Picture this: You are back in elementary school. It's Father's Day and all the dads are coming in to talk to the class about their jobs. Every student has an extra chair by their side for their father to sit in. Class begins and everyone takes their places. Everyone is giggly and having a great time with their father. But you… you are feeling different. The chair next to yours is empty. It has always been empty. Your father has never been in the picture. That's what Radio 101 student, Samiya Arrington felt every year on Father's Day, and any other special occasion where dads were supposed to be involved. According to Dr. Samuel Gladding, a professor of counseling at Wake Forest University, this can be very hard on young kids.
“It's very understandable that kids blame themselves for their parents behavior and a reason for that is that they just don't understand what the parent is going through. The younger the child, the more likely he/she is to blame themselves for their parents' behavior. Kids who are older understand better that they are different from their parents and they usually do not have, or never have, a direct impact on what their parents do or how their parents behave,” Explained Gladding.
Samiya is not alone. Data from the 2018 America's Families and Living Arrangements by the U.S. Census Bureau reveals that about one in four children under the age of 18 in the U.S. are being raised without a father. According to Dr. Gladding, however, it is not all bad news for children raised in single-parent households.
“It's not necessarily a deficit that one has in just having one parent, unless a kid thinks that they are missing something that's so vital to themselves that they can live without it. We do find that single-parent homes are more democratic than homes that have two parents--children who are in those homes grow up to be quite responsible and innovative because many times they have to work things out for themselves rather than to have someone instruct them,” Gladding explained.
Moreover, the absence of a parent can be mitigated by looking for role-models inside or outside of the core family.
“It helps if have we parental figures. Those people who can help us get through different ages and stages,” Gladding added.
“In my case, it was my brother Patrick. He took me and my sister places and told me that even without my dad I will always be okay because I always will have him to step in. He moved away when I turned 12 and during that time I had to realize that I needed to grow up,” said Arrington.
For Samiya, growing up meant revisiting those feelings of abandonment and guilt from when she was in elementary school. Now a little older and wiser, the results were different.
“One day, it just clicked. I had been living without him for so long that I realized I didn't really need him. I realized that there was nothing I could do. I finally understood that I shouldn't put myself down because he wasn't there. His leaving was not about me. It was because of him. I know that now,” Concluded Arrington.