The Strength of Solo Moms and Tools for Educational Success

The Strength of Solo Moms and Tools for Educational Success

An interview with Mark Barajas about being raised by a Solo Mom

Mark Barajas is a predoctoral psychology intern at the University of California, Berkeley, and a doctoral candidate in counseling psychology at Western Michigan University. Mika Yamamoto, a former Solo Mom, had a chance to speak with Mark Barajas about his article, “Academic Achievement of Children in Single Parent Homes: A Critical Review” in The Hilltop Review. In the article, he states that existing research shows that children of single-family homes have lower GPAs, standardized test scores, and high school graduation rates. However, there are problems with the way this data has been collected, including inappropriate methodology, poor statistical tools, lack of subject diversity, and researchers’ bias. Moreover, previous research does not tease out the fact that socioeconomic status is the main predictor of educational success. He recommends that future research incorporate diversity of subjects and a focus on family strengths.

Q: Can you tell us what you mean by “family strengths of single-parent families”?

A: For example, my mother was a single teen mother. She was 15 when she got pregnant and had just turned 16 when she had me. Yet she managed to graduate high school on time. The photo above is my mom and I in her yearbook. On her graduation day she walked across the stage carrying me in her arms. She was a hard worker, an academic, and smart. My maternal grandparents were immigrants from Mexico, and academic achievement was valued. We benefited from public assistance, used the funds appropriately, and transitioned off after a few years. One of the early memories I have is of my mom taking me to preschool on the bus close to the junior college she was attending at the time. We had to take three buses to get there, but we still tell stories about using the public transportation in Sacramento, [California]. Academic support stood out to me from that time. At home, my mother would be doing homework, my grandparents would be studying for the citizenship tests, and I would be reading a book. My family demonstrated to me that education was a way to value and improve ourselves so that we could give back to others. I also learned the importance of [having] a [strong] work ethic, supporting each other, and valuing things that were not flashy. I watched my mother shop at thrift shops. We enjoyed things that were cheap or free, like going to the museum on a free admission day or going to the park.

Q: Existing research seems to focus on the deficiencies of single-parent families but none of the strengths. Why do you think that is?

A: Some of it has to do with the fact that quantifiable data is easier to find. You can track GPAs and standardized test scores. However, when we only focus on these things, the richness of the experience is lost. Not to mention that there is little correlation between SATs and how well a student does in school.

Q: What advice and insights would you give Solo Moms based on your personal, professional, and academic experience?


  1. The relationship between the parent and child is crucial. The authoritative style—high expectations and high support—is important. For example, I knew that my mother had high expectations of me as a student and as a human being. But I also knew that if I made a mistake or if I needed help, she would always be there for me and support me in any way I needed.
  2. “Do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t work. So if you want your child to value education, then you also have to model it. I watched my mother, my grandparents, and my aunts and uncles value learning.
  3. Community is important. I grew up in a typical multigenerational Latino home with grandparents, aunts, and uncles. My mother did a lot, but she did not do it without support. My grandfather became a father figure for me.
  4. The child must have a designated place to do homework.
  5. There should also be boundaries and rewards. In my case, one boundary was that I had to do half my homework before I went out to play. After dinner, I had to do the other half of my homework.
  6. Reading is important. Read to your children, but also let them see you read. I watched my mother read.

Q: In the conclusion of your article, you write, “Identifying the intuitive skills my mother and other successful single parents have, and sharing those best practices with single parents in need can help close the academic achievement gap of children from single-parent homes.” How do you envision this happening?

A: If good research were done on the strengths of the single-parent families, we’d have a better understanding of what works. Then we can take that information to where single parents go: social and work arenas, single-parent programs, kindergartens, etc. In this way, we could create a support system where the real experts—the single mothers—learn from each other.

Photo Credit: Mark Barajas

Mika Yamamoto, ESME's Guide for Public Assistance, has successfully nurtured two children as a Solo Mom and now hopes to achieve the same results as a plant nanny.

Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.

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