Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Short Review: Unsung Heroines

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Annie Kassof, a single mother of two in Berkeley, sent us this short review of Unsung Heroines: Single Mothers and the American Dream by Ruth Sidel (University of California Press, 2006, $17.95)

Hunter College professor of sociology Ruth Sidel's newest book, Unsung Heroines: Single Mothers and the American Dream, is a testament to the strength and resiliency of single mothers. In a scholarly introduction full of facts and figures Sidel relates how single mothers, though growing in number, are still stereotyped and stigmatized in our society. Sidel interviewed about fifty single moms of varying ethnic and cultural backgrounds and many walks of life (none of whom became single parents by choice), and in subsequent chapters shares their stories, and this is where the book comes alive. These women, whose stories were transcribed from interviews and written in first person, range from religious moms for whom abortion was not an option, to upper-middle class women whose marriages dissolved; and many others as well. The women encompass a wide age range, although geographically they all live in the New York metropolitan area. Within each woman's narrative Sidel weaves academic or analytical commentary, such as noting "the damaging effects of the low economic status of black men and its impact [on families]…"

What struck me (a single mom myself) the most while reading these women's accounts is that although many of them speak of hardships—primarily emotional and financial—not one of them expresses shame or guilt for raising children without a full-time partner, even if that wasn't the original intent. Sidel's book is a poignant reminder for those of you who aren't single moms that while we may not necessarily think of ourselves as heroines, we are, by and large, doing our best to raise our kids under sometimes challenging and stressful circumstances, in some cases doing the work more successfully than two-parent families.


Sybil Lockhart is the author of Mother in the Middle: A Biologist’s Story of Caring for Parent and Child, a memoir developed from her archived Literary Mama column. She has a Ph.D. in cell and molecular biology and a defunct secondary teaching credential, both of which somehow heighten the pleasure of staying at home with the kids. She has taught French and English to high school students, done research in developmental neurobiology, and lectured at U.C. Berkeley. Her writing has appeared in Brandeis University’s Artemis Magazine, The Journal of Neuroscience, The Journal of Neurobiology, the Bay Area’s Neighborhood Parents Network Newsletter, and Books and Babies: Writing About Motherhood. One of her children’s stories is forthcoming in Ladybug. Sybil lives in Berkeley, California with her two daughters.


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