Who might you guess is the largest ignored minority group in America? Single Parents (and their children). Why didn't you know that? Because no one recognizes single parents as a minority group. And because single parents are basically voiceless.
They -- we -- aren't seen as a legitimate minority group because there's no visible or obvious characteristics that bind us. We're not joined by race or sexual preference or even socio-economic class, though most of us have precious little money.
And we are voiceless because of all of the above reasons, and for one additional one: We're too busy to lobby or press our case. We're raising our kids. Alone.
There are 13 million of us raising 22 million children. About 80% of us are mothers, but single fathers are a fast-growing cohort, a group that is nine times larger than it was in 1960 (from less than 300,000 in 1960 to 2.7 million now.)
That means more than one in 10 of the people you see walking down the street or in the store or waiting in the emergency room will be in a single-parent family. That doesn't count the over 18-year-olds who are not included in this group, but may well have been raised in that circumstance.
There are 4.1 million single mothers who live in poverty, and the median income for single mother families in 2012 was $25, 493 and for single fathers, $36,471. The median income for two parent families was $81,455.
Those are a few of the numbers of single parenthood. They do not begin to convey the experience of being a single parent, or the much, much more complicated and stressful experience of being a child in a single parent household, which is the far more important category.
Yes, there are wide variations in single parenthood status. Some of us (not I) do in fact have financial resources either through the wonders of alimony and child support, or less frequently because through determination and/or luck, we have managed to create successful careers.
And there is a chasm between a single parent who has divorced a high-earning spouse who remains involved in his/her children's lives and a single parent who has raised his/her children alone from the start and whose spouse is absent. These are experiences from different planets, which is another reason single parents are not a unified group. A parent getting sizable, regular child support checks has almost nothing in common with one on food stamps or living in a car beyond a vague definition of single parenthood.
Mostly, we struggle day to day to find the money to pay the bills, the energy to work at our jobs, help with homework, attend school conferences, wipe away tears caused by missing the other parent, spats with classmates, inconsiderate boyfriends or girlfriends, cheer at ball games, impart life lessons and maybe watch a little TV before drifting off and doing it again the next day. And to be there for the children. Always.
Having said all this, single parenthood can be and usually is an amazing, uplifting, gratifying experience. It was the best work I ever did and the most fun I ever had, and while it was not what I expected when I first gazed at my remarkable son and then three years later at my astonishing daughter, I would not trade it for the more comfortable lives most of my two-parent households friends and acquaintances had.
But even when it was fun, it was hard.
When Kevin Durant made his National Basketball Association Most Valuable Player acceptance speech this May calling his single mother the "real MVP," I have to think every single parent and every child from a single parent household, wept:
"We weren't supposed to be here. You made us believe. You kept us off the street. You put clothes on our backs, food on the table. When you didn't eat, you made sure we ate. You went to sleep hungry. You sacrificed for us. You're the real MVP."
Trying to explain single parenting to other people is like trying to explain parenting to the childless. You're speaking Hindi and they're speaking Mandarin. It's an impossible experience to convey effectively. We're not feeling superior, trust me. I don't know any single parents or kids in those households who don't understand the meaning of humility.
So, National Caregivers Month is November. I cannot think of any group more deserving of being recognized for caregiving than single parents, and their brave children.
Or any group more overlooked.