An NPR article titled, “Can Marriage Save Single Mothers from Poverty” had me ranting and raving this week. I must ask, why is the question not “can marriage save single fathers from poverty” as well? The answer to that is two-fold but simple: men still earn more money and women still carry most of the responsibility for raising the children. Fewer fathers are awarded primary custody of their children when a couple splits up. Is it because the courts still don’t recognize them as being able to nurture children as well as their mothers? Is it because the father simply makes more money and it makes sense for the family that he continues to do so? Sometimes, is it because fathers just don’t want the burden of every day care? I think it is all of that and probably much more.
Conservative groups jump on the statistic that 1/3 of households headed by single mothers live in poverty. However, doesn’t this also mean that 2/3 of the families headed by single mothers are doing just fine! Ironically, these are also the very same groups that want to deny women access to affordable birth control in the first place.
Maybe instead of continuing to blame women for the problems they face as single parents, we should start making more fathers carry their fair share of the burden. Single mothers would not be poverty stricken if the fathers of the children they are raising stepped up and took responsibility for their own children.
Regardless of whether or not parents live in the same household, conceiving a child can only be done one way: egg + sperm. Everyone single one of those pregnancies had to involve a man at some point! Maybe we need to hold those men accountable? Regardless of whether or not parents are together, married or not, he should be paying for half the support of that child, period! In a perfect world he would also be giving half the rides to school, paying half the medical deductibles, sitting at half the dentist and doctor appointments, and sitting up half the nights with worry. Some dads do all this and so much more. Many don’t.
If we want to help single moms we need to continue to fight for equal pay for equal work for all women. Single moms, just like everyone else, need access to affordable education, good jobs, affordable childcare and affordable healthcare. Despite opinion to the contrary most single moms don’t want to live “on the system” and they don’t want to have to have to ask for help! They want their children to see them go to work, to know that if you want something you have to work hard for it. They want their children to value a good education and to see how it can improve their lives. I know that was the example I tried to provide, even after I divorced the father of my children many years ago! One single mom told me “I hate it when people say my children come from a broken home. Our family was broken, and I fixed it by divorcing their father.” Marriage is not always the answer.
NPR cites a study done by the Brookings Institution that says more than 40% of U.S. births now take place outside of marriage. This statement is misleading. Births that occur outside of traditional marriage are not necessarily taking place among young women who are poverty stricken. It does not take into account “single” mothers who are in fact partnered and raising their children with that partner. Whether they are in a same-sex relationship that is not legally recognized or in a heterosexual relationship where they simply choose not to be married, they are not in fact “single.” Even when not partnered, they are often not alone. They are surrounded by family and friends who love and support them and their children in countless ways every day. Having a legally recognized relationship does not ensure the quality of their parenting or their economic security anymore than not having one means they are somehow bad parents.
A “legal” relationship with a man is certainly not the saving grace of women who are struggling. Women should enter marriages because they have found someone they love, whom they wish to share their lives with. Not because they need someone to pay half the bills. Those days are long gone.
There was a time when loving parents saved up all their best goats and sheep in order to purchase their daughters a solid future with an eligible bachelor who could provide financially for her. If they were lucky, he was also someone who was kind and good. There were no other options in their society for young woman. There was no other way to ensure security for her when they were no longer around, no other way that she could respectfully provide for her own future.
We need to remember that single moms are smart, creative, people. They have to be in order to keep a roof over their heads and shoes on everyone’s feet. They do not need to be told “what is best for them.” In fact, here’s an idea. If these women thought that being married to the father of their children was the best thing for them and their family, they would be, and maybe it is nobody’s business!