Kids of unmarried parents, according to all of those studies (of rich moms and poor, educated moms and not-so), are supposed to be failures. They are supposed to abuse drugs, get pregnant, and end up in prison rather than grad school. One-fourth of them are supposed to experience the kind of emotional havoc that renders them useless forever. There is of course no data suggesting that these particular kids might have had similar paths regardless of the number of adults sleeping down the hall. But beyond that there is also the beauty that emerges from the strain, the impediments, even the sometimes terrifying knowledge that their parents might fail them. No single mom wants to fail them—provide less, teach less, support less, be less—but it is in our minds that we might. So we struggle, and over the long term, we impart to our children that struggle can be good. This is something they know intimately.

First, the easy lessons: money. Work hard for it. Save it. Choose what to spend it on. My kids have seen me write for a living at home, tutor, teach classes, and sew purses at the kitchen table so that I could be available to them after school. They know that I could earn more as a “regular” employee, but they’ve figured out how to assess the value of each option and of other things. They never ask for anything that costs a lot. They thank me for making dinner each night. When they were in elementary school, they put $124.58 in an envelope and gave it to me. It was everything that they had saved. I took one of the dollars and wrote on it: “This is my birthday present from my wonderful daughters who are selfless and sincere and my very special comrades.” I gave the rest back to them and told them not to ever worry. The bill is in a frame on a bookshelf by my desk.