Wednesday, April 19, 2006


In comments to my "Subculture" post of a few days ago, la luba - a single mother herself - passionately defends single mothers and asks us to support them. Since I 've written about single mothers before, I thought I'd take this chance to explain some more of my thoughts about them, and also address some of la luba's points.

For starters, I agree completely that we should do everything possible to support single mothers. It is harder raising a child as a single parent. I also agree that children raised in single parent households can turn out fine. For that matter, I was raised in a single parent (mother) household from the age of 7 years on and think I turned out okay (no comments from the peanut gallery about that, please). I also don't want to force women to stay with men who are bad for or to them simply to avoid being a single parent.

On the other hand, I don't think we can just flippantly say that single parenthood is just as desirable as, for lack of a better word, double parenthood. The influence of a father who is there for his child is a good thing. Also, look at the comments from neon88 to the same post. He writes that 60% of the births in his hospital are out of wedlock. A father has two babies in the hospital at the same time with different mothers. An 18 year old mother has three kids by different fathers. Like many neonatologists, I have seen the same things. The only difference is that in our hospital more than 90% of the births are out of wedlock, and in at least half of them there is no real relationship between father and mother. The disconnect between marriage and parenthood, even the disconnect between a long term relationship and parenthood, is complete in this subculture.

We should not discriminate against single parents and their kids after they are born. However, I think people would do well to try a little harder to prevent single parenthood by doing two things. One, be a little careful about people with whom you sleep. If they aren't someone who you would like as a parent to your child, think twice. Two, especially if you are not going to do number one, use effective birth control. It's not that hard; it's the responsible thing to do. And don't accuse me of being sexist; I think men should do this as much as women.

Like most NICU staff, I love the babies I take care of and only want the best for them. Should we treat them worse if they have a single parent? Absolutely not. But should we do everything to optimize the environment they are raised in - which includes advocating for responsible, "double " parenthood? Absolutely.

P.S. Visit Fat Doctor for grand rounds this week.


Blogger That Girl said...

I am a single mom. I have been in a loving, committed relationship with the man I am with for many years, and both of us decline to marry for various reasons.

I resent less being lumped into the catagory "single mom" than I do that it is used a pejoritive term.

It's usually code for "unemployed, woman of color, on-welfare mom."

While it's easy to say that you believe men should use birth control, etc., the truth is that women are the ones who suffer from your judgement - most men do not say "Hey, Im a deadbeat dad who has abandoned over 4 children in every way possible." While a single mother's choices are obvious (even if she doesnt, actually, say it).

No matter what childbearing options women choose, someone is always ready to jump on the blame wagon and condemn them for it - young, unattached mothers - women who "selfishly" wait until they've established a carreer - single, older, caring moms who chose single parenthood and are far more involved than many 2 parent families - women who procreate without marriage, women who procreate in a bad marriage, women who work full-time, women who parent full-time.

Face it, the blame the women game is endlessly fun. Instead of having some arbitrary, meaningless standard (2 parents, male and female in a marriage) wouldnt it be better to start a conversation about what kind of children we as a society want - what standards create happy, fufilled children and how those standards can be reached - and who is responsible for maintaining those standards.

Dont get me wrong, blaming mom for everything is fun, it just doesnt really solve any problems.

Id also like to point out that when a single mom's child does badly, it's because of her single-momness while a white, middle-class boy from a two-parent family doing badly is just bad luck.

Funny how that works.

12:05 PM  
Blogger JenLo said...

That girl: How can single mom be "pejoritive". It means the female parent with sole responsibility. End of story. No issue of race, employment status, income or any other such categorization. I have several single-parent friends and they are not unemployed, women of color or on-welfare. They all describe themselves as single moms. So do my friends who have husbands who travel for work all the time.

Besides, it doesn't seem to me that you are all that single of a mom if you have been in a loving, committed relationship for many years. I take Neonatal Doc's point to be that kids need a reliable, positive father-model, and apparently your kid(s) have that.

