Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Single Parenthood

There's been a lot of talk this last week about Ann Coulter and her comments and viewpoints on single parenthood. Conservatives are often painted in a light of not caring about women's rights, the male is the head of the household, etc. I would like to refute that and offer up my view on what us conservatives feel about single parenthood. This is a paper that I wrote for my Composition II class:

Families play a critical role in human development. They help shape our beliefs, our morals, and our interests. Basically, families make us who we are as a person. Families come in all shapes and sizes, everything from the basic family of a mother, father, and children to large, extended families that include several generations. Modern households also consist of single parents and mixed families that involve remarriages, divorces, and stepchildren. Many relationships also exist in the form of cohabiting couples, and children may or may not be present. With all these different forms of families, which is best for children? Recent trends show that single parenthood is on the rise, often with the mother as the sole provider for the children. Much debate swirls about whether single parenthood is good or not for both children and society, but traditional (also known as nuclear) families seem to work the best. Nuclear families are essential for children’s healthy development and for a healthy nation.
Barbara Whitehead states that “divorce and out-of-wedlock birth are transforming the lives of American children” (520). She could not be more right. The breakdown of the nuclear family is a huge problem in many areas. One of the more serious and extensive areas is poverty. Clearly a link exists between poverty and single parenthood. Most often, mothers are responsible for the care of children in single-parent situations, whether by being awarded custody or because they actually had the child. Iris Young firmly believes that poverty is the culprit behind single-motherhood (551). Poverty may be the cause of single motherhood in some cases, but Young seriously underestimates the costs of being a single parent. A single-parent household does not have the earning capacity of a traditional, dual-parent household, which means that the single parent takes on twice the work and responsibilities. Not only does a single parent have to maintain a decent job to support his or herself, but this parent has to also care for the child. Childcare is a full time job in itself! Children need parental attention to develop properly, which is where traditional families are important. Traditional families have two wage-earners, a situation that offers two options. Either one parent works all the time and one stays with the kids, or both work some of the time. Either way, a two-parent home offers the same crucial element: more time spent with kids. Not only is more time spent with the children, but the family can maintain the same income as one full-time parent, with the added bonus of more parent-child interaction. Thus, the chances of poverty are less with two parents, and kids receive the benefits of having their parents around more.
Poverty due to a single-parent household can lead to many secondary problems as well. Poverty can lead to depression, and a depressed parent is probably not the most effective parent they can be. When a parent is depressed, often the children end up with the same problem. Children from broken homes have a higher rate of suicide, crime, and violence, which may be attributed to depression and lack of effective parental authority (Whitehead 522). Since a single parent in poverty will most likely be working all the time or looking for a job to make ends meet, the child is often left in the care of a babysitter or relative. Secondary caregivers may be just as loving as the parent, but they do not have the same special bond that exists between children and their parents. Children hold their parents in a higher regard. One hears kids all the time exclaiming things like “I don’t have to listen to you, you’re not my mom,” or “you’re not my real dad!” Phrases like these from kids themselves show us how important the biological parent-child bond is, and subsequently why having a poverty-stricken single parent working all the time is a problem.
The problem of single parenthood has become far worse in recent times. More people are filing for divorce than ever, and record percentages of children are growing up without two parents. Aside from divorce, young sexual activity has become more accepted and even encouraged, which has led to more teen pregnancies, another cause of single-parent families. Single-parent situations are even starting to be encouraged. Whitehead states that feminism has greatly contributed to the rise of single motherhood. A single mother working on her own to support a family epitomizes the feminist movement’s idea of women’s independence, and one prominent feminist, Gloria Steinem, even stated that “a woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle”(530). Nobody is against women’s independence, but it is an issue that should be separated from children’s welfare. Nothing is wrong with Steinem’s quote that “a woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle,” but she should keep this in mind: a child without a father is like a bicycle with a flat tire. The child can go places, but not as effectively or happily as if he or she had both parents.
Single parenthood will continue to be a problem if something is not done. The younger generations are growing up with certain attitudes about relationships that are very problematic. First, divorce is not seen as a problem, but as an easy way out if a problem comes up in a relationship. Younger generations see many divorces occur for frivolous reasons and grow up with this thought in mind. The problem will only compound itself as a whole new generation grows up seeing divorce as an easy solution to problems. Younger generations also see family as less important, regardless of their family structure. Children and youth devote more time to school, extracurricular activities, and friends than ever before. Very few spend considerable amounts of time with family anymore.
