It looks like the media found a new group to throw under the bus this week: single moms.
I really just want to say…keep our names out your mouth, yo…but I’m going to take a more diplomatic approach.
The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, Think Progress, and a slew of blogs published essays discussing the decline in marriage rates and the rise of single parent households and what it means for America. In case you’re wondering, we’re doomed.
Before I get too deep into this let me first openly cop to my bias.
I am a single mother of an awesome 7-year-old son who recently told me to start calling him doctor because he’s going to be a paleontologist. Additionally, I believe in marriage (for those who want to be married) and know that being a single parent is really, really hard.
And while I don’t fit neatly into many/any of the statistics trotted out in most of the articles—I was raised in a two-parent home, I have a two degrees, I’m a professional, and I’m not poor—I still feel like my solo-parting sisters and I are under attack.
To be frank, the opening of The Atlantic’s article, “The Decline of Marriage and the Rise of Unwed Mothers: An Economic Mystery,” annoyed the shit out of me.
While the article made some good economic points, the opening paragraph aggravated every nerve in my body because it hinted at the soft bigotry of ignorance many often engage in.
Derek Thompson wrote:
This was the most shocking statistic I read this weekend: 58 percent of first births in lower-middle-class households are now to unmarried women. Meanwhile, two in five of all births are to unwed mothers, an all-time high, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Maybe it’s me, but I don’t understand Thompson’s “shock” at the statistics.
Perhaps he hasn’t been paying attention to birthrates in the African American and Hispanic communities (and hell, even white ones)?
I sure couldn’t escape the SEVENTY PERCENT OF BLACK BABIES ARE BORN TO SINGLE MOMS!!! headlines that screamed out of news outlets over the past few years, or the fact that 53% of Hispanic babies are also born to unwed mothers (and 30% of white ones).
Or maybe he missed Mike Huckabee’s harsh post-Oscar criticism of Natalie Portman a few years ago.
If he had been paying attention…he’d know.
The spike in unwed mothers isn’t new.
Unmarried women have been birthing babies since the beginning of time (uh, Hagar and Abraham or Murphy Brown, anyone?).
And while Thompson pretty much pinned the decline in marriage and the rise in single parents on the shift from women staying home to entering the workforce (which, really just applied to middle income white women), the real “problem” isn’t children being born in single parent households at all.
The problem is the conditions that lead many of my sistern to become single parents in the first place.
But coming up with solutions for systematic racism, failing schools, inadequate access to health care, the crushing cost of college, and access to jobs that pay a living wage would be too much like right (peace to Elizabeth Warren).
So asking why there are SO MANY single moms (uh…why are there so many single dads?) makes sense, right?
Pointing the finger at someone else is better than examining the conditions that lead to women unintentionally falling into motherhood.
And really, it’s not that lower-income women are out here whoring more than middle-class/professional women. A quick watch of HBO’s Girls, Sex & the City, or Girlfriends will tell you that higher-earning women are getting it in.
But the difference is women with higher incomes are better able to protect against getting preggo in the first place, and if they do unintentionally get knocked up they have more options—have a discrete abortion or raise their baby.
I know what you’re thinking; all women have these same options! But that’s not quite true.
While some would have you believe there’s a Planned Parenthood clinic on every corner in the hood ready to hand out abortions to any woman who walks through the door, there isn’t.
When I got pregnant with Le Kid, my first thought was I CAN’T have this baby!
I was unmarried (but in a long-term relationship), I had just been laid off from my job, I didn’t have health insurance, I was a semester away from finishing graduate school, I was living 3000 miles from home, and I was terrified.
I didn’t grow up thinking being a single mom was cool. I watched girls in my neighborhood get pregnant and drop out of school, and I knew that wasn’t going to be me. As a matter of fact, my mother raised me to wait to have sex until I was married (uhh…yeah).
So when those little lines appeared on the pregnancy test, I was shook.
While I didn’t necessary want an abortion, I didn’t feel like I was prepared—economically or emotionally—to be a parent either.
I feverishly called around looking for the magic place handing out free abortions only find out that I’d have to pay upwards of $400 for the procedure.
That was $400 I did not have. And the only people I might have been able to ask for the money (my parents), would have totally tried to talk me out of it.
But here’s an interesting tidbit: prenatal care was free.
And had I tried to get food stamps (I should have), and housing assistance (I should have done that too), that was available as well—providing my child’s father was not in the picture. Big ass catch 22.
Here’s my beef with most articles about single mothers, though. Instead of providing actual solutions about how to better educate, arm, and support women BEFORE they become pregnant, most tend to focus on what will happen after you get knocked up.
This is the short version: You will be poor. Your children will go to jail. You will never finish school. Your children will not go to college. You will die broke. You will be miserable. The end.
That’s how most narratives on single mothers go.
And yet this does not need to be the story.
I’m a huge dream encourager. And though I’m a single mom and understand the very real challenges we are up against raising a child on our own, I still believe being a single parent is not an excuse to put your dreams on hold. Go get them.
Because single moms have dreams, too.
But what many of us don’t often have is a village.
And while I appreciate the little aid the government doles out to women who ask for it (and many of us do not, by the way), it isn’t enough.
Women don’t need more Section 8 vouchers for crummy apartments in bullet-riddled neighborhoods; we need less crime—period.
We want safe streets and good schools and access to jobs that will help us afford HIGH QUALITY daycare (better yet, we want to work for companies with on-site daycare).
We want farmer’s markets and green spaces and homework help and SAT prep and free museums and field trips for our kids.
We want personal development workshops and business classes and GED prep if we need it.
We want what everybody else has–and often takes for granted–a chance.
We want an even playing field, not just rhetoric about how this is America and everyone must pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Many of us need boots.
Despite what you may hear, single moms want a foundation, a jumping off point, not just handouts that do little but keep us stuck in a dysfunctional system.
But will we get it? Will folks begin to encourage single mothers instead of shame them?
I guess that’s my job.
In the meantime I’m going to close this by relinquishing my soapbox to Gloria Malone, a former teen mom who recently wrote an op-ed for the New York Times about the controversial ads geared toward preventing teen pregnancy.
At 15, I was a good student and determined to apply to college. But after I had my daughter, my high school guidance counselor refused to see me and help me with my applications. She never expected me to graduate. Most people, even within my family, assumed I wouldn’t amount to anything and would be dependent on government assistance for the rest of my life.
But I wanted to be someone my daughter could be proud of. So every day, I woke up before the sun, drove my daughter’s father to work, my daughter to day care, and still managed to be in class at 7:50 a.m. before the bell rang. I also worked 35 hours a week at a cellphone store. I would leave school early through a co-op program that allowed graduating seniors to work and go to school at the same time. After getting out of work I would pick my daughter up from day care and go home. I was always tired, but more than anything I was determined.
I also had a few people who encouraged me not to listen to the stereotypes. People like my chorus teacher, who allowed me to show up a few minutes late to class, so I could pump breast milk first; my economics teacher, who congratulated me on having a healthy child and reminded me that he was proud of me for not giving up; and the nurse at my daughter’s doctor’s office, who told me I was doing a great job and to keep it up.
These bits of encouragement are what kept me going. Thanks to them, I graduated with honors and went on to community college. Today I am a student, an advocate for young parents and, above all, a proud mom.