It's also no one's fault that the woman's choices are more apparent in the birth control realm. Since that is true, the woman needs to take control. We say it's our body, our choice, so why get offended when somebody suggests that we take responsibility with our body? How is that any different than a fair-skinned person needing suncreen and a darker-complexioned person not? Obviously the fair-skinned person will show a sunburn quicker, so is it not their problem to take care of their own skin issue? So it goes with birth control in my book. If the man were the one to get pregnant, then it could be his problem. It's not anybody's fault--just the way it is.

1:16 PM  
Blogger Dream Mom said...

Well, it looks like you are enjoying hitting all the buttons this week:) (I am o.k. with that.)

Actually, I am glad you wrote about this today because it's been bothering me ever since they announced the birth of Katie Holmes daughter.

Call me old fashioned, but I still think the two parent household is best. I too, am a divorced mother (was married for 14 years) and have been single the last 5 years. My ex-husband is a great father and we work very well supporting each other and taking care of Dear Son.

That said, I am a little disturbed by all of the single parenting that is going on in the world. Celebrities think it's o.k. to have a baby and then get married, or it's o.k. to adopt and then get married, etc., etc. These are purely my opinions and you can call me old fashioned but I'd like to see the marriage first and then the children. I also feel that young women hearing these stories of celebrities having these babies think it's o.k. and I worry they will copy them and yet, they have none of the same resources.

I think this trend also ties into religion too (ducking now to keep from being bombarded). When young couples do get married, there is a big trend on these destination weddings and I am seeing fewer getting married in a church. It makes me wonder what kind of foundation is there for the children.

I realize that there are many situations where a woman may be in an abusive relationship, etc and being a single Mom is a better choice. I just would like to see more children born of two parent families. Children need both a father and a mother. I remember reading one time where they said the most important person in a teenager's life is the same sex parent. I think men and women bring something to the table and something to their children's lives.

4:01 PM  
Blogger Kelly said...

I think that, in general, people who are the exception to the rule, need not get so up-in-arms when someone calls a spade a spade.

Single parenting is NOT what's best for the child, the parent, or our society. But who's going to blame someone if their spouse dies? If their husband beat them? If they're wife cheated on them? If they're raped? NO ONE. So I believe that Neonatal Doc is right in what he said: this "subculture" of sleeping around with no regard for responsibility, and THEN being a single parent because that person made WRONG choices (wrong for the parent, child and society--ie: who pays for Neonatal Doc's care? Generally not single parents) is a serious problem.

If women don't want to be "blamed" or "lumped", then they should try a little harder to stay out of bed! And those that didn't ask for or create their circumstances, should be able to agree with that statement, and help other women make good choices.

So....sorry if I come across harsh, but I cannot STAND people trying to sugar coat their poor choices and/or stupid mistakes.

4:50 PM  
Blogger La Lubu said...

So....sorry if I come across harsh, but I cannot STAND people trying to sugar coat their poor choices and/or stupid mistakes.

Just as I cannot stand people who try to uphold a small portion of bad single mothers as being representative of all of us, in order to justify their own prejudice.

I am also quite astonished at finding the only blog where the majority of readers remained virgins until after marriage, and the divorced among them lead completely celibate lives. Gosh.

I'm waiting for someone here to advocate for a return to calling children of single mothers "bastards." That was quite the popular meme on conservative blogs last year.

Good single mothers aren't the exception to the rule---we are the rule. And God bless Philip Seymour Hoffman for thanking his single mother during his Academy Award acceptance speech. That made my day.

8:04 PM  
Blogger Flea said...

The commenters who are single mothers are committing an error of logic. It's too early in the morning and I haven't finished my first cup of coffee so I can't remember what it's called, but it goes like this.

1. ND says single parenthood is worse than double parenthood.

2. I'm a single parent.

3. ND says I'm bad.

This is a fallacy.

It is undeniable that the evidence basis consistently and robustly demonstrates that children raised in two-parent homes do better by any objective measurement. Not individually, but collectively.

