Editors’ Note: The following essay is the second of three by Terri Marcroft. We refer you to her first essay published in September in The Prickly Pear: Weekend Read: How Abortion Hurts Women. The issue of single mothers and fatherless children is a major cause of poor outcome for millions of children and the following essay is important for Americans to understand and to address.
Each year almost three million US women face unplanned pregnancy. Most believe their decision is between abortion and parenting. And most are single.
And the rise in births to unmarried women is celebrated.
The stigma surrounding single motherhood used to discourage women from choosing that option. The message from Hollywood is that single moms are the personification of female liberation and independence. Article after article inspires awe for the woman who triumphs as a single mom, from Parenting Magazine to Ranker.com.
Bucking the trend, popular magazine Evie published “The Celebrity Lie Of Single-Mom Life As Glamorous And Empowering” in May 2021. In that article, Lisa Britton described “. . . numerous starlets [are] flaunting their solo-motherhood lifestyles on Instagram, making things seem glamorous and easy,” while avoiding posting anything negative about their situations. Hollywood is framing solo motherhood as a form of female empowerment. One woman boasts on social media: “Week 2 of solo parenting and you can pretty much call me superwoman now, LOL. . . .”
When Hollywood refers to single parenting as ‘glamourous’ or ‘fun’, they are speaking mainly about wealthy, slightly older women with established, successful careers. Of course, Angelina Jolie and Sandra Bullock can do it! But that’s very different from the teen who chooses to parent without a partner, without an education, and without a career.
Now for a dose of reality.
More Children are Living with a Solo Mother
Once largely limited to poor women and minorities, single motherhood is now becoming a new “norm.” This is due in part to the growing trend of children born outside marriage—a societal development that was virtually unheard of just a few decades ago. And more than 80 percent of single-parent families are headed by single mothers. Those single mother households are far more likely be low income and food insecure and nearly a third live in poverty.
In an effort to highlight this growing problem in America, then-Senator Barack Obama drove the point home in his June 2008 Father’s Day speech in Chicago when he said:
“Of all the rocks upon which we build our lives, we are reminded today that family is the most important. And we are called to recognize and honor how critical every father is to that foundation. They are teachers and coaches. They are mentors and role models. They are examples of success and the men who constantly push us toward it.
But if we are honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that what too many fathers also are, is missing—missing from too many lives and too many homes. They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families are weaker because of it.
You and I know how true this is in the African American community. We know that more than half of all black children live in single-parent households, a number that has doubled—doubled—since we were children. We know the statistics—that children who grow up without a father are:
– Five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime;
– Nine times more likely to drop out of schools;
– Twenty times more likely to end up in prison.
They are more likely to have behavioral problems or run away from home or become teenage parents themselves. And the foundations of our community are weaker because of it.”
The Reality of Single-Mother Households
Single-mother households are far more likely to be poor than married-couple households. That is the reality. The poverty rate for single-mother families in 2018 was 34%, more than five times higher than the rate for married-couple families, which was only 6%. Nearly three-in-five (58 percent) of all poor children lived in families headed by unmarried mothers. And one-in-three single moms spend over 50% of their income on housing, while 27% struggle to afford shelter. Forty percent of single moms in the U.S. have jobs that provide low wages and no paid leave. Almost one-third of single-mother families are food insecure. Two out of three single moms receive reduced price or free meals. Among the homeless families in America, more than 80% were headed by single women with children.
It’s a grim picture of a hard life. Yet, it’s reality for those who don’t have the resources of someone like Angelina Jolie or Sandra Bullock.
The Effect on the Children
Parents who get and stay married tend to be different in many other important respects from single parents—including having more time, education, and income—and it may be these differences that lie behind the gaps in their children’s success, rather than the fact of marriage itself.
