In Defense of Reason (Yes, It Really IS Hard To Be A Single Parent)

I generally skew liberal, or at least “left of center.” But this Op-ed, “In Defense of Single Mothers,” from the New York Times, makes my blood boil in a most conservative way. To quote my friend, the psychologist and best-selling author, Daniel Gilbert, “Anyone who says, ‘I’m not a huge believer in studies’ shouldn’t be invited to write for the New York Times.”

Here’s Ms. Roiphe in her own words:

All of the liberal concern about single motherhood might more usefully be channeled into protecting single mothers, rather than the elaborate clucking and exquisite condescension that get us nowhere. Attention should be paid to the serious underlying economic inequities, without the colorful surface distraction of concerned or judgmental prurience. Let’s abandon the fundamentally frothy question of who is wearing a ring.

Actually, let’s not, shall we? This screed is devoid of reason. It is irresponsible and not reality-based. There is no planet in our universe where being a single parent is the easy choice. For most women, it is unbearably hard and puts children at heightened financial, cognitive, emotional, and even physical risk. To return to our discussion of risk factors from earlier posts, does this mean that all children of single parents will fare poorly? Certainly not. I know wonderfully caring and successful single mothers, and you probably do too.

But Katie Roiphe’s glib claim that our societal concern about single motherhood reflects merely a ‘lack of imagination’ about the full panoply of possible family configurations would be insulting if it weren’t so stupid. Yes, there are single mothers, by choice or fate, who provide a great upbringing for their kids. Of course there are terrific single mothers who provide financially for their kids and fill their lives with the love and support children need. And of course there are plenty of unbelievably crappy two-parent households. (Do we really even have to state these foolish caveats?) But it’s not ‘prurient,’ as Roiphe claims, to worry A LOT about a society where poor women without college degrees are having children on their own at an alarmingly rapid clip and fathers are getting the message that it’s totally cool to opt out and maybe  pay a little child support (or not) and call it a day. We have a problem if this concern constitutes “elaborate clucking” and “exquisite condescension.”

I agree that our economy puts many people at risk, and such people – including single mothers – may need a helping hand. I also agree that we should be concerned about income inequality. (Frankly, that straw man is getting old. Who isn’t worried about this?) But  we’re living on Fantasy Island if we think that our economy should be designed around the goal of normalizing single parenthood.

About ErikaChristakis

Yale Lecturer in early childhood education/Licensed teacher/Former preschool director and Harvard College house master/some-time journalist. In possession of: unmarketable bachelor’s degree (Harvard, anthropology), semi-marketable graduate degrees (public health, education…). Rewarding career at the intersection of family, society, and schools (including long stint in parenting vortex). Forging a new path to connect all of the above.
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3 Responses to In Defense of Reason (Yes, It Really IS Hard To Be A Single Parent)

  1. Peter says:

    I read the op-ed. I particularly liked this at the end: “Young men need jobs so they can pay child support and contribute more meaningfully to the households they are living in.” Young men need jobs so they can pay child support? Really? I’m glad she recognizes all the tools at her disposal.

    Then: “The real menace to America’s children is not single mothers, or unmarried or gay parents, but an economy that stokes an unconscionable divide between the rich and the not rich.”

    What about bad parenting decisions? Like raising two kids who have two separate fathers? I think that’s a pretty big threat. It might work out great, but it’s still a recipe for a very difficult living situation for everyone involved. THAT’S society’s issue: that women are putting their kids into difficult situations, and the whole family needs a lot more support than people want to help provide.

    I agree with her on the point that the economy needs to be altered. If you are divorced or widowed, childcare suddenly becomes even more difficult and expensive. If you’re a single mom–especially twice by two different men–no one else in society made that choice except you. You sabotaged your own future by failing to take precautions, and/or by choosing to have a child when you weren’t ready. That doesn’t earn my sympathy.

    • Thanks for your feedback. I found so many things problematic about that op-ed, particularly the way she lumped all atypical family structures together in one big bunch. It was a clever way of trying to make the ‘prurient,’ ‘clucking’ etc scolds like me sound like foolish bigots. Personally, I think there is a world of difference between a family headed by two committed gay parents living/raising children together and the chaotic situation (by her own description) of single motherhood with children by two different fathers living in separate households.

      I wonder how her children will narrate their life experience? Will they remember it as groovy and loved-up as she claims? Or will it seem to them, in retrospect or possibly even in real time, as confusing and stressful? Not that children of two-parent families don’t have their grievances, of course! (You should talk to mine!)

  2. Jay Maybruck says:

    Dear Erika,

    Modern, inter-related global economic policies are not “designed.” This issue is far more complex then you are presenting it. The simplest part of the parenting equation is the FACT we fail to prepare most parents for parenthood, just as we fail to prepare our children to be mentally emotionally healthy, educated human beings who know they need continuously learn.

    As you become bored with conversation pertaining to the enormous income inequality which currently exists, (about 1% of the people on this planet control 99% of all wealth) and join one of your above readers in having little sympathy for unprepared mothers, ask yourself how in the name of God Coal Miners in West Virginia could possibly applaud Mitt Romney? How in the world could coal miner’s support the Ryan Budget? Good Christians mostly I have little doubt. A sentence fragment I have no doubt. Anyone making under a few million dollars a year or less and anyone who makes more who is a moral human being cannot sanely vote for Romney. Virtually every Romney policy tendency, (he has few real policies in specific), is NOT IN THE BEST INTERESTS OF AT LEAST 98% of all Americans. HOW IS THIS ELECTION CLOSE?

    The answer to the above is not all that complicated: Our electorate consists primarily of individuals who know very little and think they know a great deal. I suspect I could out debate Paul Ryan on economic history and theory and I am not competent in this field of study.

    What is coming to fruition, at least partially, in November, began before you were born. You are far superior to me in the area of being able to write well. The economics of Paul Ryan and the “New Republican” Tea Party has been proven flawed by US 20th century economic history, as well as recent so called “Austerity Measures” in developed European nations over the past decade. There is no such thing as instantaneous results to any sound economic policy. There are, however, balanced sound economic models and policies which will work well in the United States. I suspect Romney and Ryan intend to do the anti-thesis of what is effective and moral.

    I strongly suggest to you and your readers that defeating Romney is a pivitol need for the survival of our Democracy and way of life. There are not more then 80 days left before the election. I promise each of you that if you do a bit of reaserach, you can come up with over 80 case specific economic policy issues which President Obama is far more capable of grasping and implementing then his billionaire opponents. About 50 billionaires to be more specific.
    Please focus NOW in what you post on matters on factual election import.

    Let me get you started: 1) Money and corruption in politics 2) A massive shift of weath from the middle class to the top 1% through the use of a rigged tax code.(3) Clear and unabiguous voter supression efforts by Republicans at the state level in 37 states 4) The fact that 20-30 years from now, if we do not properly fund Education and Healcare and insure equity of quality in these areas NOW for our current youth, it will cost us more then we can pay in the longrun. It would be fiscally cheaper to provide free healthcare to all those with incomes less then around $100,000 a year or less, then it would be to preserve the staus quo. How many times can one go to the doctor for the price of one Emegency Room visit?

    I assure you that the answer to the above question is acertainable with a reasonable degree of accuracy and research.

    The answer is not merely “Blowing in the Wind.”

    ( By the way Bob Dylan is releasing a new studio album in September. I have heard a few cuts myself and those in the know say this album is a good one. Thank you Bob. I wanted at least one more album of quality songs before I die. Note I said at least. Keep writing Sir.)

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