Mansfield Daily Journal

Thursday, October 10, 2002

Single parenthood a monster burden

By Rose Marie Feagin
News Journal (Mansfield, Ohio)

MANSFIELD -- Ron Spon minces no words when asked about problems associated with single-parent homes.

"If you ask me what our greatest threat is to our way of life in America, I would say it's the disintegration of the family as we have known it historically," Richland County's Juvenile Court judge said.

According to the judge, about 40 percent of births in Richland County are to unwed mothers.

"Right away you have a huge number of children who are born into very difficult circumstances," Spon said. "Some of those situations, the father sticks around even though they're not married, but in a very great many, they don't."

Spon said it is hard enough for two parents to raise children, especially teen-age parents, let alone a single mother struggling to work, pay the bills and keep a home.

Corey Jones was one of those children. He was born to a single parent while she was in prison. Corey spent his first 51/2 years in the care of a foster mother and father before being adopted by Albert and Nancy Jones.

After drugs caused the Jones family to break up, Corey lived with his adoptive mother and grandmother in Orrville during most of the 21/2 years leading to his arson death in January in Mansfield.

Problem is nationwide

Corey was part of an American phenomenon. Since 1970, the number of children living in single-parent families has doubled.

Statistics from 1992 indicate single-parent families represent 30 percent of U.S. households, while two-parent households represent 25 percent, according to DivorceWizards.com.

Based on current trends, there are predictions that upward of 70 percent of children born since 1980 will spend some time living in a single-parent home before their 18th birthdays.

Moreover, some are born to teen mothers who aren't prepared to take on the role of parenting.

Spon said he sees the impact of single parenthood daily.

"We do see a tremendous number of young people who come into the court who do not have the benefit of intact families," the judge said.

It's a trend Spon doesn't see going away.

"You have a lot of people who simply do not have loving, caring, responsible oversight in that child's life on a daily basis. The child is raising himself or herself and I think that's tragic," the judge said.

Some rise above it all

Regina Smeltzer, director of nursing at the Mansfield/Ontario/Richland County Health Department, said there is a high cost to being a teen parent or a single parent, but it isn't all doom and gloom.

Some teens and single parents rise to the occasion and handle their parental responsibilities in spite of the poverty, pain and obstacles, she said.

Lynayha Wellington of Mansfield knows what it's like to put plans on hold. She had to delay her education at The Ohio State University in order to care for daughter Imani, now 7.

"I had her when I came out of high school before college," said Wellington, who helps clients of Community Health Access Project, known as CHAP, find and keep jobs.

Balancing her education and an infant was challenging, she said, but it had to be done.

Wellington, 26, said she depended on her family, church and God.

Wellington, who would eventually like to get married, said her daughter seems to be adjusting to their lifestyle, but there was a time when she wasn't. There were days Imani noticed other kids' fathers were picking them up from daycare and hers was not.

"She does better now that she does get to see him and talk to him on a regular basis," Wellington said.

Juggling her career, children and civic responsibilities can be challenging, but Mansfield 5th Ward Councilwoman Deanna Torrence seems up to task.

"I try to set an example for them to be good citizens," said Torrence, a single parent.

Like many women in the United States who are single parents because of divorce or the death of a spouse, Torrence never suspected it would happen to her.

However, after her marriage of 10 years ended, Torrence found herself in her early 30s, shouldering the responsibilities of caring for a family, which includes her four children, Adam, Taj, Maya, Elijah, ranging in age from 8 to 12.

"There have been days that you wake up (and) say if I don't go to work, people won't eat," Torrence said.

Making it on her own

Shanell Banks, 32, knows the feeling. An administrative associate for CHAP, she has five kids named Joshua, Jeremiah, James, Jasmine and Jacqueline, who range in age from 9 to 14.

It never dawned on her when she got married that she'd end up raising them on her own.

"We were in the military and that's a strain on any marriage," said Banks, who was married for 10 years.

She attributes the divorce to travel for training and assignments and long periods of separation that often take place in military families.

"Even while we were married, I was still a single parent because he was always gone," Banks said.

"When we actually were getting the divorce I was actually pregnant with the fifth child and that was a little hard," she said.

Banks said she felt a big strain after the divorce. "He didn't want to pay child support," she said.

When she was able to work again, she had to work two jobs because he wouldn't work. For a while things were OK, but eventually she had to leave a well-paying job because her son had allergies. When he was sick, she had to stay home and care for him.

"It hasn't always been easy," Banks said.

She thanks her mother, family and church for helping her get through the tough times. She also has Christian neighbors who care, she said.

Her days don't start as early as they once did. She used to have to be up by 6 a.m. to make sure everyone was ready for school and put something for dinner in the crock pot before she went to work.

Now, with only one child in elementary school and the rest in middle and high school, she can sleep in until 7 a.m.

Her children are a big help. When Banks started going to school she realized she needed their help around the house.

"They've learned how to be independent, even the boys. They take care of each other," she said.

Banks encourages single parents to have a good strong faith because raising children alone can be extremely difficult.

"It's hard, but God will make a way," she said.

Banks also encourages single parents to ask and accept help from others.

"Sometimes we're too proud to ask for help," she said.

Single parenting 'not an illness'

Torrence described her biggest supporter as her ex-husband, who shares some of the parenting duties.

"Our kids are important to us. It's important to have the father involved."

Her closest friends, though, are other single moms.

"We cry on each other's shoulders," she said.

Although she would like to marry again, she doesn't see single parenting as a total disadvantage.

"People act like it's an illness. No, it's not the ideal situation, but it's not a totally negative thing (either), " she said.

Torrence, who does advocacy training for CHAP, tells single parents not to isolate themselves. "Don't look at this as a disabling condition," she said.

The challenges of single parenthood presented her an opportunity to grow and accomplish things she might not have attempted, such as running for council.

"You find the most strength you thought you never had," she said.

Like other parents, she's concerned about how her children will turn out.

"I do worry because I have three boys and statistics say out of every three black boys one will end up in jail, one will end up dead, one will be successful," she said.

"We don't want to see them end up in the system. I didn't want to be in the system and I don't want my children to be in it."

Her three sons want to be successful, and Torrence tells them they will have to strive for their success.

rfeagin@nncogannett.com

(419) 521-7220

Originally published Thursday, October 10, 2002

Copyright ©2002 News Journal.