On Wednesday, the Washington Post ran an article titled Single motherhood still rejected by most Americans, poll finds. The title alone made me cringe.
Carol Morello wrote:
“Most types of non-traditional families are broadly accepted or at least tolerated, including same-sex couples with kids, unmarried parents and childless women, according to a poll from the Pew Research Center’s Social and Demographic Trends. But two decades after TV’s Murphy Brown caused a public furor by having a child without a husband around, many people still draw the line when it comes to single motherhood.”
Gay family? That’s cool. Shacked up with a couple of kids? No problem. Child-free? Good-for-you. Indy mom? Back. Away. Slowly. The Huffington Post picked up the story yesterday with a gentler spin, Single Mothers Get Little Sympathy in New Pew Poll.
The Pew Research Center released its study on Wednesday, The Public Renders a Split Verdict on Changes in Family Structure. Actually, the public really only rendered a split view on single motherhood. The Pew study used cluster analysis to group respondents into three categories: Accepters (whom I love), Skeptics (whom I forgive), and Rejecters (let’s just call them Haters). The Accepters and the Skeptics would combine into one cluster—but for their perspectives on single motherhood. (Note: Respondents were not asked their views on single fatherhood or deadbeat dads.) Accepters and Skeptics together make up 68% of those surveyed, and they mostly agree that other societal changes are okay. It’s official. Now placed in the mostly acceptable column are: unmarried and gay or lesbian couples raising children; people living together out of wedlock; mothers of young children working outside the home; interracial marriage; and women choosing never to reproduce. (That represents a huge cultural attitude shift.) However, on the question of single motherhood, the Skeptics ally with the Haters, who generally disapprove of all of these societal changes. Where is my scarlet S?
Accepters are more likely to be women, Hispanic, and living in that bastion of liberalism, the East Coast. (Oh, and they are more likely to be godless heathens, too.) The Skeptics split with the dirty liberals to join the Haters in calling single mothers “detrimental to society.” (Shame on Ms. Morello—no where does the Pew study use that language and that is one harsh spin.) Skeptics are more likely to be democrats or independents, young people, and minorities. Someone suggested that this may also be a demographic with significantly more experience with the often harsh realities of single mother family life. I’m not going to lie, it is the hardest thing I have ever done, and compared to some other mother’s experiences, I’ve had a fairy godmother looking out for me all along.
I know you want to know, Readers: Who are the 32% of respondents who comprise the Haters? Why, old, white, married Republicans, of course! (I know some very nice Republicans, I really do.) Let me add that I have little doubt that the men of the Mens Rights Movement celebrated this study. There is no mention of fathers and this is surely further evidence that divorce is bad for children. They frequently cite such evidence to influence public opinion and pursue changes in public policy that would serve to keep miserable wives pinned to angry men in the supposed interest of their children.
It is interesting that the Washington Post piece evoked the memory of that boot-strapping white career gal, Murphy Brown. We are led to believe that this prejudice is against those who are single mothers by choice, when I’m guessing our cultural prejudice is more likely against those who are single mothers by chance. The Post article doesn’t touch the matters of class and race that arise when we look at this survey. Statistically, we single-mommies are significantly more likely to be raising our children in poverty, and money woes, inadequate housing, food, and health care often create intensely stressful home situations. Some 47% of us live below the poverty line. Those who do are more likely to be black or Hispanic. It’s tough to raise healthy, well-adjusted kids when one is under constant stress. As a result, often kids from poor single-parent homes aren’t so healthy or well-adjusted. Welcome prejudice.
What we really ought to be talking about here is how single mothers can improve the quality of their lives such that their children don’t grow up harboring those same prejudices, making things harder for women in such situations, possibly making things harder for themselves.
Someone suggested we single mothers get together like chimps and raise our babies in community with the males roaming around the periphery. For me, community is key. I can’t do this thing alone. If two parents are better than one, how about a dozen or more? Our friends (including other single parents), neighbors, playground moms and dads, school counselors and teachers, and our church community all pitch in. It takes a village, baby, and so we must build one. (Today, I’m grateful we did it on the East Coast, home of the Accepters.)
In closing, let me say simply that the women who are working so incredibly hard to raise the children they love, to help them to have a better life—they deserve our admiration, not our scorn. They are everyday superheroines and they deserve our respect and our support.
Resources for single mothers:
The National Organization of Single Mothers online
The organization CoAbode aims to help single mothers improve their economic and living situations by cultivating and co-housing and co-parenting relationships.
If you know of others, please chime in.