Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Single Mother Stigma Part 2

As the product of a single mother, I take issue with people taking issue with single mothers. However, arguing against single mother stigma is particularly difficult when said negative rhetoric finds strength in statistics. According to a 1997 Census Brief, “Children with Single Parents - How They Fair”, data confirms the stereotype that low-income parents tend to be single is true: two-thirds are. The other side of that statistics is that one-third of all single mothers live below the poverty line. This translates to nearly 6 of 10 children with only their mothers were near (or below) the poverty line. Project Single Mom finds that the condition is more acute for black single mothers, with 38 percent, or 1.2 million of 3.1 million black single mothers raise families below the poverty line. A recent NY Times article reports that marriage provides a " profound advantage in income and nurturing time, and makes their children statistically more likely to finish college, find good jobs and form stable marriages."(Further, it finds that privileged individuals are able to maintain their privilege through the benefits of marriage.) In many ways these statistics find that children living with two parents have multitude of advantages over those in single parent households.

On August 19, 2008, Neal Boortz used U.S. Census Bureau statistics to support his categorization of “single mothers receiving public assistance” as “welfare broodmares” lacking values, morals and ethics. (A broodmare is a female horse kept for breeding.) Ann Coulter also takes these statistics to categorize single mothers as selfish and dangerous to society. In her book, Guilty: Liberal “Victims” and Their Assault on America, she spends a whole chapter apostatizing against the terrible single mother, entitled “Victim of a crime? Thank a Single Mother." She argues that single mothers are responsible for raising criminals and American moral blight, and she likes to refer to children of divorce as "future strippers." The following is a list of direct quotes from her book of the statistics she uses to validate her claim that single mothers (both unwed or divorced) not only "cost the US taxpayer $112 billion every year," but also plague our entire society:
  • Controlling for socioeconomic status, race, and place of residence, the strongest predictor of whether a person will end up in prison is that he was raised by a single parent.
  • By 1996, 70 % of inmates in state juvenile detention centers serving long-term sentences were raised by single mothers.
  • 72% of juvenile murderers and 60% of rapists come from single-mother homes.
  • 70% percent of teenage births, dropouts, suicides, runaways, juvenile delinquents, and child murderers involve children raised by single mothers.
  • Girls raised without fathers are more sexually promiscuous and more likely to end up divorced.
  • A 1990 study by the Progressive Policy Institute showed that after controlling for single motherhood, the difference between black and white crime rates disappeared.
She sums these statistics as saying that "look at almost any societal problem and you'll find it is really a problem of single mothers." She believes that single mothers who keep their children are selfish and should put their children up for adoption to dual parents.

People, such as this blogger, find Coulter's statistics as certifiable evidence that "as a society, we need to understand: staying in marriage, even a bad marriage, is better for the children except in the most egregious cases because single parents, even conscientious, well meaning single parents, generally don’t do as good a job raising their children as two parent families." This rhetoric is not only offensive but also defies basic logic. Enduring a terrible marriage because it doesn't reach a level of "egregious" special exceptions creates unhappy parents, which affects not only their life but also their interactions with their children. Berit Brogaard further counters, "women who divorce sometimes find that they have more time for the kids after the divorce. When you no longer have to devote time to a marriage, that time can be spent with the kids."

There are two extremes of single mother bias. On one end, there are the Coulters of the world who hold the notion that single mothers are the root of societal evils. On the other end of the spectrum, there are those who are highly uncomfortable with this demonizing opinion but ultimately agree that while there is nothing "wrong" with single mothers, ultimately, two parents are undoubtedly better than one. Though one is more toxic than the other, both are troubling. Lindsay Cross reminds us that we should not harp too much on statistics, as we may lose the individual stories in these "broad strokes" and forget that while marital status may impact individuals, individuals are certainly not dependent on it. After all, there are many successful people in every part of society who were raised by single parents (the past two of three US Presidents for example). Bella DePaula, PhD unpacks some of the statistics in her book, in a chapter titled “Singled Out.” For example, while children of single parents have higher substance problems, she notes that the statistic is only 1.2% more than that of the children of two biological parents. That nominal difference is " not a very big return on twice the love, attention, and resources." Further, she notes that if we really want to talk about the ideal number, children do best when there are three parents - two parents and a grandparent. Problems with their grades or with their siblings or friends depended not on having two parents but "on whether there was a lot of conflict within families, high levels of disagreements between parents, or endless arguments between parents and kids." Single parents were also found to be friendlier to their children and spent more time with their extended families. In my opinion, children of single parents are more independent.

Having a good partner in life can be beneficial in many ways including parenting. It can provide an extra income, extra hand, shared responsibility, and a way to keep your sanity. We all need support networks; after all it does take a village. I was raised by a wonderful mother, various family members, terrific day care, passionate babysitters, leaders in after-school care, summer camp, and of course inspiring teachers. Things were economically difficult at times, but I was never poor when it came to love, support, and my education. The U.S. society is structured in a way that disadvantages women, and mothers even more so. Single mothers simply feel an intensification of the societal barriers all women face. If we had paid maternity leave, better after school care, and availability to go yet affordable childcare (to name a few), single motherhood would most certainly not drive these kinds of statistics. If it takes a village to raise children, lets put our energy and resources into the infrastructure of that village. After all, whether you have children or not, we all benefit from giving all children an opportunity to thrive.

I'd like to dedicate these two posts to my single mom, to whom I owe so much of my success and strength, and to the many individuals who live in my village.


Sarah said...

You really nailed what is so deeply offensive about this issue. "Blame a single mother" - how about blame an abandoning father? Blame a community who permits large swaths of the population to live in poverty with children? Who makes parenting a one-lady job when it should be a communal responsibility? Why anyone is listening to Ann Coulter say anything is beyond me - but here's hoping for a 'brood' of pissed single moms come Tuesday.

KSergent said...

I was also raised by a single mother for most of my childhood! When my brother and I reflect on the best parts of our childhoods, we both agree that it was when our mom was single.

Things changed when my mom married my step dad (i.e. biggest asshole ever). After 10 years of marriage, my mom and step dad divorced earlier this year. I asked her, "what were you thinking when you married him?!" She told me she just wanted to find a dad for me and my brother. It made me reflect on the pressures that single mothers face to find a second parent. Your point about a single mother being preferable to conflict or violence in the home is spot on.

Attisaurus said...

I am also the product of single-mother household. Thank you for this post. At my undergraduate school (Stanford), I learned that over 75% of each incoming freshman class had a parental unit consisting of more than 1 person (i.e. parents who were either together, remarried, in a long-term committed relationship, etc), and that this was the real price of single parenthood. When I discussed this issue with others, the subject of finances always came up: single parents have to support a kid on one person's income, and this means less opportunities in adolescence, less enrichment and language and piano lessons (which helped us all get into college), lessened ability to go to a fancy boarding school that feeds into Harvard, and less adult supervision to make sure the kid was on the right track. And in response, I offer only my own experience - that I grew up in poverty with a single mother who worked as a maid when I was young, who spoke no English, who had to sew my school uniforms from hand-me-downs and donations, and that money isn't everything. In fact, money doesn't buy anything that is remotely important - an undying work-ethic, humility, compassion, or intelligence. This hate on the single parents needs to end.