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.