got a job as a newspaper reporter – and plenty of kids from single parent homes have done very well. But I have no doubt that having another parent around would have made my life easier and, perhaps, put me in a better position to succeed in life.

10 thoughts on “Performing America’s toughest job alone

  1. There isn’t enough focus placed on this issue—-and it’s interesting to hear what kind of normal taxi talk you get in China.

    I’m living in Egypt and taxis are under the American spell but it seems it isn’t so in the farther east.

  2. Life holds so much mystery…parents play a big part, but we are hear to live and learn and develop our own stories. Your connection with your father and your mother is forever, though going throughout childhood without your father, and your mother being a single parent, is quite a challenge. Yet, you have learned to believe and trust in yourself, and that is the biggest credit that you could give to both of your parents…blessings! Charlie

  3. Thanks for sharing your story. I’m very sorry about your dad. I know it is tough not having both parents around and it sounds like your mom did her very best to keep the family as strong as she could 🙂

    • Glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for the kind words about my dad. It’s been a long time – more than 22 years – since he died, but I still think about him every now and then. I’m lucky in that he played music and left behind a bunch of songs he recorded, so I can still hear his voice when I want to.


      • You’re welcome. I’m glad you have his music still. I’d love to still have my dad’s music when he’s gone and be able to pass that onto my kids 🙂

  4. Wise to save nine of every ten cents when ten cents represents an hours pay. However, your blog is about single parenthood. I suspect that if every “single” parent was like your mom, the U.S. would be in great shape!

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