You’re Not Alone… seriously!

Ever seen that bus ad that reads something like “Pregnant? Afraid? You’re not alone!” I think it’s a birthright helpline ad or something like that. But its message has taken on a whole new meaning in this day and age.

An article on Slate.com recently pointed out that our perception of single mothers is more than a little bit off-base. That those who are a bit older and pregnant unexpectedly really are not alone!

We still think of the archetypal unwed mother as a Jamie Lynn Spears—a dopey teenager who dropped her panties and got in over her head. A generation and more ago, that’s who most unwed mothers were. But according to the most recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control, teenagers account for only 23 percent of current out-of-wedlock births. That means the vast majority of unwed mothers are old enough to know what they’re doing: Unwed births are surging among women ages 25 to 29.

In the last 50 years, there has been an extraordinary decoupling of marriage and procreation. In 1960 about 5 percent of births were to unwed mothers; that figure is now a record high of nearly 40 percent. Out-of-wedlock births used to be such a source of shame that families tried to hide them: Singer Bobby Darin was born to a teen mother and raised to believe she was his sister. But now out-of-wedlock births are greeted with a shrug. Some say they’re an understandable response to economic realities. Others say they’re a liberating change from the shotgun-wedding ethic that shackled two unsuitable people together for life.

I was pretty astounded to hear some of those later statistics. I don’t know what countries/regions are figured into those numbers, so I can’t say for certain that they reflect the nature of Canadian or American society. In fact, since I believe Slate is based in England, it’s probably not linking to our cultures directly. However, that effect is undoubtedly still present in the world more immediately around us. So they’re worth noting.

The article is worth a read, since it goes on to defend that marriage is still the optimum choice for children:

Readers also like to rebuke me for my preference that two decent people who are committed to each other and find themselves procreating without intending to should provide the stability of marriage for their child. “Having a child will be stressful and life altering enough. Parents need to work on their relationship on their time schedule.” “I feel that a baby is its own blessing. Have that blessing before you get married.” “How dare you imply that an unexpected pregnancy should lead to marriage? You are simply out of touch with modern culture.”

That may be. But it also means that modern culture is out of touch with the needs of children. Some researchers identify out-of-wedlock births as the chief cause for the increasing stratification and inequality of American life, the first step that casts children into an ever more rigid caste system. Studies have found that children born to single mothers are vastly more likely to be poor, have behavioral and psychological problems, drop out of high school, and themselves go on to have out-of-wedlock children.

Single mothers are a major issue in our politics classes. Not only do they have the time crises associated with raising kids and earning a salary alone, but generally speaking they end up with low-end jobs compared to men or childless women, who can take more time to focus on their linear career. And yet, they’re a growing portion of society, and can’t be ignored. What needs to be done?

Well, I think the author is onto something when she focuses on the response of the readers. There’s this sense that the most important factor is what the couple wants to do — which is almost never the case! Yes, it’s understandable that you don’t want to subject yourself to years’ worth of torture with a partner you don’t appreciate. But the kids aren’t going to benefit from a decision based purely on what is “ideal” for the emotions of the couple. And do the couples move on to find a more emotionally satisfying relationship that they’re willing to commit to? Sometimes, I’m sure. But I’m skeptical that it’s a majority that succeed.

I can’t speak as much for women. But I do believe that a good portion of the issue here is the perception men have of a relationship. I don’t think that men are brought up thinking that the point of dating someone is to look towards marriage, anymore. Rather, they see it as something parallelling their relationship to their friends, their dog, and their Xbox: a relationship is something to benefit/entertain me!

Somehow, I don’t think women see it quite the same way. I think that most women know that if the relationship ends, they’re the ones who have to make the choice about the baby, and, should they choose to keep it, they’re the ones who will have to provide for it. As I am not a woman, I can’t say that with 100% certainty. But I know if I were in a position to have a baby, I would appreciate it if I could find a man who sees me as more than a joyride. Speaking to my female friends, I hear an overwhelming chorus of voices that say “I just can’t seem to find a really good man!”

