Non-traditional families are not good for children

One of the constant themes from the Left is that a traditional home, with a biological mother and father (or a home with a married mother and father who have committed to adopting children) is no better than a single mother home, or a two father home, or a two mother home. With respect to that first — the single mother home — they could not be more wrong, as even an AP article admits:

Six-year-old Oscar Jimenez Jr. was beaten to death in California, then buried under fertilizer and cement. Two-year-old Devon Shackleford was drowned in an Arizona swimming pool. Jayden Cangro, also 2, died after being thrown across a room in Utah.

In each case, as in many others every year, the alleged or convicted perpetrator had been the boyfriend of the child’s mother — men thrust into father-like roles which they tragically failed to embrace.

Every case is different, every family is different. Some single mothers bring men into their lives who lovingly help raise children when the biological father is gone for good.

Nonetheless, many scholars and front-line caseworkers interviewed by The Associated Press see the abusive-boyfriend syndrome as part of a broader trend that deeply worries them. They note an ever-increasing share of America’s children grow up in homes without both biological parents, and say the risk of child abuse is markedly higher in the nontraditional family structures.

“This is the dark underbelly of cohabitation,” said Brad Wilcox, a sociology professor at the University of Virginia. “Cohabitation has become quite common, and most people think, ‘What’s the harm?’ The harm is we’re increasing a pattern of relationships that’s not good for children.”

The existing data on child abuse in America is patchwork, making it difficult to track national trends with precision. The most recent federal survey on child maltreatment tallies nearly 900,000 abuse incidents reported to state agencies in 2005, but it does not delve into how rates of abuse correlate with parents’ marital status or the makeup of a child’s household.

There’s a lot more in the article which, even though it admits that some statistics are hard to come by, nevertheless says that existing statistics show a very disturbing trend for children trapped in single Mom homes, with revolving door boyfriends.

I’m actually quite surprised that this went through the AP filters, because it’s a tacit admission that the conservative agenda, which promotes stable traditional marriages, is actually better than the alternatives.  I’m not saying, of course, that we should make it illegal for women to raise children alone or that women alone should be denied boyfriends, or anything silly like that.  I am saying, though, that one of the ways in which America can improve child welfare without more taxes and endless government programs is simply to promote traditional marriage.

Right now, between the devaluation of traditional marriage because of the pressure for gay marriage, the PC claim that single women don’t need a man (which is both a sop to feminists and to African-American women who have traditionally found themselves parenting solo, for myriad reasons), and the pop culture that turns its back on the old rhythm of “first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in the baby carriage), the social and emotional validity of marriage as a prelude to children is at a low ebb — and children need us to reverse that trend.


29 Responses

  1. Women making repeated bad choices in their men – or should I say, their Bad Boys – when other men’s children are underfoot can only lead to Very Bad Things Happening. These Bad Boys will of course never take care of another man’s child. If willful neglect is the only thing that happens, you’re fortunate.

    Some women learn and make a better choice the second (or third) time around, choosing a nurturing man and choosing stability, rather than wanting another fling for themselves on the dark and wild slide. Opting not to satisfy wilder needs, they choose instead something cleaner for themselves and far better for their children.

    Others are just unfortunate, lacking capability themselves, and lacking any family or any other resources, and being trapped with one bad guy after another, hoping for luck, being unlucky over and over instead.

  2. Sometimes traditional thinking is useful. A whole raft of studies have shown that a stay at home parent in the first years is one of the best ways to go. Now when a woman chooses to do this they are almost mocked. Yet when men do it no one seems to think twice. There are 2 million stay at home dads.

    We should be encouraging, supporting. and applauding the things that parents do to raise their children in the best way possible. The next time someone tells me it’s for the children I am going to ask about their stance on marriage and parenting. Should be interesting.

    As an aside, when my brother who was a stay at home dad was asked about what that did to his career. “Who cares look at our son.” He is a great kid.

  3. I’ve often wondered about that, Mike. Why so many women are attracted to such jerks like moths to a flame. Is it because they are attracted to the same kinds of men that abused them early in life? Is it the media? Do any of our women bloggers have insights to offer? As the father of a young lady, I always worry about these questions.

  4. My theory, Danny, is because popular culture pushes “cool,” rather than nice or honorable. Bad boys are presented as attractive, more so than “nerds” or “nice guys.” Sad — and very damaging.

  5. Bookworm –

    Thank you for posting this article! This is an issue that is becoming more near and dear to my heart.

