Thursday, January 3, 2013

Is it better to be raised by a single mom?

Now there's a headline that's too irresistible not to click...."It's better to be raised by a single mom".

I was looking forward to this article, as my master's program specialized in marriage and family I was expecting some new and interesting study I could take a look at.

Spoiler alert: there is no study.  I'm going to talk about it anyway.

It turns out is running a new series on single moms that they are soliciting essays for with this line:
Readers, we invite you to submit your testimonies on why being raised by a single mother, or being a single mother, has its benefits and might even be better than having both parents around.
This article is the first personal essay where the mother asserts that her kids are not doomed to failure like all the studies say, but rather they are doing better than their peers.  Her primary argument is actually not a ridiculous one: her kids went through difficult times with her and developed more resilience than they would have otherwise.  Almost anyone who went through a difficult time financially/emotionally/physically/all of the above when they were younger will say in adulthood it made them I can see what she's saying.

On the other hand, we all know the headline is enticing because you simply can't draw any action from the conclusion without getting ridiculous.  No one would divorce their spouse they were otherwise happy with in order to give their kids "more grit" like the writer asserts hers have.  This is similar to people who escaped childhood might have made them stronger, but none would purposefully go back in order to raise their kids in the same way.

But opinions on her article aside, from the data point of view, I am baffled that in 2013 we are still referencing data on "single moms" as though that group were even approaching homogeneous.  When I tracked back some of the links were they were explaining why they were doing this series, it appears it all started with the study from this summer that found the majority of women under 30 who give birth are unmarried.  This is an interesting stat, but it's worth pointing out that unmarried does not necessarily mean solo, and "single" can reference either.

That being said, there are four categories of single mothers I can think of, all with different factors that affect outcomes:

  1. Single mothers who are single because their spouse died.  Possible variables include at what point the child's father died, how involved both families are, if there's any trauma surrounding the circumstances of the death in particular.
  2. Single mothers who were married, but got divorced. Possible variables include timing of divorce, level of the father's involvement, and how acrimonious the divorce was, and how hostile the marriage was before the divorce.
  3. Single mothers who were unmarried at the time they gave birth.  Possible variables include how long they knew the father beforehand, commitment level/father's involvement and cohabitation status.
  4. Single mothers who became mothers intentionally sans partner.  This is a small category, but possibly growing.  This is mostly 30s-ish women who choose to adopt or use a donor to achieve a pregnancy and child without any recognized father.
All of these categories will have different permutations, though #4 is the most uncharted and  #3 tends to span the widest range.  A mother who is simply categorized as "unmarried" could have had a one night stand or she could have been living with a partner for 10 years.  Financial status, family involvement, dating practices and time single will effect all of these scenarios, but I think it's unfair to lump these four categories together any more.

If Slate wants to do the world a real public service when it comes to single motherhood, they should focus on soliciting writers from each of these categories to acknowledge the unique challenges that come with each.  Whether it's research or anecdotal data, we need to start acknowledging the differences in these categories.

1 comment:

  1. "If Slate wants to do the world a real public service..."

    There's your first problem right there.

    They are asking for anecdotes, to make people feel better about themselves, not data. There's already an immediate defensiveness - "You're saying my Dakota isn't any good. Well, he's a great kid." - and taking it personally. Slate wants more of that. Encouraging single moms to feel more victimised by heightening their argument with society. Great.

    You are correct about your groups, and also in your quick proof that no one really thinks difficulties are an advantage, or they would seek them. Of course good may come of evil. It is God's promise to Satan in Paradise Lost. It is the key quote in the story of Joseph in Genesis. "You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good."