Other attitudes also help perpetuate acceptance of single parenthood. Shere Hite believes traditional families are too authoritarian and create a submissive environment that prevents children from thinking for themselves and promotes weakness and subservience of women (488-489). She may be right in the case of a severely male-dominated household where the male holds the attitudes she describes, but Hite makes it seem like every traditional family is like this. Parents need to have a certain amount of control and authority over their children, for at least two reasons. First, Hite proposes that bringing children up with the choice of whether to accept their parents’ power or not is a positive thing (488). Her proposal would result in nothing short of chaos. Let kids choose to listen to their parents? If drugs, sex, alcohol, vandalism, crime, and things like that are bad now, imagine what things would be like without any parental authority! The same attitude toward authority would carry into adulthood. Why would adults have any respect for laws and authority if they did not have to as children? Second, parental authority is important for a very, very important reason: experience. Parents have grown up just as their children are doing. Kids learn to listen to their parents, because parents already know what to do and what not to do, so parental authority helps kids develop without making the same mistakes their parents did.
Dual parent families work best, in the proper context. Several situations of course call for divorce, because the negatives of keeping the current family outweigh the positives of a nuclear family. Spouse rape and abuse, child abuse, and a dominating spouse are some examples of negative situations in a family that may require a divorce. Aside from bad marital situations, two parents are critical to a healthy family. Even those families in poverty get along better and are happier than single parents in the same situation (Lerman). An ideal family should also exhibit egalitarian behavior. In other words, no one spouse is above the other. Both parents work together in a more democratic way to solve problems and nurture the family as a whole. Disputes should be carried out in a civil, non-violent way. Children’s input should be considered, too, and decisions made as a family to foster healthy relationships.
Traditional, egalitarian families are also good for our country, as they foster healthy debate and discussion within them because compromise is required. Hite argues that non-traditional families bring a diversity of viewpoints and opinions, which fosters a healthy democracy (492-493). She is right in the sense that different, conflicting viewpoints bring about compromise and the best solutions; she is wrong that non-traditional families promote compromise best. A traditional family unit promotes diverse viewpoints better than a variety of different family types in the country. A traditional family involves a man and a woman, two creatures different not only anatomically, but mentally as well. Men tend to be decisive, brash, methodical, logical, and goal-orientated. Women tend to be inquisitive, analytical, sensitive, caring, and detail-orientated. The traits of both men and women can be strengths and weaknesses, depending on the situation. When used in combination, the traits of men and women in a traditional relationship foster a better diversity of viewpoints and compromise than single-person households could ever hope to.
Several solutions could be used to reduce single parenthood. First, more premarital counseling should be required to make sure couples really are compatible with each other, that way couples hopefully realize they should not be together before they make kids and divorce. Second, divorces need to be harder to obtain. All too often, couples have a bad argument and just divorce instead of talking through their problems. Marital therapy sessions need to be required before couples can divorce, and the waiting period needs to be longer to give couples time to sort things out. Divorces should only take time as long as the children involved in the relationship are not harmed or traumatized by the parents’ dispute, in which case a prompt divorce is important. Third, since mothers (who usually receive custody) are often thrown into poverty because they have to care for a child and themselves, more alimony needs to be granted instead of measly child-support payments, which are often not even enforced. Fathers in divorces need to have a larger role in their child’s development, if only in the form of financial support of their child. Also, joint custody should be granted more often than it currently is. Divorces would be less traumatic for kids, and they still receive the benefits of both parents. Also, sex should not be taken so lightly. Young adults need to be taught that there are serious repercussions that can come from being sexually active. Kids are a much bigger responsibility than many realize, and sexually active people need to be aware of this, because accidents do happen.
Overall, two-parent traditional households offer better family situations. In recent times, non-traditional and single-parent families have been on the rise, but traditional families are important. They help promote healthy, caring growth of children since sufficient income to support a family is not as difficult with two parents, and parents are also free to spend time with their children. More time spent with children helps keep them happier and out of trouble. Each parent brings strengths and weaknesses to a relationship, and the resulting compromises are best for families. Hopefully, with the use of some solutions to reduce single-parent situations, more children can be brought up with both a mom and a dad and live happier and healthier lives.

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