    As some of you may know, I recently decided to go back to school to become a nurse – sort of an early mid-life crisis! Anyway, our clinicals this semester were in pediatrics and mother/infant. WITHOUT EXCEPTION, every single child I was assigned to take care of in the peds clinical was the product of a single mother home. Every single one. And guess what? Every single one of these kids was on Medicaid.

    Coincidence? I don’t think so.

    Three of the roughly 12-13 kids I was assigned this semester were clear-cut abuse cases. Again, not a coincidence.

    Then there was the mother infant clinical. Granted, the hospital I’m in is an inner-city public teaching hospital But still, out of all of the mothers and new babies I was assigned this semester, I had three who I knew in my heart would be ok when they got home. All three were married. Everyone else was single. And on welfare.

    Again, not a coincidence.

    I just ache for these little ones. It’s not that being married solves all of the problems or protects the children from all bad things. It’s just that it puts a little more distance between the woman, the child, and absolute rock bottom.


  6. Danny,

    Teach your daughter self-respect, to be able to set personal boundaries, and to see as unacceptable a guy who tries to control her, or who won’t respect her “no”. If she knows she has loving and attentive parents who are paying attention and guiding her, she should be just fine.

    Why are women aattracted to these giys? Maybe they seem exciting or good looking. Often these guys are just manipulative and know how to exploit a woman’s insecurities and desires to their advantage. You might want to read Gavin de Becker’s book, The Gift of Fear, to give you some insight into these tactics.

    The women Bookie is talking about don’t have the kind of loving support or guidance at home that I am sure your daughter has. I have worked with many women like this in my professional life. Usually they grew up in poverty, chaos and violence. Often they grew up in single parent homes, with their own mom’s partners lasting just long enough to produce one or two more babies. Clearly there are no personal boundaries, and the concept of self-respect is all about fighting and toughness, not about values. It’s a really depressing and degrading lifestyle. I have worked with moms with 7 kids with 7 different dads (Illegal immigrants all, by the way). The kids are out on the streets, drawn to gangs and drugs. They end up in juvenile detention early. The boys are fathers at 15, the girls are mothers at 14. The pattern is of “hooking up”, not of relationships and commitment.

    Boyfriends come in and provide financial help. Mom gets pregnant again. Soon after the baby is born, she may return to work. Mom works morning. Dad of the baby (step-dad to the older kids), works evenings, or vice-versa. He takes care of the kids when she is gone, but she doesn’t want him to discupline the children that are not his, and he in turn, has not bonded with them.

    Step-dads like this, or Mom’s boyfriend, are also statistically responsible for a great many incidents of sexual abuse. They are alone with the kids and there is a budding 13 year old girl- not his daughter- and he can just take her. This goes on for months. Mom finds out, denies it, defends the boyfriend she might lose. That is another underbelly.

    But within these families there are also othe factors: drug addiction, alcoholism, lack of familial support, poverty, and a failure to transmit values and a loving upbringing to children,

    I would like to see a mature long married couple like Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward promoted in the media, rather than the infantile romantic hook-ups of celebrities who “don’t need a piece of paper”, have babies, and one or two years later are with another person. It would be nice to see our media celebrate and promote committed people and good parents, rather than the shallow relationships they report about endlessly, that produce such poor little rich kids.

  7. A friend of mine, who is expecting her fourth child by a third father, told me recently that she doesn’t know “what a normal marriage” looks like. Unfortunately, she’s not unique. A lot of girls have grown up without seeing how a good man behaves. She was married to the father of #2 and #3, but it was a very erratic relationship, in which he didn’t even live with her half the time. So now with her current boyfriend (father of #4), she is trying to be cautious, and not rush into marriage with him. That’s good, I suppose (since it’s too late now to undo that pregnancy), but here that makes another single mom with a boyfriend, and children not his own. She’s obviously made some poor choices, and is really paying for them, as she has no education past high school. Oops, I mean we’re all paying for her mistakes, as she cannot support herself and her children on her cashier’s salary alone. However, she is smart enough to know that at this point her chances of attracting a good man are slim. I try to tell her otherwise, so she won’t settle on another loser, but I know I’m kind of lying. She is only 21.

    Yes, Danny, I do think a lot of women are attracted to the kind of men with which they are familiar. So if you are a good, involved, caring father, your daughter’s chances of choosing a good man are higher. If she sees a husband treating his wife well, she won’t want to settle for less.

