And so, of course, politicians and self-proclaimed “family values advocates” are predicting certain doom in the form of delinquent, uneducated kids living below the poverty level. But this doesn’t have to be the reality.
Is Single Parenthood a Good Choice?
A good friend of mine recently became a mother for the first time. She is over 40, educated at Cambridge and financially secure. She is also unmarried and plans to stay that way.
Before I met her, I always thought of single mothers as the responsible parents in unfortunate circumstances — the ones who kept care of their children through divorce or a surprise pregnancy.
But I also joked to my girlfriends (who hasn’t?) that if I didn’t meet the right guy by the time I hit 35, I’d head on down to my local sperm bank and take care of matters myself.
I would rather be a mother alone than try to do it with the wrong guy.
And while many of us grew up believing that the average family consists of Mom, Dad, a couple of kids and a dog named Rover, in reality, those types of families are now in the minority.
Even in 1995, the New England Journal of Medicine was reporting, “Public figures depict the typical American household as though it consisted of married couples and their children; in fact, such families make up only 26 per cent of American households.
Similarly, according to the 2000 Bureau of the Census, non-marital cohabitation, separation, and divorce have become more common, as has remarriage. Children living with only one parent (24 per cent) or with “melded” sibships of children from several families (15 per cent) are increasing in number; half of all children in the United States lived or will live with only one parent before reaching adulthood.
Most one-parent families (86 per cent) are headed by mothers.”
The New England Journal of Medicine also reported that out-of-wedlock births are not just an American phenomenon. “Rates in the United Kingdom, Canada, and France are about the same as those in the United States; rates in Sweden and Denmark are more than 50 per cent higher. The structure of the family is changing rapidly throughout the Western world.”
Bad for the Kids?
There’s a mountain of research suggesting children raised by single mothers are more likely to suffer from poverty, poor grades and psychological problems. However, a 1998 U.S. study at Ohio State University found that the problems were not related so much to the lack of a father but rather to other background factors, such as income, education and occupational prestige.
Douglas Downey, co-author of the study said, “Parents with higher socioeconomic status are usually better positioned to create positive family environments.”
Cornell researcher Henry Ricciuti says what matters most “is a mother’s education and ability level and, to a lesser extent, family income and quality of the home environment.” Ricciuti found links between those factors and a child’s school performance and behavior, regardless of race.
While much research is focused on single-parent families created by divorce or death, researchers are just beginning to look at single parents by choice.
Louise Sloan, author of Knock Yourself Up: A Tell-all Guide To Becoming A Single Mom says, “I think when a family is set up differently from the beginning — it’s not the traumatic thing that happens when you lose a dad.”
And the reality is we’ve all seen single parents who make it work. They raise great kids, and they do it all by themselves.
But does opting into motherhood mean you’re opting out of marriage?
Choosing Kids Over Romance?
“I wanted to have a baby before it was too late,” says Margie, mother of two-year-old Sarah, “but I didn’t realize the only time I would ever get to wear white was in the maternity ward. I decided to have a baby because I hadn’t met the right guy… yet. It just didn’t sink in that having a baby would eliminate most of my dating pool.”
Tom, a 39-year-old man says, “If a woman goes out and has a baby on her own, I think, ‘What does she need me for?’ I may sound like a pig for saying this, but I’m not the only one: Most guys I know don’t want to raise somebody else’s kid — even if that somebody is a test tube in a lab in New Jersey.”
But many single mothers by choice would make the same decision to have a baby again even if they knew it meant possibly forgoing marriage.
Danielle Young-Ullman, a married mother of a baby daughter, and author of Falling Under says, “If you’d asked me that before I actually was a mom, I’d probably have said no, and at that point I didn’t have any idea what a massive life change it would be! But now, even knowing all of that, I’m surprised to find myself saying yes.
“Because now I also know what it feels like to be a mom, to watch this little person grow, to hold them every day, to stand there blinking, jaw dropping as they say and do the most amazing things. So, yes, I’d do it. The love you feel is unfathomable. The work, stress, fatigue and loss of independence is also unfathomable but I’d have to say it’s worth it.”
Sloan says, “Being a single mom makes it more difficult to date — if you’re a working mom, your time is so valuable. You’re not going to go on that terrible blind date that you would have gone on.” Sloan says dating as a single mom is, of course, possible, just not as easy as when you have all the time in the world.
While dating as a single parent is a lot tougher, for many, it’s a lot better than opting out of love.
According to Sloan, “Some women I talked to were putting their social life on a shelf for 20 years — I don’t think that’s healthy.”
And whether you’re a single parent by choice or by circumstance, the one thing you’re probably pretty good at is love.
Dating expert Lisa Daily is the author of Stop Getting Dumped! and the upcoming novel, Fifteen Minutes of Shame.