About 24 years ago, Bay Buchanan was abruptly thrust into the role of a single parent. She had two boys, ages 4 and 2, and was three months pregnant with a third son.
The divorce was devastating enough. Almost more disheartening, she said, was the perception that single parents were doomed to failure. Decades of research indicated that children raised by single parents don't fare nearly as well as those raised in traditional two-parent families.
"It's very tough on a mom who has young kids to be looking at the odds against her children thriving, and then to have the experts going on television saying, 'Hey, more statistics show how important a dad is.' Where was the message for those of us where that’s no longer a choice?" Buchanan said. "I understood their point and agreed with it, but don't we want all children to thrive? Shouldn't we have a message of hope, encouragement or guidance for those parents who are doing it alone?"
Buchanan, a political analyst, columnist and former treasurer of the United States, took it upon herself to offer that hope to single parents by writing about her own experience in the book "Bay and Her Boys: Unexpected Lessons I Learned as a Single Mom" (Da Capo Press, $25).
"This book is good for all parents, but I wrote specifically to single parents because I feel so strongly about it," Buchanan said. "I want single moms and dads to know there's no question it's challenging and brutally difficult at times, but that they can do it, and do it well. That's my message."
In her book, Buchanan suggests eight rules for single parenting and illustrates her tips through personal experience.
"They work for all parents, but when you're raising kids on your own, there's no getting around any one of them," Buchanan writes. "Every rule is essential if your goal is to succeed."
Buchanan's rules include: Commit yourself to take charge; let their dad be their dad (or at least compensate for the lack of a dad in the home); put your kids first; be a parent — not a friend (set rules and enforce them); and establish family traditions.
Buchanan, a native of Washington, D.C., who now lives in Oakton, Va., was raised a Catholic but joined the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in her 20s. She said her faith played an important role in raising her sons, not only for attending weekly worship services to instill values and principles but for the influence that good men had on her boys. The church also provided her with personal support and strength.
"I would never had succeeded as well as I did in raising my children alone without the church. There is no question in my mind," Buchanan said. "What the church provided is a constant source of great role models. My kids were able to learn what it is to be a dad, a husband, to be part of a whole family, so they could want that for their own kids."
Despite countless sacrament meetings in which her sons were hard to control, early morning seminary classes, Especially For Youth and other youth activities helped Buchanan navigate her boys through their teenage years. There were also several occasions when she asked ward members and leaders for help. One time in particular, a 17-year-old son got into trouble and she called the bishop.
"I have done what I can. Now it's your turn," Buchanan told her priesthood leader. "Of course he met with him a couple of times. The key was my son already knew, respected and loved the bishop. The structure was there. As a single mother, it was enormously valuable to me."
Buchanan also found it was brilliant that Mormon youths didn't date until age 16. "This solved so many of my problems," she said. "It's so much easier to establish the rules long before it matters."
All three sons served full-time missions for the LDS Church. Billy went to Texas, Tommy to Chile and Stuart to Italy. Billy recently graduated from Stanford Law School, is married and has one son. Tommy is a research analyst; he and his wife have one child with another on the way. Stuart, the youngest, is a student at Utah Valley University.
Among the many lessons she learned along the way, Buchanan said people are more capable of doing hard things than they realize; her faith was strengthened by keeping a prayer in her heart and constantly relying on the Lord; and there is no greater fun than being with your children.
The former senior adviser to Pat Buchanan, Tom Tancredo and Mitt Romney hopes her book will change the national dialogue about single moms. She also wants to stress the importance of family values and share a message of optimism and hope for single parents.
"You can raise children as a single parent in a manner that will give them all they need to thrive in this life, but you have to work at it all the time. You have to be there for your kids. It's not just going to happen. You have to do it with a great deal of discipline and great deal of love," Buchanan said.
"You can do it, and you can have an enormous amount of fun doing it. But recognize this is a new life and put your everything into it because you are fighting for your kids here, so you have no choice but to succeed."
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