  8. Lulu and Heather are both on to something about women not knowing what a good marriage looks like. The don’t see them at home, and there is no longer a cultural ideal. I grew up on shows from the 50s, 60s and early 70s (some in re-runs, ’cause I’m not that old), all of which showed stable married couples with children. Leave it to Beaver, Father Knows Best, I Love Lucy, Bewitched, the Brady Bunch, etc., all revolved around a loving married relationship.

    In the 1970s, the liberals decided that it was unfair to taunt kids from vulnerable or damaged homes with these images of marital contentment. How much better to make TV raw and real, and to show everybody being miserable. And then in the 1990s, how much better to show everybody hooking up with a different boyfriend or girlfriend every week (and I’m thinking of Seinfeld and Friends here, both of which were amusing shows for adults, but terrible relationship models for children). What these well-meaning liberals didn’t realize, of course, is that they took away any vision children might have had of a life better than their own, of something they could strive for. They took away hope.

    Lulu’s right too about the Hollywood models. Chris Noth, who played “Mr. Big” in Sex and the City, just had a baby with his girlfriend. What ever happened to marriage first, then baby? And what about Pitt and Jolie who boast of not getting married. It’s easy to sneer at these people as shallow, frivolous and ill-informed, but their choices have an enormous impact on young people.

    It’s just so sad, and I just keep hoping that the pendulum will swing back again.

  9. Well, I’ll accept that they don’t know what a good marriage looks like.

    Do they know what a birth-control pill looks like?

  10. Perhaps there’s some hope — at least among college students. Here’s an excerpt from Kathleen Parker’s 11/16 column “Dying to date”:

    At Duke University recently, Stepp asked how many in her audience of about 250 would like to bring back dating. Four out of every five raised their hands.

    It would seem that young people are not hook-up machines, but are human beings who desire real intimacy and emotional connection.

    The piece is mostly about STD’s, but also seems to show that the pendulum may be swinging back.

  11. A 21 year old has all the time in the world to stabilize her life and *then* look for a man… and by that time her youngest would be in school and past that dangerous age of unreason. (Three year olds are so cute because otherwise *none* of them would survive.)

    She just has to do without sex.

    Which gets us back to where we started. The idea that people *must* be in a physical relationship because they have *hormones* don’t cha know.

    Relationship or courting (yes *courting*) first, and *then* sex.

    The other way around means that all decisions that ought to be made with a rational mind and clear eyed view of the other person are made in the haze of emotional upheaval.

    And the old “try it out before you buy it.” Sounding cute doesn’t make something true and we’re finding out that it is soooo not true that “trying” living together to see if it “works” helps people avoid mistakes.

    It *blinds* them to mistakes.

    It makes emotional investments and attachments to people you’re not committed to, who aren’t committed to you, and clouds whatever clarity might have considered the other persons (and your own) character and expectations.

  12. Heather,
    what troubles me about your friend is that she repeatedlt gets pregnant while in unstable, erratic relationships. This is really unfair to the child.

    Does she think a child will cement her otherwise unstable relationship? The problem I see too often is people who just let life happen to them- they make no plans. It’s one thing to make poor choices that screw up your own life. It’s not right to pull a child along with you.

    As I said, I work professionally with many families like your friend’s. The kids ae invariably mourning a non-involved dad, fantasizing about the perfect life they would have with him, living with a frazzled, exhausted, and often immature mom, and ripe for leaping into love with the first person who pays any attention.

  13. Oh, and why some women choose “bad boys.”

    I knew one.

    And she was fairly honest about it, too.

    A “bad boy” needed her in ways that her excessively responsible husband had not. He was *always* in an emotional upheaval, (and if he wasn’t she could cause one), and he needed her. He was physically and emotionally needy. He (maybe) was a criminal and his money came in large chunks but unreliably so he *always* needed her to help with rent or something. And *her* emotions were always in upheaval, too. Which is sort of a drug, really.

  14. My opinion… having babies is a way to get a family that *stays*.

    The boyfriend may leave.

    The baby won’t.

  15. Synova is right on the money, in my experience. In the 70’s I surpervised and trained predominantly women who were young, single, black and working for the phone company i.e not on welfare. Four years later my niece, white, college-bound and product of that famous nuclear home had a baby out of wedlock.

    What did these single mothers then and now have in common? They all “just wanted someone to love me.” So parents of daughters: love them to pieces, give them a sense of self-worth and give them something to believe in greather than themselves and they will do just fine.

