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People Let Me Tell You ‘Bout Children Of ‘Single Parents’

Periodically a new study is published about the affects of single parenting on children. The results (either pursued or emphasized) are pretty much tied to the times. Studies today often highlight the economic hardship and handicap of single parenting. When pop-psychology was king (I’m okay, you’re okay, anyone?) the happiness of the child and later social adjustment were measured. The common thread in most of these studies is; “How does the child fare later on?” Very few studies, whether looking to support the researcher’s thoughts on money and happiness or not, ever looked beyond a headcount. It is rare to see a study that takes into consideration (or has any interest in) what the actual parenting situation is for the child.

“Child of a single parent” can have multiple meanings, among them are; 1) the parent could be recently widowed and the child was raised by two parents at some point or 2) the parent might be divorced and there is a non-custodial parent very much involved in the child’s life. There are studies that might even “overlook” the fact that non-married people (of the same gender or not) are raising a child together, and consider the child to be of a single parent. Certainly many researchers reporting on the permanent scarring and emotional handicap of parents’ divorcing never discuss remarriage. “A child of divorce” could easily be raised by two parents in the home if there is a remarriage. The actual details of a child’s upbringing and parentage seem too complex for these studies. A cynic would deduce that these studies exist to reinforce a researchers’ interest in making people feel badly about their life. A less cynical person would theorize that these broad generalizations are useful to someone somewhere.

There is a recent trend of people intentionally parenting alone. Tragedy has not befallen them nor has abandonment. These people, for various reasons have pursued single parenthood. Within this category alone, are variations that might boggle the average social researcher. These single parents may be men or women of any and every socio-economic background and age. They may have adopted babies or hard to place children. They may have become pregnant (more than once) with a partner they did not marry. They may have orchestrated a pregnancy (either genetically related or not) with medical assistance. Clearly there are more meaningful factors in these child’s future outcomes than how many adults are in the home. Should the biological child of a single 16 year old parent be seen as “starting from the same place” as the adopted child of a 50 year old? Maybe.

As a culture we’ve progressed in how we define ‘family.’ At the same time marriage is becoming more inclusive it is also becoming less relevant for others. Remarriage, blended families, birth parents, and donor parents are all in the mix now. Is there a way to talk about children of single parents in any meaningful way? Is it even meaningful to try? I think we’d all agree that the more caring, consistent and attentive adults in a child’s life the better. Most of us would also agree that a child who grows up in a home with an emphasis on education will do better in school. Money will always matter, and a child whose families’ financial life is precarious will probably not do as well as one raised in a financially stable home. What more do we need to know?

 
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Posted by on July 19, 2012 in Childhood, Cultural Critique

 

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I Got You Babe

Women have been having babies on their own since the dawn of time.  (Having them, not making them.)  It’s not really anybody’s business, least of all mine.  But that would never stand in the way of me wondering why there’s been such a surge in the incidents lately.  I wondered for awhile if celebrity single motherhood had seeped into mainstream culture.  I also wondered if science had spawned the later-in-life-oh-I-should-probably-get-one-of-those upswing.  But both of those trends speak to a kind of intent on the part of the woman that does not necessarily jive with the recent statistics.

Most of the babies had outside of marriage are being born to women under 30 without a college degree.  About 40% of the babies in this country are born to single women.  That’s a lot of babies.  The popular theory is that marriage is seen as a luxury item, a step up if you will.  If the baby’s father is not in a position to be a solid marriage partner, the woman parents alone.  Logical on the face of it, no?

But what does it mean to be having sex with a man (at least once) who you find unsuitable?  One young woman refers to having to buy her boyfriend’s cigarettes for him, such is the degree of his uselessness.  It would be one thing if this smoking man had been a one time indiscretion, but this is a man she sees fit to seriously date.  Why?  The explanations could be plentiful and varied, but none leave me confident as to her future.  Now we add to the mix a baby, an expensive all-consuming baby.  Born to a mother who is not formally educated and may not have marketable job skills.  You see where this is going, no?

Marriage, like it or not, provides protection, both for the spouses and the children.  While states in our nation are waging a fight for equal marriage, there are locations in which heterosexuals have lost interest in the institution. How do we explain a vocal percentage of the gay and lesbian community rallying for something a large swath of the working class has eschewed?  And why are the single parent births so high within the working class?

There is no data to suggest (or dispute) that these women under 30 are living with their baby’s father in a lifelong committed relationships.  One assumes that these women are raising their child alone.  If marriage occurs at some time in the future, it won’t be viewed as a path to anything (such as parenthood) but as an end point.  Generations ago, middle class women went off to college in hopes of obtaining an M.R.S., and working class women hoped for a ring to wear at their high school graduation.  Getting married was the mark of adulthood (for men and women) of all classes.  Something has happened and now having a baby is that mark.  A generation raised on instant gratification can’t be the reason.  It’s far more fun to be a bride than to be a young single mother.  Economics doesn’t explain much either, as it is far more expensive for a mother and father to live separately than together.  Certainly it’s not a morality issue, as people from all classes dabble in an around the edges of their own morality.  It couldn’t be a perceived lack of educational opportunities, as there never have been so many remote ways to obtain a degree.

Turning this issue around and around, I am still left pondering the woman in a relationship with a man who does not have the wherewithal to purchase his own cigarettes.  Somewhere in there lies the answer.

 
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Posted by on February 18, 2012 in Cultural Critique

 

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