What Atticus Finch Taught Me About Single Parenthood

To Kill a Mockingbird has topped my favorite book list since I first read it as a sophomore in high school. Whether it was the charming town of Maycomb, the eccentric characters, or the deep ethical issues that drew me in, I really can't say (high school was a long time ago, people!). Given the recent attention Harper Lee and her work has received, I decided to pick up the classic again, hoping it was the masterpiece I remembered.

And I was not disappointed. Younger me had good taste (in literature, at least -- fashion came later; men, we're still working on). Regardless of what initially attracted me to the novel, I found myself falling in love with Maycomb all over again, and I was paying special attention to Atticus' parenting successes and struggles. While Lee's novel can teach us so much about human nature, compassion and the value of each human life, it spoke to me as a single parent. Harper Lee effectively depicts the life of a single parent, and this is what she and Atticus taught me.

You might struggle to find a satisfactory work/home balance: Atticus works two very demanding jobs -- he is a lawyer and a state legislator. According to Scout, he doesn't often arrive home until late in the evening, and he even misses Scout's performance in the pageant because he's so exhausted from work. As a single parent, this really resonated with me. After I had my son, I chose to only work minimally as needed to support the family. After my daughter was born, plans were in place for me to decrease my workload until I was a stay-at-home mom. Once I left my ex, though, I had to rethink everything -- I was now the primary financial provider for my children and myself. Fortunately, I found a full-time position very quickly, and I will forever be grateful for that. A year later, though, and I still struggle with how much time I am at work versus with my children and how tired I am from trying to juggle all of our schedules.

People will step up to help: Luckily, Atticus has some wonderful people in his life who are there when he can't be. Calpurina, the family's cook, watches Scout and Jem when they aren't at school and also serves as a maternal role model. Miss Maudie also keeps an eye on the children, as they often play in her yard and converse with her on the porch. And who can forget Boo Radley? While we only encounter his physical presence once in the book, he obviously cares for the children evidenced by his gifts in the tree trunk and his concern for their safety. Like Atticus, I have been blessed with the best people to help with my children when I can't be four places at once. My parents, sisters, and friends have all lent a helping hand when necessary. I also have a wonderful caregiver to watch my children while I work. It pays to surround your children and yourself with good, supportive people.

You will have critics: Aunt Alexandra -- need I say more? Aunt Alexandra finds fault with many of Atticus' parenting techniques. She doesn't agree with Calpurnia's role in the home. She doesn't like that Atticus allows Scout to wear overalls. She doesn't think Atticus is home enough, so she moves herself in. Aunt Alexandra oversteps almost every boundary, but ultimately Atticus has the final say in how his house operates. Every parent will inevitably encounter critics, and mommy wars are (unfortunately) a real thing. It is important to keep in mind, though, that you alone get to decide what is best for your family, and it's really no one else's business (unless you ask).

But, in the end, you will be their guidepost: Atticus receives a lot of negative attention in Maycomb for representing Tom Robinson, and that has a negative impact on his children. They are talked about, made fun of, and their lives are even threatened. While they are tempted to retaliate and occasionally think poorly of their father, in the end, they hold strong to the teachings of their father. In the final pages of the novel, Atticus really sums up single parenthood: "Sometimes I think I'm a total failure as a parent, but I'm all they've got. Before Jem looks at anyone else he looks at me." This is so important to note because, as single parents, we often worry about the influence that others (the other parent, family members, kids at daycare/school) will have on our kids. They will look to us first, though, and they will recognize (at some point) that we are doing our best.

Atticus is a literary hero for many reasons -- his unwavering morals and composure in the face of adversity come to mind -- but I think we should add another attribute to the list. Atticus Finch is a hero because he is a wonderful father to Jem and Scout.