So, though it would not solve everything, I wonder if all of the factors mentioned in the article — political pressure, economic pressure, media pressure, etc. — should be twisting the arms of the young men to get married, more than the young women. And more than just get married, but get their butts in gear and view the world as a bit more than just having one party after another.

And of course, there’s another pressure which I myself consider pivotal, even if it’s not as much so to a good portion of the population: The Church. Too much of the Church has abandoned young men, figuring that their obsession with video games and the likes is impossible to overcome. It’s not. Most of the people I know who are feeding off of video games are suffering within, wanting something a lot more substantial to do with their lives. Biblically, that should involve getting married and raising kids. Seemingly that would be good for society, too, if one follows the arguments on Slate!

How do you get the men to respond? There’s no perfect answer for every one, of course. But mentorship and living a positive lifestyle are part of the answer, to be sure. Those men who know what it’s like to be in a positive, committed relationship should share that knowledge with the next generation of men. And women, of course, can encourage those youthful women they come in contact with to be serious when dating, and not allow their guys to treat them like a video game! When you begin the cycle at 13, it can be aweful hard to break out of at age 25!

11 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. aaron
    Mar 26, 2008 @ 14:54:43

    Good observation about the fact that too often the target of these “PSAs” is the woman, when in fact both parties need to take responsibility. That being said, many (most?) of the fathers do in fact provide some amount of child support (voluntarily or otherwise), so I disagree with your statement that the woman has to earn the salary alone.

    I wonder about the poverty/bad environment for children angle though — are things really getting worse overall for the children, given that the average age of the mothers is increasing (and older adults tend to be better off educationally and financially)? I recall the 38ish woman in our birthing class that was expecting twins via a sperm bank — she had no partner, but a good job that allowed her to already have her nanny lined up.

    Because gay marriage isn’t counted in the wedlock statistics, I also wonder how many of that nearly 40% statistic (which I too found eye-popping) includes children who nevertheless are being raised in a two-parent home.

    FWIW, Slate is owned by the Washington Post — I assume the article was referring to U.S. statistics only (the Center for Disease Control is a U.S. government agency).

    Reply

  2. Bridgett
    Mar 26, 2008 @ 15:58:03

    My brother got his 20 year old girlfriend pregnant (he was 24). They didn’t get married right then. Actually, the Catholic Church won’t marry you if she’s pregnant–it’s the wrong reason…they waited, and when my niece was two, they got married. So she would be an unwed mother, but one in a relationship that continued and, in the end, resulted in marriage. They’ve been married for 4 years and seem to be doing well. I’m not saying that if they’d gotten hitched right away that wouldn’t be the case, but I think the staying-in-the-picture but not necessarily married father is at least almost as good as married parents. My brother was there the whole time. Supported them financially (except health insurance, which was through my sister-in-law’s parents, but in Canada that wouldn’t be the same issue).

    It’s not an easy way to go, for sure, I’m glad I did things in the “right” order….

    Reply

  3. juggling mother
    Mar 26, 2008 @ 16:02:17

    I have two comments on unmarried mothers. First, unmarried does not necessarily mean not in a committed relationship. Marriage is in massive decline in some areas of society for numerous reasons. My sister is a single mother- she lives in East London. I do not know anyone there who has got married in the last 20 years! A fair few have lived together for that time and more, but marriage needs a reason. If you take away the religious aspects (this is the UK, we don’t really do religion much), and the governemnet has taken away the financial aspects (there used to be good tax allowances etc, but these have all gone), then why bother? A wedding costs a lot of money for little reward.

    Secondly, I grew up with parents who stayed together for the children. I know what the stats say about how important it is to have a relationship with an absent parent, and I don’t know how I would have turned out had my parents split up when I was young, but i do know that my childhood was filled with srguments, fights and unhappiness, and for many years I truely hated my father. That is unlikely to have been better for me than living with a single mother and having contact with my father regularly.

