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Going it alone; In her new book, former U.S. Treasurer Bay Buchanan offers advice to single mothers

Bay Buchanan is going to let you in on a little secret about motherhood.

A woman may be wildly successful in her career -- becoming, say, the treasurer of the United States by age 32.

She may be well-to-do, well-connected and well-dressed.

But throw three boys into the mix -- and make her a single mom, when her marriage ends abruptly -- and suddenly all bets are off.

As Buchanan learned the hard way, being a single mom is challenging -- whether you are treasurer of the country or a minimum-wage worker, and whether you're conservative like Buchanan, or liberal, or anything else.

"I don't care what your philosophy is: If you are a single mother, we have a lot in common," said Buchanan, whose name is Angela Marie but who has gone by the nickname "Bay" since she was a baby.

"There is no question the toughest job out there is being a mom -- no question."

Buchanan, the 37th treasurer of the United States, from 1981 to 1983, the sister of former presidential contender Pat Buchanan and now a senior adviser to GOP hopeful Mitt Romney, has landed square in the middle of the zeitgeist with her new book on single motherhood, "Bay and Her Boys: Unexpected Lessons I Learned as a (Single) Mom" (Da Capo; $25).

Buchanan told The Buffalo News that a turn the current presidential campaign took, to talking about mothers, is a good one.

"It's a very healthy discussion," she said, on the phone from the Washington, D.C., area, where she makes frequent broadcast media appearances.

Because otherwise?

Even Buchanan -- the youngest person ever to serve as U.S. treasurer -- knows what it's like to suffer criticism for your mothering, whether it's because you are single, working or a woman who has chosen to stay home with children.

"There's an attitude that it's not a choice that will give you any insight into life, or the 'real' world," said Buchanan, of motherhood.

"They sort of pat you on the head, but you don't have the same respect as if you had stayed in that law firm, or in the corporate world. And that's so wrong. You should be valued at least equally as the other voices there are. The hardest things I ever learned, I learned as a parent."

Buchanan, now in her early 60s, became a single mother in her 30s after an unexpected divorce.

After her appointment as treasurer by President Ronald Reagan, whose campaign she had worked on, Buchanan married a trial attorney (he was divorced, her Catholic father did not approve of him). They had two sons, Billy and Tommy. She was pregnant with a third son, Stuart, when the marriage ended. Her ex-husband remarried some time after that.

Buchanan said she was prompted to write a book with advice and support for single mothers after seeing firsthand that there was not enough such support out there -- especially from a conservative point of view.

"Millions of single moms want to be really good parents," said Buchanan, who lives in Virginia. "But there's no one telling them how to do that. Now they can hear the other side."

Buchanan said her goal with the book was to fill what she perceived as a gap in what woman are told -- and encouraged to think -- about mothering as a single parent.

After Buchanan's divorce, she found that people from all political camps and backgrounds treated her like she was less than equal -- and said, or implied, that single-parent homes would not do as good a job as two-parent homes in raising kids.

"Neither liberals nor conservatives have done a good job relating to single mothers, in my opinion," said Buchanan.

"Being a single mom, I never heard a positive thing about that. Pundits would say, 'You have to have a Dad.' And I'd say, 'Well, what if you don't? Where's Plan B here, guys?' Sure, that's the best, but what if it's not available to us -- what do we do then?"

In her book, Buchanan offers lessons and advice culled from her personal experiences -- which are painted in vivid, and sometimes hilarious, detail.

For instance: She tells single parents to give up on having living spaces that are adult-oriented. Single moms should make all the living areas of their home kid-centered and family-oriented, she advised. (She said that, after getting many beautiful wedding gifts for her first marriage, she ended up putting them in storage until her three sons were in college.)

"We have to sacrifice for our kids, especially as a single mom," she said.

Another tip: Buchanan writes that when she was a new single parent, including after her ex-husband remarried, she saw how devastated her boys were by any upheaval in their lives. She promised them then that she would never remarry unless they gave their complete approval to the plan. Buchanan did remarry in 2010, long after her sons were grown.

Buchanan did not date as a single mom, she writes in her book.

And, she advises other single mothers not to do that, either, in order not to miss time with their children, or to make them upset.

"I couldn't imagine not spending my Friday nights with my kids," said Buchanan. "The key is, you need to be there with your kids. That is No. 1. Once you make that decision, you have to make every other decision around it."

Along the same lines, Buchanan warns single mothers to expect their homes to be messy and their children to be less than perfect -- at least until they grow up a bit. Buchanan relates with brutal honesty the foibles of her own kids, one of whom was once hauled home by a neighbor for being a neighborhood menace. Another kept such a disastrous bedroom that Buchanan could barely make her way from the doorway to his dresser to deposit clean clothing.

Buchanan, a Roman Catholic by birth who converted to Mormonism in the 1970s, offers another lesson for single moms by telling how she struggled to make the commitment to take her boys to church each week.

No matter how hard it was to get little kids ready and into the car and through a church service, Buchanan writes, the payback in family cohesion and strength is worth it.

Buchanan said that her book is meant to be thought-provoking -- but also hopeful and uplifting.

"I'm a storyteller," said Buchanan. "I've had so many people tell me, 'You've got to write this stuff down.' I always knew I'd write something."

Buchanan's "boys" have grown up and now have their own careers and families.

But the former treasurer said she remains passionate about the situation of mothers, especially single ones, today.

"I don't care how you became a single mom," she said. "I just care that you are successful when you are."



Bay and Her Boys: Unexpected Lessons I Learned as a (Single) Mom

By Bay Buchanan

Da Capo hardcover

256 pages, $25