Now back to anectdotes. My wife and her sister were raised by their mother after a divorce from ages 7 and 9 on up. They suffered financially and emotionally. A wealthy second husband and years of therapy saved them both. Children without resources are less likely to do as well, your exceptions to the contrary notwithstanding.



5:17 AM  
Blogger La Lubu said...

Flea, that is not what I am saying at all. I'm not saying that these specific commentators are saying that I must be a bad mother because I am single. I am saying that this attitude permeates our culture, and that I am on the receiving end of a lot of negative treatment because of assumptions surrounding single mothers.

Objectively, most single mothers are not on drugs. Or alcoholics. Or abusive. Or neglectful. Or impoverished. So, when you're talking about "objective" statistics, keep in mind that when corrected for income, there is no difference between the children of single mothers and the children of married mothers.

Part of the problem lies in women who are pressured to stay in a bad situation, because they feel that being single is the most harmful factor in their childrens lives.
Sure, most folks wouldn't think a woman should stay with a physically abusive man. this gets translated in my neighborhood is..."well, he's not that bad. He only hit me once, and that's because he was drunk." Verbal abuse, like calling you vile names in front of the children (or doing the same thing to th children) isn't thought of as "abusive" at all. If it doesn't require a trip to the hospital, it isn't considered "abuse".

And I'm saying this is where a lot of the damage can be cut off at the roots. We need to be giving more cultural support to women, especially women with children, that leaving these situations (and better yet, not getting into them in the first place). We can start by getting rid of the term "broken home". My home is not a broken one. It is a fixed one. If I had followed the prevailing cultural script of giving him umpteen-million chances to clean up his act, you know, "for the sake of the children", that's what produces the mental health issues, dig? The greatest gift I could give to my daughter isn't her father, back in one piece. Only he can choose a drug-free life for himself. What I could give her is a life without drug addiction and its attending drama. So I cut the cord. As a result, she has grown up in a life without drug nonsense, and is mentally healthy as a result. If I had taken the opposite tack, and encouraged visits with her meth-addicted father, perhaps even weekend field trips to whatever flophouse he's living in at the time, you and I both know what the outcome would be. Are you aware that there are programs in elementary schools that encourage weekend visitation to prisons, because God knows you can't live without a father, even if he can't keep his ass out of the slammer? Oh yeah. The programs are designed to foster a better relationship with fathers---to stress the importance of fatherhood. What is ends up doing is normalising the prison experience and the paths that get you there, in the minds of these children.

You (and other readers) and I aren't so far apart. I know you (and others) don't want women to stay in a bad situation. The problem is, how your message is delivered affects how it will be interpreted. And right now, with prevailing cultural scripts about women's duties, and the nature of men, and the balance of power in a relationship, the importance of education, and all the baggage that entails---how is getting interpreted is not having a positive impact.

One statistic I've never seen anyone argue about---the fact that a woman's level of education (regardless of the economic strata she happens to be living in) has a direct correlation on the outcome of her children. So, again, let's encourage women who find themselves in a bad situation to dump the man and get in school. There is a different perspective, different expectations, between my neighborhood and yours. I'm trying to convey the message to women with my background that yes, it really is abuse, even if he just slaps you around every other month. See?

And yes, it does end up having an effect on public policy, this "blame the woman" game, this "well, the slut just should have kept her legs together" game. For example, the best path to a bachelor's degree (the best inoculation against poverty) for these women is to attend a community college first. But finding childcare in the evenings (since these women are working during the day) is a big problem. Subsidized, on-site child care could be a huge help towards getting these women off the merry-go-round of dead end jobs. But then some politician always pops up with the old "well, that would just be encouraging women to have children they couldn't afford" trope---you know, like having women's shelters just encourages men to beat their wives, or having a police force just encourages crime.