    In reality I have discovered that it is actually men who still want marriage and children and an easy life. Women have become more demanding though and not settling for any man just because they will be ostracised if they are still single at 25!

    Reply

  4. Stephen
    Mar 26, 2008 @ 16:54:01

    Like Juggling Mother, I wonder whether the category, “unwed mothers”, includes people who are living together but not married in the narrow sense of the term. “Living together” could account for a large proportion of the 40% who are described as “unwed mothers”.

    Again, like Juggling Mother, I wonder how many of the women choose to be unwed and pregnant. Traditional marriage has tended to be a good situation for men, who often had extramarital relationships while demanding that their wives remain faithful to them; and who expected their wives to do the bulk of the childrearing and domestic tasks even if the women also had careers outside of the home. In consequence, a lot of modern women have decided that marriage is an unpalatable option — but they still want kids!

    But some of that is a class thing. Aaron gives a good example of a relatively wealthy woman who has gone the “unwed mother” route. On the other hand, working class women may prefer to have a husband to share the economic and social burdens with them. Your post may be particularly applicable to that situation. (Barack Obama has spoken out against black men, presumably working class, who fail to parent their children.)

    You would have to pull those threads apart (living together but not technically married; women who choose to be unwed and pregnant; and socio-economic distinctions) before we could draw any hard and fast conclusions from the stats in the Slate article.

    Reply

  5. Zayna
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 11:55:13

    As a former single teen parent I have many thoughts on this post…and I’ll need some time to work them out into a coherent response.

    For now though, I do think there should be a clear distinction made between “unwed” and “single”.

    An unwed mother is not necessarily a single one whereas a single mother might not necessarily be unwed.

    The distinction lies in the amount of physical and financial support that is being recieved when it comes to parenting, not marital status.

    Reply

  6. nebcanuck
    Mar 27, 2008 @ 20:48:38

    Aaron: That being said, many (most?) of the fathers do in fact provide some amount of child support (voluntarily or otherwise), so I disagree with your statement that the woman has to earn the salary alone.

    Is this still applicable to parents who were never technically married? I know that child support is enforced with divorcees, but I find it hard to believe that the law is as quickly enforced in a situation when the father was never technically obligated to care for the woman.

    Either way, statistically, single mothers are an increasingly large portion of those living below the poverty line. I can/should look up some harder stats to verify this, but we’ve talked about it lots in Canadian politics. Either those support payments are too minute to push the mothers above the poverty line, or they don’t exist in many situations.

    I wonder about the poverty/bad environment for children angle though — are things really getting worse overall for the children, given that the average age of the mothers is increasing

    It’s a good question. But I think it’s good to remember that the age group targeted in the article is early-to-mid-20s, not 38-year olds. However, even if you overlook the fact that the kids will have a materially blessed life, I really do think that there’s value in having role models of both genders immediately influencing kids. I know I would have struggled without the plethora of male role models from my church and such, and my father was still very present in my life. To have no father whatsoever would require a lot of people to pick up the slack who aren’t the parents of the children.

    Bridgette: So she would be an unwed mother, but one in a relationship that continued and, in the end, resulted in marriage.

    I’m glad to hear it! I’m certainly not denying that there are good stories amongst the bad! The only thing is, too often those who have the option to walk, do so. Kudos to your brother for being a solid man and a good partner!

    Juggling Mother: First, unmarried does not necessarily mean not in a committed relationship.

    Again, I agree that you can be committed without being married. However, I would challenge the couple: If you’re committed, why not get married? Is there some fear that it will cause you to hate one another? The “boon” of marriage is that it is a public declaration that the couple is intending on being together, forever. It is a chance to celebrate with your friends that you are making that commitment, and a good first step to making sure that you feel accountable to friends so you don’t just jump the boat when you hit rocky waters.

