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Unsung Heroines

Unsung Heroines: Single Mothers and the American Dream

Ruth Sidel
Copyright Date: 2006
Edition: 1
Pages: 265
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  • Book Info
    Unsung Heroines
    Book Description:

    This compelling book destroys the derogatory images of single mothers that too often prevail in the media and in politics by creating a rich, moving, multidimensional picture of who these women really are. Ruth Sidel interviewed mothers from diverse races, ethnicities, religions, and social classes who became single through divorce, separation, widowhood, or who never married; none had planned to raise children on their own. Weaving together these women's voices with an accessible, cutting-edge sociological and political analysis of single motherhood today,Unsung Heroinesintroduces a resilient, resourceful, and courageous population of women committed to their families, holding fast to quintessential American values, and creating positive new lives for themselves and their children. What emerges from this penetrating study is a clear message about what all families-two-parent as well as single parent-must have to succeed: decent jobs at a living wage, comprehensive health care, and preschool and after-school care. In a final chapter, Sidel gives a broad political-economic analysis that provides historical background on the way American social policy has evolved and compares the situation in the U.S. to the social policies and ideologies of other countries.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93957-8
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    The denigration and demonization of single mothers has deep roots in American culture. Mothers without husbands have been looked upon with suspicion and hostility since the time of the earliest settlers. Today’s concerns about the weakening of the traditional family and about related issues such as single motherhood, divorce, sexual permissiveness, teenage pregnancy, and abortion have formed a central theme in American society for generations. Both the early Settlement Laws and the Colonial Poor Laws of seventeenth-century America punished husbandless women and unwed mothers, differentiating between the “deserving” and the “undeserving.” During the early years of the twentieth century, programs...

  5. 1 Moving Beyond Stigma
    (pp. 19-38)

    I was raised by a single parent. My mother died after a long illness when I was 5. My father was left with two sons, ages 19 and 21, and a very young daughter. Born in the United States, the youngest son of immigrant parents, he had climbed from the poverty of his childhood to comfortable middle-class status by working indefatigably since he was a boy (yes, he did shine shoes and sell newspapers from a very young age on the streets of East Boston), eventually starting and building his own business. In the years following my mother’s death at...

  6. 2 Genuine Family Values
    (pp. 39-59)

    Soledad Martinez is a 46-year-old Latina woman. She begins by talking about her childhood:

    I grew up in an “intact” family. I was one of seven children, the third from the youngest. My mother was a housewife; my father owned his own business. When I was 10, we lived in El Barrio [East Harlem] and I could look over to Columbia University across town and to me it looked like a church. I said to myself, “I’m going to go there some day.” It seemed like heaven.

    When I was 10, we moved to Puerto Rico but it didn’t work...

  7. 3 Loss
    (pp. 60-79)

    A central theme in the lives of virtually all of the women interviewed for this study is loss—loss of a partner or a spouse; loss of emotional support, social support, financial support; loss of self-esteem; and loss of status within their immediate community, within the larger society, and, perhaps most important, in their own eyes. These women have also lost the sense that life is predictable, coherent, continuous, that we can plan and assume that our plans will come to fruition. Loss was not an issue that I specifically focused on during my interviews with single mothers; nevertheless, it...

  8. 4 Resilience, Strength, and Perseverance
    (pp. 80-106)

    Battered and bruised, emotionally and sometimes physically, many of these women have lived and are living their lives with uncommon courage, determination, and creativity. Soledad Martinez obtained the education she dreamed of, left an abusive marriage, and went on to fashion a rewarding career and form a loving, companionable second marriage; Linda Powell’s pregnancy at 14 left her impoverished and virtually alone, but she nonetheless has made a rewarding life with her daughter and has managed somehow to hold on to her dreams for the future; Jennifer Soriano, bounced back and forth between relatives as a child, surrounded by family...

  9. 5 “Everybody Knows My Grandma”: Extended Families and Other Support Networks
    (pp. 107-134)

    Karen Morrison is a 57-year-old African American woman who was born and raised in a small city north of New York City. After high school she attended community college at night but never finished. She worked and lived at home with her parents. She recalls,

    I met Susan’s father at a party at a mutual friend’s house. We talked. He lived in Atlanta and constantly offered me a ticket to go there. He was twelve years my senior and worked in insurance. He was divorced and had two children from a previous marriage and one daughter from before he was...

  10. 6 “I Have to Do Something with My Life”: Derailed Dreams
    (pp. 135-160)

    Many women have been able to cope remarkably effectively, even heroically, with the challenges of single motherhood, but others suffer more severe consequences from poverty, isolation, emotional burnout, and unfulfilled aspirations. Single mothers are, not surprisingly, frequently mired in the basic activities of daily life—working, caring for their children, putting food on the table, paying the rent. And low-income women bear a double burden as a profound shortage of resources is added to single motherhood. Long work hours, low pay, inadequate education and training, and insufficient, inaccessible, and costly day care and after-school care together create hurdles that are...

  11. 7 “I Really, Really Believed He Would Stick Around”: Conflicting Conceptions of Commitment
    (pp. 161-183)

    Something powerful must happen between the seventh and eighth months of pregnancy. Perhaps it’s an outgrowth of the physical changes in the body of the pregnant woman, or possibly the psychological changes in either partner; but when men suddenly realize that they are about to cross the border into new territory, into a new world, many of them walk away. Often they give no reasons; they just disappear. Some withdraw more gradually, but the message is clear: many women and their husbands, boyfriends, or partners differ profoundly in attitudes, expectations, and behavior regarding both the nature of their own relationship...

  12. 8 An Agenda for the Twenty-first Century: Caring for All Our Families
    (pp. 184-218)

    Without fundamental change in our thinking about the needs of all families, particularly mother-only families, and without fundamental changes in our family policy, all families in the United States will continue to suffer. We must recognize that the well-being of children and their families is the responsibility not only of the families themselves but of government at all levels and of civil society as well.

    Single mothers and their children have all too often been seen as a breed apart, a subgroup that requires its own analysis, norms, criticism, and punishment. But the lives of the women interviewed for this...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 219-226)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 227-234)
  15. Index
    (pp. 235-252)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 253-253)