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Opinion Democrats' new super power: Single parents like me are a growing political force

16:50  14 october  2020
16:50  14 october  2020 Source:   usatoday.com

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Throughout his career, former Vice President Joe Biden has returned, over and over, to a pivotal time in his life — the years after he lost his first wife, Neilia, and their young daughter in a car accident. Deep in grief, he took on the role of single father to his two sons before he married his current wife, Jill. Over the years, he has returned to this time to show support for single parents.“I was a single dad for five years,” he told a young black mother in a Facebook campaign video this past July. “It’s hard. No matter how you cut it.”

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Kamala Harris has also said that her mother, divorced and single, was her primary role model. "When I was five, my parents split and my mother raised us mostly on her own," she said in her nomination acceptance speech. "She made it look easy, though I know it never was."

These roles and role models have shaped this Democratic team as empathetic leaders. It is a less discussed but important character strength because they understand the needs of a growing family type in America who can influence the presidential vote. A voter profile compiled by the Voter Participation Center in 2019 found that a majority of voting-eligible women were unmarried in 2018. And millennials will make up 21% of the voting-eligible population in 2020.

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Biden and Harris’ openness about these family influences has also given power to a job that is often stigmatized by Republicans.

The American family is changing

According to 2017 data, there are more than 16 million unmarried parents in America raising over 24 million children. Fifty-three percent are solo mothers, who tend to vote Democrat, and the majority are part of the vast millennial generation ranging from age 24 to 39.

We all come to single parenthood in different ways: some through divorce; some through the death of a spouse, and others, like myself, increasingly through personal choice. I had a baby on my own at 40 because I decided that I had the rest of my life to find true love and partnership, but only a small window in which to conceive a child.

College student: I was in quarantine on campus. They gave me a bag lunch and little help.

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Whatever the reason, raising a child on one’s own is hard but becoming more socially acceptable, reflected in evolving attitudes and demographics. Thirty-three percent of millennial moms living with their own children are unmarried, according to the Pew Research Center. One in five millennials is a single dad. More often than not, when I tell people that I’m a single mother by choice, they say “Good for you!” Politicians who recognize and support these shifts in the shapes of the American family will gain more votes.

No matter the route and circumstances, all single parents share a common ground. Like Biden and Harris, we all know the courage that grows from loss, whether it's the loss of our spouse through death or divorce, the loss of living with one parent, or the loss of a dream of having a child with someone you love. We all know heartbreak, the fear of becoming sick, or losing our income because our children rely solely on us. As a senator, Biden said that he should be interrupted at the office any time one of his sons called him.

During the pandemic, many single parents, myself included, have been hit the hardest by a decrease in income, the social isolation of stay-at-home orders, and the stress of juggling work and virtual school. In the deepest quarantine days, many of us who rely on child care facilities, babysitters, friends, neighbors and activities grew more anxious because we lost our vital agreements outside of our households. These are the constellations that usually make us feel supported and part of a larger community.

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Single parent strong

I have always tried to put on a brave face and emphasized the strength I’ve gained from parenting on my own. But without my usual supports and connections, the losses and obstacles started to feel taller and more painful. The hit was felt even harder for the lowest wage single moms who work in service jobs.

Rachel Lehmann Haupt smiling for the camera: Rachel Lehmann-Haupt in New York City in 2017. © Family handout Rachel Lehmann-Haupt in New York City in 2017.

Biden and Harris have shown the many positive qualities that being a single parent or being raised by one inspires. Men can become more involved parents and the children of single mothers can gain positive career role models. In her DNC acceptance speech, Harris recalled how her mother influenced her decision to go into public service. “She taught us to be conscious and compassionate about the struggles of all people. To believe public service is a noble cause and the fight for justice is a shared responsibility," she said.

Founding ideals inspire liberal patriots: I’m aspiring to be anti-racist and patriotic. You can be both, President Trump.

That compassion doesn’t come from a place of privilege, but rather one of internal resilience built from challenges. Especially during the pandemic, I have had to find new reserves of strength. You have to be steadfast in your decisions as the leader of your family. You have to be financially wise, and mostly, you are forced to reach outside of yourself to find alternative emotional and social supports.

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It starts with personal experience, as Biden has shown, and that leads outward to a broader focus on purpose and service. Now more than ever, single parents need government leaders who can empathize with our losses and victories, the strengths that they build, and offer a vision for the future that will give us all more psychological security and stronger community structures in which we can thrive.

Rachel Lehmann-Haupt is an author of "In Her Own Sweet Time: Unexpected Adventures in Finding Love, Commitment and Motherhood," and a single mother by choice. She is currently working on a new book about the future of the family in America.

You can read diverse opinions from our Board of Contributors and other writers on the Opinion front page, on Twitter @usatodayopinion and in our daily Opinion newsletter. To respond to a column, submit a comment to letters@usatoday.com.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Democrats' new super power: Single parents like me are a growing political force

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This is interesting!