  16. Ellie, I experienced the “somebody to love me” reason when I did family planning counselling, also in the 70s. I’m afraid that some of the “you can have it all” feminism emphasizes the superficial and leaves very needy women behind.

    BW, speaking of old TV shows, do you remember all the flak Bill Cosby took because his show did not reflect the reality of black life?

  17. And yet women’s groups are still out there pitching the same tired philosophy: “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle”. The kids get left behind. The nuclear family isn’t always Nirvana- but it’s solid and practical. Generally it works. Aiming to deconstruct it makes no macro sense.

  18. Lulu, re. my friend: I’m not totally sure; we’re not really that close of friends. I know that #2 was planned (she was married) and #3 was an accident (the brief marriage was failing at that point). Number 4 was an accident also, I think. Some major hormones involved, I guess – or being taken advantage of?? She’s a very sweet, quiet, mild-mannered girl – just the kind that a guy could easily take advantage of.

    But, regardless, you are correct that the children will suffer from it.

  19. When I hear a good reason why I should get married in the state of California before having children, I’ll consider it.
    What this really says is that we should teach girls how to pick a good mate! 90% of woman wait to be asked out, and that is a foolish way to find a partner unless you are seeking the most aggressive men. Yes, it is true that some women are reckless, but mostly I think they have traditional notions of femininity that prevent them from making decisions in their own best interest.

    Sorry folks, my truly moral feminist upbringing trumps all your hoopalla.

    PS. the “tax advantage” is not a convincing reason to get married.

  20. As for that, Scott, I don’t know why a man who isn’t ready to settle down and have a family should get married. In the old days, unless he liked to frequent prostitutes, which was always a dicey proposition in terms of health, wealth and reputation, marriage was the only way to get sex. Now, since that isn’t the case, I can see only two, no, make that three, reasons for men to marry: (1) because they want to raise children in the optimal two parent environment; (2) because they’ve fallen in love; (3) and because they want a help mate in terms of life management (two working people, two incomes, two people managing the household).

    However, I still think society should encourage people who are going to have children to get married. Once you have children, as many of us know, it’s not about you anymore, it’s about the kids. Or, at least it should be, since they didn’t ask to be born, and I feel we owe it to them, having decided to have them, to give them the best upbringing we can — and that means a stable marriage.

  21. Scott –

    I disagree with you.

    Traditional notions of femininity do NOT prevent women from making decisions in their own best interest. I can’t even begin to count the number of solid, happy marriages of people I know who are older than 75, marriages in which the husband and the wife respected each and honored each other.

    I can count on one hand the number of marriages I know of people UNDER 65 who have that type of marriage. All of these are people who grew up in the 60s, 70s, and 80s in which women did everything BUT exercise traditional notions of femininity.

    Please note that I’m not arguing that traditional femininity results in a solid marriage. But ditching traditional femininity definitely does NOT lead to better marriages.

    Also, did you ever consider that perhaps the reason so many women do not go out and aggressively pursue a man may be rooted in biological reasons? I don’t know the answer to that – I’m just asking the question.


  22. P.S. When I think “feminist,” the first word that pops into my mind is not “moral.”

    A feminist may very well be moral but being a feminist does not, in and of itself, make one moral.

  23. Scott,

    Pardon my verbage ladies, any male can be a sperm donor. A man knows that the most sublime accomplishment he can achieve is to be a husband and a father.

  24. Thank you for the positive comments, everyone. Happy Thanksgiving! There’s so much to be thankful for.

  25. If you pay attention to the evening news over a period of time you’ll see that the majority of missing/ kidnapped/ killed children do not have the same last name as their mothers.

    It just emphasize the point that children brought up in a traditional family are the best protected (and almost certainly best loved) children.

    For all the flack Dan Quayle got for his Murphy Brown speech (3 pages), there was at least one social scientist who said that he was right.

  26. The one thing I’d say in challenge to SD’s point is that, in my community, indeed, in my household, kids often have their father’s not their mother’s last name. Women here tend to marry and start a family late in their careers, and many opt to keep their own names for practical reasons: credit history, employment history, professional reputation, etc. When you’ve got a short history, it’s not a big deal. When you’ve got 15 years of building that history under one name, it’s quite a big deal to switch it to another.

  27. Let’s put it this way, the stories I referred to are not about families where the mismatched last names are indicative of the wife’s professional status.

    I should have been more precise.

  28. I agree with Scott.

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