It’s not only the adults who pay the price of single parenting. The Brookings Institute research shows that family structure plays a big role in the success of children at various stages of life, as evidenced by their data. Children at every age have a greater chance of success in a home where the mother is married, and a lesser chance of success in homes of never-married mothers. Children raised by married parents typically do better in life on almost every measure.
In the United States, 24.7 million children live in a home where their biological father is not present. That equates to one in every three children in America. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 85% of children who exhibit some type of behavioral disorder come from a fatherless home, as do 90% of youth who decide to run away from home. In addition, 75% of the long-term correctional facility inmates are from father-absent households.
Boys from Fatherless Homes
According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, 93% of our prison inmates are male and more than half of the youth in prison grew up without their father. Children who live in a single-parent homes are more than twice as likely to die from suicide.
In his article, “Why Young Men Become Shooters,” Park MacDougald writes, “Whatever the nominal motivations behind them, rampage shootings are nearly always a product of wounded masculinity.” He quotes Ralph Larkin, a criminologist at John Jay College who has studied mass shootings for decades: “They are the most masculine of crimes.” Warren Farrell, author and chair of the Coalition to Create a White House Council on Boys and Men, states, “There’s common denominators among mass shooters. The most obvious is that they’re male—98 percent are male.”
A second common denominator is that they’re almost all dad-deprived males, Farrell continues. “What we think of when we think of mass shootings is the people who are hurt. We don’t realize that all of these people are hurt by boys who are hurt, who are deprived of their dads, who are feeling neglected and depressed.”
Fathers are an important component in helping young males grow into productive men.
Girls from Fatherless Homes
Girls need their dads too. Daughters from fatherless homes are four times more likely to get pregnant as teenagers And twice as likely to suffer from obesity. They’re far more likely to struggle with bad relationships, eating disorders, and depression. These glaring statistics paint a dreary, difficult picture of single motherhood for their children.
As with all our options, there are also downsides to single parenting for the mother. Furthermore, if a woman drops out of school to have and raise a child, the picture is even more bleak. Single parenting is challenging—and even more so if one’s education ends, undermining career and job growth opportunities before they’ve begun.
Summary: Let’s Be Honest about Single Parenting
One thing is certain: The women who choose to raise a baby on their own, thinking it will be glamourous and ‘fun’ to have baby at home, are starting on a long, arduous road. There may or may not be extended family support. There may or may not be a steady income for life’s necessities. Almost all will find that life as a single mom is an unimaginable amount of hard work — exhausting and expensive.
Most women find a way to make it work, mustering more strength and resolve than they ever knew they possessed. (We are resourceful that way!) Many will beat the odds, rise to the challenge, and become some of the best mothers ever. It is doable, just not glamourous or fun.
The child, too, faces an uphill struggle, but not of his or her own making. Through no fault of his own, the child begins life with disadvantages to overcome, just by the nature of the family structure. The solo parent household cannot offer all the benefits and advantages that a two-parent household can offer. That’s the harsh reality. Two adult parents in the home means there is more of everything to go around – not only money and other resources but also one-on-one time and attention.
We could not have predicted this massive shift toward single parenting, or the significant disadvantages that would result from it. The last few decades’ revelations about single parenting and how those children are doing over the long-term are worth consideration.
When faced with an unplanned pregnancy, many could think that parenting is a noble choice. With complete information, however, we might reconsider. Is it really the best decision for the child? Is it in his best interests? This is one situation where we can get a glimpse into the future and allow that new-found knowledge to affect our choices today, as well as the choices we encourage others to make.
Terri Marcroft is an adoptive Mom to her 24-year-old daughter, Founder and Executive Director of Unplanned Good, an organization dedicated to promoting open adoption for women facing unplanned pregnancy. For more information, please see unplannedgood.org/. The article above is a condensed excerpt from her book Pro-Choice Pro-Adoption: It’s Time for a Loving, Positive Response to Unplanned Pregnancy published in 2022.
As we move through 2023 and into the next election cycle, The Prickly Pear will resume Take Action recommendations and information.