Since the new statistics arrived suggesting that the numbers of unmarried women having children are rising–and that these women are sometimes having children alone by choice–the tsk-tskers have been having a field day.
Latest among them is unmarried, not-mother, Cathy Young of the Boston Globe, who decries the lack of social opprobrium against single women as “unfeminist” seeing as it presumes child rearing to be women’s work (if it does indeed, which I’d argue, it does not).
I do find her questions about where the unmarried (at least to these mothers) fathers of unmarried women’s children are, both in reality and in the discourse about the issue, to be refreshing. I think it is indeed decidedly unfeminist to go on and on about women and children these days with nary a reference to the men who, let’s face it, make single motherhood possible in the first place.
But her conclusion that because children with two parents continue to fare better in research than children with only one, society should get back to “encouraging” marriage between people who’ve procreated is simplistic, short-sighted and posits a red herring in place of the real issue.
The research shows that children with two parents fare better than those with one, not that children with parents who are married to each other fare best. Marriage per se does not provide a child with a functional parent and lack of a marriage certificate does not deprive a child of one. Rather, even in this recent research, it was found that a sizeable percentage of “unmarried” mothers are not, in fact single mothers, but mothers who co-parent with their children’s fathers either in the same home without benefit of marriage or in separate homes.
As for mothers who choose to to go it alone via unknown or at least uninvolved “fathers” whether sperm donors, ex-boyfriends or one-night stands, those children need not be deprived of the benefits of a multiple-parent home just because their mothers are not married. There are many ways to raise children these days including living in various forms of community or cooperation with others, including extended family arrangements.
I also have to wonder what percentage of these births to “unwed” mothers might have been to lesbian couples, whom most states do not allow to appear together on a child’s original birth certificate. (Birth certificates were used as the basis for the study.) Again, these are not really single mothers. (And am I the only one whose irony censor is bleeping away about the fact the on the one hand, we are told to encourage marriage among “unwed” mothers and on the other we are told that lesbians with a mad, raging desire to marry and support one another’s children can’t be allowed to do so?)
Whatever the reasons for the growing number of children born to women not married to their genetic fathers, such children should not be discriminated against and neither should their mothers. Rather than pulling out the rather musty notion that paternalism, and/or downright patriarchy is what these women and their children need, why not directly open our society’s resources to benefit these families? How? Universal healthcare access, generous family leave benefits to workers, better quality free schooling, and family law that recognizes families as they are rather than wishing for what they never were. Because regardless of how much society encourages marriage among parents, women will continue to get pregnant and bear children outside of marriage, just as they have from time immemorial. All the encouragement in the world will not make it go away.
A mother and her child is not a defective family unit. It’s just a family unit. Period. Recognizing that is the first step in making the road smoother for such families and most importantly, the many, many children growing up within them.
What You Learn When Your Parents’ Marriage Sucks (at Lemondrop)