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!