    Marriage can take many forms. I don’t have any qualms that couples don’t want to spend a hundred grand to have the ceremony. But most people know a pastor or a civil service rep who can do the duties for a reasonably small price. Have a handful of good friends there so you can make it clear to them and those around them that you are going to stick it through. After that, I honestly can’t see it being anything but this unspoken stigma that you may want to break up that’s causing the problem. And any relationship that is had with the potential in mind that it could end is not really committed to the nth degree!

    In reality I have discovered that it is actually men who still want marriage and children and an easy life. Women have become more demanding though and not settling for any man just because they will be ostracised if they are still single at 25!

    I think that it is horrible that women feel that they would have to settle for “any man”. Frankly, if they’re not with a man who’s worth marrying, why are they sleeping with him? But there is a significant shortage of good men out there, and women are having to settle for the bad ones. Which is why I said, let’s focus on kicking the mens’ butts. Because when I look at the men in universities around me, I know I wouldn’t trust one to be my husband, were I a woman!

    And I think that ties into the point about your parents, although not directly. I think that men and women should be going into relationships (or at least ones in which they have sex) with the thought in mind that they will quite possibly be producing a child, for whatever reason. If they take that risk, they should be ready to stick to the relationship. Otherwise, they’re too young/immature to be having sex. It’s obviously impossible that this be enforced absolutely, but if those people with stories like yours discourage the youth they encounter from taking sex lightly, hopefully they would think twice before jumping into bed.

    Dad (Stephen): In consequence, a lot of modern women have decided that marriage is an unpalatable option — but they still want kids!

    Then they should find men who won’t abuse the situation! And our adults (myself joining the ranks, gradually!) should be training the men not to be jerks who think of marriage as cheap sex and free laundry!

    (Barack Obama has spoken out against black men, presumably working class, who fail to parent their children.)

    That was actually mentioned in the article. The author felt that people like Obama put on a good face, but don’t offer any real parenting solutions. I agree, although I also think it’s pretty hard to expect a person running for president to suddenly start giving hour-long sessions on how to be a good dad…

    Zayna: An unwed mother is not necessarily a single one whereas a single mother might not necessarily be unwed.

    The distinction lies in the amount of physical and financial support that is being recieved when it comes to parenting, not marital status.

    Agreed. I think ideally marital status and amount of emotional and financial support would go hand in hand. But I think that anyone can attest to the fact that the world rarely works ideally.

    However, I hope that we don’t give up on ideals just because they don’t always work. Just because equal opportunity, class equilibrium, and world peace are a long shot from being accomplished doesn’t mean they’re not something we can aspire towards. Marriage is a good system because it’s built around publically acknowledging your commitment to one another. With work within communities, I think that ideally it would come to be that being married isn’t cast in such a cynical light, and not because the abuses are being overlooked, but because people refuse to allow the situation to continue to fall apart.

    Reply

  7. juggling mother
    Mar 28, 2008 @ 13:52:49

    I answer your question why not get married with one of my own – why get married? What is the point? I know a number of people who got married after 20 years of living together, and I just don’t get it. It costs money, however you do it, and for some people it is difficult to see why they should bother. (i can give you some answers, but I wonder what yours are)

    As to unmarried fathers financially supporting their children, in the UK we have a whole agency devoted to getting money out of absent parents, and the law is quite specific that if you fathered it, you have to pay for it for 18 years. You’d think it would make men think about contraception on “casual” realtionships, but apparently not! I’m not sure of the Canadian/US position. I would think Canada has something similar because you have a welfare state:-)

    Reply

  8. Zayna
    Mar 28, 2008 @ 14:24:49

    nebcanuck – “Agreed. I think ideally marital status and amount of emotional and financial support would go hand in hand. But I think that anyone can attest to the fact that the world rarely works ideally.”

    Gee, thanks. Hey, someone agreed with me.

    And yes, ideally one would think that being married meant physical and financial support. Sadly, this is not always the case.

    Just as it is not always the case that women who are unmarried are not receiving support. Oddly enough the support received by these women is often not even coming from the child’s actual father.

    I do agree however, having lived as both a single mother and a married one, that,

    “Marriage is a good system because it’s built around public(ly) acknowledging your commitment to one another.”

