Nicole Sands mothered her partner Michelle's sons Connor, then 15, and Adam, 18, ever since they became a family 13 years before. She remembered a time when Connor, then in first grade, came home in tears but wasn't able to tell Nicole what the problem was. Later in the evening, when Connor had apparently forgotten his distress, Nicole received a phone call from another parent in the class who explained the mystery. "Connor had been asked to draw a picture," Nicole recalled. "They were making number books, with a drawing on each page representing a number. For page three, the teacher asked them to draw their family, their two parents and themselves. Three. So Connor drew me, his mom Michelle, and himself. When he showed it to his teacher, she said, 'That's not what I mean. Everybody has one mother and one father. Give me that picture. Do it again.' The other children in the class protested that the picture really did represent Connor's family, but the teacher wouldn't listen. So Connor cried."
The children understood what so many do not, that Connor's family was every bit as valid as a mother-father family. "We had a judge in family court tell us that the boys have a right to spend time with a real family, meaning their biological father and his wife, even though they had moved out of the country and lived abroad," Nicole told me. But their real family -- Nicole, her partner, and their two sons -- was already firmly established. "We're the ones who are there. I think the time you spend with the boys is hugely important in being a good parent. Just being around. Those drives to and from school are great opportunities for talking about stuff."
That these two women are doing a fine job raising their sons to be thoughtful, responsible adults is not in doubt. "We were on the streetcar, going downtown to look at something at the Museum of Modern Art," Nicole recalled. "It was a little crowded. Michelle and I were in one of those front rows right by the little booth where the driver sits. The glass in front of us was reflective enough so we could see our teenage sons a couple of seats behind us. She and I were talking. We came to a stop, the door opened, and two older women got on. I saw the boys in the glass, and without saying a word to each other or looking to us for guidance or anything, they just both got up and immediately gave their seats to these two older women. I looked at Michelle, and we could tell that we were both thinking how proud we were of those two boys."
Excerpted from "Raising Boys Without Men: How Maverick Moms Are Creating the Next Generation of Exceptional Men," by Peggy Drexler, Linden Gross. Published by Rodale Books. © 2005 by Peggy Drexler and Linden Gross.