Sheesh. You know, we're talking about women who never expected to go to college. But when they do, and they're in a relationship---it's bad news. I thought I was the only one who had to rescue school books out of the dumpster. I thought I was the only one, and I was ashamed. Then I found out I wasn't.

And that's why I'm being such a pain in the ass about the subject. There's too much isolating silence. And there's a lot of bodies in that dank water. I think stirring the pot is just what the doctor ordered.

Peace. (I gotta get to work.)

8:37 AM  
Blogger Ex Utero said...

I think La Luba's argument is eloquent and compelling. And I agree with her that for an all too large segment of society, there are larger issues at stake here.

I hope I'm not demonizing single women when I teach my own sons and daughters that they need to wait until they're older, married, and financially ready before they commit any acts that will result in children.

3:16 PM  
Blogger La Lubu said...

Bless you, ex utero. No, I don't think you, or anyone else, is demonizing single mothers by giving the sound advice that it's better to wait until after college to have kids.

See, I feel like I'm talking past some people here. Flea's right about a category mistake happening---it's just not the one he described. Let me use a medical analogy, so maybe folks can better understand where I'm coming from.

I've often heard conservatives speaking about single motherhood as a "cancer", so let's use that one. Cancer is much on my mind anyway right now, as my mother is terminal. So.

Advising people to eat a low-fat diet, eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, put on sunscreen, perform monthly breast (or testicle) self-exams, quit (or better yet, never start) smoking, etc. are all good ideas for cancer prevention. Can't hurt. Might help. In any case, following that advice will statistically lower one's risk of cancer.

Yet, we still tend to recognize that in the grand scheme of risk assessment, that people still get cancer. Even the people that followed all the advice. There is a recognition of the limitations of this good, sound advice.

I feel like some here are talking prevention, while I'm advocating oncology. (or maybe it would be better to say, some are talking "accident prevention" while I'm talking "triage". Hell, you decide. I didn't go to medical school!)

I take issue with the assumption that these young women have never been told to wait until they're older. They have. I could almost guarantee that the same mother that neonataldoc says is supportive of her daughter who gave birth, gave plenty of lectures on waiting; or choosing the easier road, rather than the hard one.

I also take issue with the assumption that these young women are leading carefree lives of irresponsibility. Most of these young women have taken on adult responsibilities from an early age. They walked themselves to school at six years old, through rough neighborhoods. Older children are routinely expected to take on child care duties for younger siblings. These are young women who've been cooking the family meals and helping little sis with her homework while mom pulled the second shift at K-Mart. They started contributing to the family budget with babysitting or hamburger flipping money. And they've been mom's improvised psychiatrist/confessor when the chips were down too---carrying the emotional burdens of their adult parents.

Admit it---these are young women whose experiences in life have thus far put them far closer to a track of early parenthood than on the road to college. I'm not anti-waiting, and I'm far from anti-college (frankly, I think every young woman needs a college degree or it's realistic equivalent---along with a deep knowledge of money management and investing, a strong sense of self, a collection of nonacademic skillsets to fall back on in a pinch in case the job market doesn't pan out properly, a firm foundation in the martial arts---all kinds of things we don't generally emphasize to our daughters!). But if you want to make that message stick, you have to reach them where they are.

Where I come from, making that great leap forward into education is a good financial strategy. It has the opposite effect on these young women's dreams of having a family. Why? That's so counterintuitive! Well, because then they're straddling a class line. The men from their neighborhood think they're getting too "uppity"; the men from the class background they are beginning to enter aren't banging down their doors, either. That's the other side of "waiting", and these young women have seen examples of that, too.

And anyone who is a parent knows the joys of parenting. It's very rewarding. Far more rewarding than the jobs most of these women are going to end up in, even if they do get a solid educational background (that might be tough for physicians to understand---the lack of appreciation that most of us get for our jobs well done). Any discussion of postponing parenthood is incomplete without a frank acknowledgement of the fears of postponing that parenthood (just like any discussion of sex education is incomplete without information on contraception).

8:50 PM  
Blogger Cathy said...

