Hooray! At least I finally have an explanation for why my daughter continually poops her pants…
The U.K.’s Telegraph reports that “12 per cent of children brought up by one parent displayed behavioural problems by the age of seven, it was disclosed, compared with just six per cent of youngsters raised by both natural parents.” This based on research conducted on 14,000 British children born between 2000 and 2002, as part of the Millennium Cohort Study.
Researchers found that “family make-up, parental qualifications and household income had a major effect on children’s behaviour at a young age, which could have damaging long-term consequences.” And in a separate analysis, “researchers also discovered that children with younger mothers had a much more difficult start in life than those with mothers over 30.”
But of course, so often, all of these things go hand in hand. A young girl gets pregnant at let’s say 20. She drops out of college (if she was going at all), tries living with her boyfriend. They both work part-time, so they don’t have much money. They argue because they’re broke, which leads to a break-up. The young girl, now 21 or 22, lives alone, trying to raise her child. The child has a “difficult start in life” as a result, which leads people like Lisa Calderwood from London University’s Institute of Education to say, “Living apart from natural fathers can be associated with poverty and negative outcomes for children.”
Okay, but here’s the thing. How is it that “living apart from natural fathers” is automatically the reason that children in the scenario I described above could potentially wind up troubled? There’s some kind of faulty logic working here. If a child’s natural father is unemployed or abusive, his presence does not automatically change that child’s life circumstances for the better. In these situations, it’s ridiculous to say that the presence of a child’s biological father functions as some kind of Deus Ex Machina, made to fix everything up neat and tidy at the end of the play.
You might think it natural and obvious that children raised by both of their biological parents have the best advantages in life. Before I started continually consuming parenting studies, I would have guessed that, too. But studies have shown that it’s actually lesbian couples who make the best parents. Their kids are the smartest and best behaved on the block. So what kind of stone-age reasoning is being applied here? It doesn’t take a genius to realize that a child needs – above all else – a parent and/or parents and/or family members and friends who truly, deeply love him/her and have his/her best interests at heart. That’s it. You can’t convince me that the child of a marriage betrayed but intact or a child living in the presence of an abusive relationship is “better behaved” than a child raised by a single mother – or single father, for that matter. Or Grandparent, Aunt, Uncle or even a family friend. When will we stop heralding the hetero nuclear family over all else at all costs?
I write this post from a unique vantage point – and not just because I’m divorced. Yes, I consider myself a single mother, because I’m an unmarried woman with a child. But I have plenty of help in raising my daughter. My mother is virtually omnipresent in our lives, and my daughter has a very strong relationship with her father. This study mentions nothing about the distinction between children who have no contact with their father, some contact with their father, 50/50 contact with their father, etc., nor does it explicitly state that single mothers are the ones raising these poorly behaved, psychologically scarred monkeys – which is why Calderwood’s comment incenses me. The researchers use the term “single parent” in this particular study – but the media conflated this study with previous uncited studies that “found children raised by lone mothers are likely to have less economic security, less attention and guidance and more likely to live in deprived areas,” thus maternalizing this issue. Single Dads are out there, to be sure, and I bet they see their children suffering in various and perhaps different ways from whatever lack of exposure they have to their mothers, as well.
The article also goes out of its way to demonize step-parents, saying that 15% of stepchildren were likely to be badly behaved and that children of younger mothers “were far less likely to have married parents and more than seven times as likely to have step fathers.” There are so many problems with just these two facts I’m not sure where to begin. First of all, the tone here implies that it is the very and sole fault of the young mothers referred to that they are unmarried, which is ridiculous. Secondly, children of young mothers are seven times more likely to have step fathers than who? Children with married biological parents? Well, duh. Finally, another of my life circumstances providing me with a unique vantage point here is that I am the daughter of a step-father. I’ve never met my biological father (which I think I read somewhere along the line makes me more prone to divorce – so – it’s not my fault my marriage didn’t work out, right?). Because my Dad died abruptly in 2008, I knew him for only 27 years, but he has had a more lasting and positive impact on my life than anyone else I’ve ever met. My biological father, on the other hand, once called me when I was in high school – because he got my number from some friends he’d sold pot to. So yeah.
Now let’s get down to brass tacks here, numbers-wise. We’re talking 12% of kids raised by single parents who are “problem children” vs. 6% raised by both biological parents. That doesn’t seem hugely indicative of a problem with single parents to me. If it were 50% vs. 6% or even 30% vs. 6%, maybe. But six percentage points difference? Hardly. It bears mentioning, too, that “behavioural problems were less likely among children living in families with higher levels of parental qualifications.” Of course. Because a 35-year-old woman with a stable career and decent income who chooses to get pregnant via a sperm donor is obviously going to feel more confident and equipped to raise a child than an 18-year-old who is just hoping to finish high school. Which is, by the way, not to say that all 18-year-old mothers don’t know what they’re doing or can’t handle the responsibility of having a child. Any woman, at any age, can wind up a good or bad or flawed parent. A person’s ability to parent, like most other things in life, is a reflection of how dedicated that parent is to their task.
I have a 5-year-old who, in addition to being a champion pants-pooper, also likes to stay up til all hours and read and write and sing 4-minute long socially conscious folk songs that she knows all the lyrics to… so, I hardly get any sleep at night. She’s so poorly behaved, that kid of mine! She’s always asking questions about science in the middle of the dinner we eat together every night at the table with no distractions as a family, and she’s always bugging me, asking me to color with her and tell her jokes. (You know, cuz she loves me so much. Annoying!) If only I was stuck in a sham relationship with a deceit-filled man and screaming all the time because I knew in my heart I was saddled with a sociopath but was being manipulated at every turn! That sounds like a dream. I’m sure if I risked my mental health in order to maintain the hetero-nuclear status quo that my daughter would really be blossoming. But, you know me! Always looking out for number one. And thanks to my degenerate kid’s pooping problem, number two, too.