Saturday, November 9, 2013

Single Parenting: It's about the women?

So a while ago, I wrote a post in which I said that the key to the problem of children born into single-parent homes is the men: women get the rewards of motherhood, plus state and social services supports, so their motivation to avoid pregnancy is small compared to a man who genuinely believes he's going to lose half his income for the next 18 years.

But on the other hand -- there are very clear obstacles to demanding men to step up, in our present-day culture and legal system.

Chief among them is the issue of abortion. Up until the child is born (based on the broad definition of health in Doe v. Boulton), an expectant mother may get an abortion -- thus making her own decision not to "step up." And, of course, the expectant father has no say in the decision. But as soon as the baby is born, we expect him to make a commitment to the child in a way that, up to this point, hadn't been demanded of the mother. It's very difficult to deliver this message -- a woman has "choice" but a man does not, once the child is conceived -- and expect the father to, in all cases, fully accept this obligation.

On top of this -- "society" (that is, politicians, leaders of political and social organizations, pundits, decision-makers of all kind -- has made it taboo to say that a child needs a father. Sociologists come out with studies demonstrating that children raised by two gay or lesbian parents are no worse off than those raised by a married mother and father (so far as I know, these studies are all of self-selected same-sex couple volunteers, thus deficient in the requirements for a valid random sample), and the upper middle-class Murphy Browns, choosing to conceive with a sperm-donor father, are equally insistent that their children are not being deprived to any meaningful degree due to the lack of a father in their lives.

How can we tell a man that his active love and care of his child is important for that child's well-being when so many groups, and Experts, and Powers That Be, in general, insist that it's not, that he offers nothing special that can't be replaced by an uncle, family friend, or just a second mother?

And if the man, as father, is nothing special, we're left with an insistence that he parent because he's obliged -- and yet that obligation is so contingent. If the mother aborts, the obligation is gone. If she choses to raise the child on her own (either absolving him of responsibility or never telling him in the first place), the obligation is no more -- unless she applies for welfare, at any rate. How can we expect a man to take the parenting obligation seriously if he's told that he's replaceable, and that the obligation is so dependent on the mother's own decision?

So, really, the only way to reasonably expect men to step up is if they're consistently told that their parenting role is important and necessary. And we can't get from here to there, while at the same time saying, "there's nothing wrong with a woman having a child without a father."

Which means we're back to the fact that we, as a society, have to be able to say: "don't get pregnant unless you're married" and even: "don't do things which have a measurable probability of getting pregnant unless you're married." But we can't. It's practically unthinkable. It's unjustly imposing a fanatical Christian morality. Etc.

Not long ago, Illinois passed a law mandating that any sex ed class include "comprehensive" education rather than having the option of an "abstainence-only" approach. What this means in practice isn't entirely clear -- the Chicago Public Schools has online a policy document which briefly lists the curriculum in each grade (but confusingly: "causes of HIV transmission" are included in 4th grade but "human reproduction" in 5th grade -- does this mean that children learn about sex as a cause of disease earlier than they learn about sex as the cause of pregnancy?) For teens, they offer the Teen Outreach Program: "a nine-month curriculum that addresses such topics as relationships, peer pressure, decision making, values clarification, goal-setting, adolescent development, and sexual health." One suspects that "values clarification" means the same kind of "wait until you're ready before you have sex" instruction promoted by Planned Parenthood and similar organizations.

I find myself wondering whether teens are hearing from anyone the instruction "wait until you're married to have children" (or the parallel instruction "to have sex"). "Wait until you're mature enough" is hardly an effective message for teens who are well-known for overestimating their maturity level -- and there's a substantial contingent of "progressives" who aren't particularly troubled by teen sex in any case, if they're perfectly comfortable with long-term contraception (implants) and abortion as back-up birth control in any case. At best, one suspects that they're hearing "wait until you've finished your education" or the like. Are they even hearing, "wait for someone who would be a responsible parent?" Unlikely.

So, look, I still don't have an answer . . . maybe next time!


  1. Fathers matter, and I think at some level, everyone knows this, even if they publicly deny it. I am a male, and I grew up in a traditional two parent home, but here is a hard truth from a male perspective- though I loved my mother dearly, I simply did not respect her authority over me after about age seven or so, and it would not have mattered one bit if she had been a stern but fair disciplinarian (she was fair, but she was loving and kind-hearted). It was my father from whom I learned to control my baser impulses, and it was from him that I eventually learned how to treat and respect the women in my life in addition to how to relate to other men. I can tell you emphatically that if he had not been there, I would certainly have turned out to be a less dependable, less self-controlled, and a more self-centered person- exactly the kinds of pathologies I see in men who were raised solely by their mothers.

    I can't really say what it is females got from having a father since I don't have first hand experience of this, but I doubt it is insignificant.

  2. Don't know if this is something you've seen before, but lots of correlations between bad outcomes and lack of father:


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