This reminds me of a sociology course I had in college. I had to do a research paper on single mother's. The hard part was I had to interview one that was a 5 time mother, never married, never worked, children all had different dad's, and most important she was also a second generation welfare recipient. Her mother and 4 childern had lived almost an identical life.

The other mom was a mother of one child. She was employed full time, had graduated from college, took excellent care of her child. She also had to budget very carefully to even have groceries and money for any fun activities (movies, zoo, etc...) was almost non-existant. She lived in a house that was just passable but nothing nice. However, it was her's, she was buying it and paying all the bills and taxes for it. She struggled to make ends meet.

I found the most amazing things with these two women. The mother of five who never worked a day in her life... Lived in a brand new HUD subsidized housing complex complete with patios. She paid 74.00 per month for rent the rest (including utillities) was paid by the govt. She received over $700.00 month in food stamps. she also received a medicaid card that paid 100% for all things medical(medicine, dr. appts, hospitalizations, etc..) and
SHE appreciated none of it. She thought she should be entitled to far more than what she was being given...She complained non-stop about what she didn't have and blamed the govt. for it. Why? Because it was how she grew up. She knew no difference and didn't care to find out. The world owed her a living!

The other mom, the one who was working 10 hrs. a day struggled with everything. Her refridgerator was not empty, but nothing close to how the other lady's was filled to capacity. She was thrilled when a Drs. office gave her a free sample's and felt bad over excepting them from them. Why? Because she came from a home where everyone works for what they had.

I asked her once if she ever thought about quitting work and living off of welfare. She looked at me like I had flipped and said "absolutely not"..

Two single moms, 2 completely different set of circumstances. One who made mistakes over and over and who never seemed to learn from it. She was a generational public aid child and mother. She was also raising 5 children, destined too become the same way. The other, a woman who made a mistake, learned from it and getting by the best way she knew how.

I'm sorry, but I can't feel the same about these two women. I'm not even sure that welfare should keep covering all these children of mother's who seem to never learn.

"God helps those who help themselves"...I'm all for helping anyone in need, but, you do need to help yourself first. There is nothing wrong with single parenthood as long as the mother takes responsibility for her own situation. Those are the ones we should be helping. But, they are the ones who never ask!

12:04 AM  
Blogger neonataldoc said...

Thanks, everyone, for the interesting comments. Dream Mom, I didn't plan on pushing peoples' buttons this week, but just got lucky(?), I guess....

Flee, I appreciate your explanation.

I think we all have to avoid generalizing and stereotyping. There are lots of different types of single mothers, just like there are lots of different types of "double" parents. As La lubu said. Peace.

11:07 AM  
Blogger Rachel said...

As a single mother... I agree, it's not the "ideal" way to be a parent. Good post.

9:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

With regard to the view that single motherhood is not "desirable," what do you make of this study?

Solo mothers and their donor insemination infants: follow-up at age 2 years
C. Murray1 and S. Golombok
Family and Child Psychology Research Centre, City University, Northampton Square, London EC1V OHB, UK

1 To whom correspondence should be addressed. Email:

BACKGROUND: Findings are presented of the second phase of a longitudinal study of solo-mother families created through donor insemination (DI). METHODS: At the time of the child's second birthday, 21 solo DI mother families were compared with 46 married DI families on standardized interview and questionnaire measures of the psychological well being of the mothers, mother–child relationships and the psychological development of the child. RESULTS: The solo DI mothers showed greater pleasure in their child and lower levels of anger accompanied by a perception of their child as less ‘clingy’. Fewer emotional and behavioural difficulties were shown by children of solo than married DI mothers. CONCLUSIONS: The findings from this first cohort of solo DI families to be studied lend further weight to the view that these women represent a distinct subgroup of single parents, who, out of a strong desire for a child, have made the active choice to go it alone. Moreover, this route to parenthood does not necessarily seem to have an adverse effect on mothers' parenting ability or the psychological adjustment of the child.

Emilia Liz

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