    Having done both, (and kids aside) I can attest that there is much more at stake when you stand up in front of your family, friends, a priest or justice of the peace and PROMISE to do your utmost best to love another and stand by each other come what may, than to just shack up and see how it goes.

    Reply

  9. Zayna
    Mar 28, 2008 @ 14:44:23

    I’m sorry, I have to add a caveat to my previous comment:

    Keeping in mind that the “for better or for worse” part of the marriage vows…particularly “for worse”…is entirely up to individual interpretation.

    Though there are certain “rules” designed to define what this means exactly, in the end…bad marriages do exist even without necessarily falling under the preconcepts for justification of divorce (ie, adultery, physical harm ) and it’s not always the best, no matter how ideal, option.

    Reply

  10. juggling mother
    Mar 29, 2008 @ 03:21:13

    “I think that men and women should be going into relationships (or at least ones in which they have sex) with the thought in mind that they will quite possibly be producing a child, for whatever reason. If they take that risk, they should be ready to stick to the relationship”

    I should point out that my parents were 22 when they married. They did not have sex or live together before they were married. My mother ealised it it was not a good relationship within the first couple of years, but then discovered she was pregnant, and so stuck it out for the next 30years. They are still married – she won’t divorce him even though they did finallysplit up a decade ago. they believe in “for better or worse, till death do us part”.

    IMHO that sounds like a crappy life for her, him and the kids!

    Reply

  11. nebcanuck
    Mar 30, 2008 @ 22:52:09

    Juggling Mother: I answer your question why not get married with one of my own – why get married? What is the point? I know a number of people who got married after 20 years of living together, and I just don’t get it.

    Actually, I was intending my “why not get married” as a direct answer to your question why get married which you stated above. So I understood that was what you were trying to say, and I thought that I had responded. But I guess it wasn’t clear enough. Zayna hinged on it in her response, though, so I think I’ll just quote her! :)

    “Having done both, (and kids aside) I can attest that there is much more at stake when you stand up in front of your family, friends, a priest or justice of the peace and PROMISE to do your utmost best to love another and stand by each other come what may, than to just shack up and see how it goes.”

    That about sums up my feelings. I believe there is religious importance in getting married, yes. I also believe there are personal ones. I think that when you live together without ever having adopted the “till death do us part” attitude, you withhold a portion of yourself because you’re always aware that the other person could ditch you. However, as you’ve rightly pointed out, there’s not a lot of religious motivation for many people, and sometimes the personal motivation falls through — bad relationships happen, and they can be perpetuated through the system!

    However, it’s really an issue of the people, not the practice, if you ask me. I cannot say with certainty that your parents fit into this mould, however I believe that in large part marriages/relationships fail because they are lacking a public component. Marriage is supposed to be an initiator of that component. By getting married, you stand up in front of people you know and love — who know and love you in return, hopefully! — and you vow to include them in your relationship as backup. Because two people throwing themselves into a relationship that is completely between the two of them is basically setting oneself up for pain — either because you never fully trust your partner or you end up abusing the situation.

    Instead, a public marriage is like asking those around you to extend a hand — to take a vested interest in your relationship. Obviously they won’t always be there, in the bedroom beside you. There’s a private component. However, having those around you keeping an eye on you, and lending an ear, can be redoubled when you make a point of opening the doors to them. Marriage is all about asking your community not to let you and your spouse mess up everything that you value so much when you’re at that pinnacle of your relationship — when you are, in fact, desirous of marriage with them!

    And in this, again, Zayna contributes a valuable statement: That sometimes things go wrong, regardless. However, hopefully by having people around you to support you, and by mutually acknowledging that you’re in this for the long run, with a community backing you in your endeavour, you can really avoid falling in light of anything less than those preconcepts of adultery or physical harm. Because really, who gets to hold the remote shouldn’t be the beginning of a breakdown in a relationship when you’ve vested years and years in building it!

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: