Were you aware that we only have two classes in the United States? First there’s the “privileged” and then unfortunately, there are the “single mothers.” The New York Times published an opinion piece, masked as news early this morning. While it could have been a compelling story discussing the shrinking identity of two-parent households, it chose to focus instead on, “the erosion of values” while blaming single mothers for their lack of parenting and the poverty level.

“While many studies have found that children of single parents are more likely to grow up poor, less is known about their chances of advancement as adults. But there are suggestions that the absence of a father in the house makes it harder for children to climb the economic ladder. Across Middle America, single motherhood has moved from an anomaly to a norm with head-turning speed. (That change received a burst of attention this year with the publication of Charles Murray’s new book, “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010,” which attributed the decline of marriage to the erosion of values, rather than the decline of economic opportunity.)

The State of White America? Surely they cannot add racism to the already tangled web of journalistic-misanthropy that this article created. The Star Tribune did far worse and  picked up the piece, hours after it was published and cut it to mere paragraphs of the original article. (The NYT article was 3,851 words while the Strib’s scrape was 488 words.) In the Strib’s version, (the version I read first,) no sources were  linked for data and a blatant bias was presented against single mothers, (not that the original article was written with true journalistic integrity in the first place.) For instance, the Strib’s sampling completely left off the data and mention of single mothers in a positive light, while clearly cutting paragraphs mid-sentence. Hard to read and harder to swallow, the watered-down version literally gave no important information, just judgement. A few things in particular stuck out to me in the original NYT article as well:

 

Divorce

No where in the NYT article, does it discuss the rising divorce rate notated in June and July 2012. In fact, with the additional rise of single parents, wouldn’t the divorce rate have a significant impact on the economic success of 1-parent households? In fact, the entire article is literally negated with this one, sentence: ”Estimates vary, but scholars have said that changes in marriage patterns — as opposed to changes in individual earnings — may account for as much as 40 percent of the growth in certain measures of inequality.” Not only do divorce statistics have a dramatic impact on single parenting, but they were not even cited as an example of why some mothers are single parents or why a child isn’t in a two-parent household. Changes in marriage patterns INCLUDE divorce among other things, not just single mothers having children with absentee fathers. Plus, divorce statistics are often wrongly-reported in today’s media.

Divorce stats are reported differently depending on the outlet. Even the 50% number, widely reported is now cited to be incorrect. The CDC’s FastStats claim the divorce percentage is lower while Wikipedia mentions it’s been steady, then declined in 2009. (This is not to get confused with the recent July article by USNews claiming divorce rates for senior citizens are soaring and the June article where CNN reports that baby boomer divorce rates have doubled.) In comparison, the Medical Daily’s July 10th article not only cited the fall of marriages in themselves, but the rise of divorce rates, which looks eerily similar to the NYT article’s premise, except without that pesky divorce data. Interestingly enough, they state:

“While people in lower socioeconomic status value the institution of marriage just as much as those in higher socioeconomic status, reports reveal if they do marry—the amount of those who stay married are low.”

 

Constant blame of single mothers

Single mothers have been blamed by both parties, (Conservative and Liberal,) for the rise of everything from poverty to child abuse. The fact is, single mothers are a great scapegoat for everything that ails today’s society. It’s amazing how such a high number of the population is so widely ostracized. According to the US Census Bureau and Single Mother Statistics,

As of 2011, 11.7 million families in the US were headed by a single parent, 85.2% of which were headed by a female. Around 45% of single mothers have never married, around 55% are divorced, separated or widowed. Half have one child, 30% have two. About two fifths are White, one third Black, one quarter Hispanic. One quarter have a college degree, one sixth have not completed high school.

Did you catch that statistic? The rate of divorce for single parents is higher than the rate of unmarried single parents, according to the US Census Bureau. NPR.org recently published a frank discussion about the barriers many single parents, (divorced, never-married and otherwise,) face. In Olivia Golden’s interview, she states an relatively forgotten fact about single parents, “So I guess I think that the choices matter, but so does the framework and that enabling parents to work and support their kids and also be there for their kids as nurturers, able to give them those good choices – that’s what we have to aim for.” Exactly. Many in two-parent households will fail just as those in single parent homes.

To err is human, is it not? If we could all focus less on blaming single parents and focus more on making sure all children are given equal educational opportunities the true ability to succeed, the U.S. would be a far better place. In fact, our own President disapproved the “Broken Home Theory,”  In fact, why on earth are we calling these homes, “broken” when it’s becoming the societal norm? Are they truly broken, or are they simply, different? Sadly, single mothers still shoulder most the blame in not being able to keep “stable” environments for their children despite incredible odds. Children who do not have the presence of an adult, male role model certainly feel and react to the absence, but how much?  According to UCLA, who published a June 2012 gender study on the affect of non-custodial male role models on children, found no difference in the emotional health among children who had role models and children who did not. (Which is surprising, in itself, especially because I’ve seen tens of studies describing the need for positive male role models, which I firmly agree with.) Nevertheless, it’s proven that statistics, studies and opinions can all bring different results.

Approximately half of the teens had male role models. The NLLFS teens with and without male role models did not differ from each other in psychological well-being, and also did not differ on stereotypical feminine and masculine traits, like understanding and competitiveness.

Blaming single mothers for being “poor” and hurting society is a pathetic excuse for what is truly going on. Women are sometimes choosing and sometimes faced with having children on their own. Just a few months ago, the Catholic Church spoke that single mothers, (like myself,) were “sociologically unstable.” However, we were in good company, as adopted children were also given the same label. In 2011, I read that 7/10 Americans actually believed the children of single parents were merely a drain on society. It’s no wonder single mothers fear the stigma related with our “label” and many of us work so hard to prove the world otherwise.

But remember, “none of the women in the study who had finished college before giving birth had children with multiple men.” Apparently the “study” and the article are not only scewed but also lacking the true face of many blended American families. Apparently getting divorced and having another child is a “lower class” thing to do.

 

Pandering: Photos and Captions

While the Strib clearly pandered and portrayed only the two-parent household in any sort of positive light, the NYT article featured several photos with alarming captions and stereotypes. Under one photo of a little boy in a messy room it states, “Steavon’s mother is a single parent who struggles to afford the expense of extracurricular activities. Steavon was able to participate in one activity this year and chose football.” Steavon is looking off to the right of the camera in a daze, while the clutter in his room and his lack of engaged face speaks for itself. Steavon is clearly from the article’s single parent household.

In the next photo the caption reads, “Justin’s parents both work and share responsibility around the house. Justin packed for a Boy Scout camping trip while his father did the laundry. His father was also one of the adults on the camping trip.” In the photo, Justin’s room is cleaner and he’s actively participating in a project.

By far, the most appalling caption belongs to photo number 3 where Steavon’s head is down on a desk and he looks rejected and sad. “Jessica Schairer talked to Steavon about his school snack. He wanted $2 for a bagel and was angry because she packed pretzels from home to save money. She didn’t want to tell him that she couldn’t afford money for the bagel.” Only single parent households must face big decisions like whether or not you should take snacks from home to save money. No where is the single mother praised for offering a healthy snack and providing for her child. Instead, a sense of blame and rejection clouds the photo as Steavon is painted to be a lost, little boy who never is able to have what he needs.

Photos 4, 5 and 6 all show the two parent household engaging in fun family activities with parental engagement, (hugging and touching each of the children.) Smiles are shown and there is no further mention of Steavon.

Everything about the portrayal of the single mother, Ms. Schairer is aching to be labeled as stereotypical. The windshield of her van is cracked. The children are often in the way of work, (because she opens 45 minutes early and needs to bring her children with as the bus doesn’t pick up in time.) The mother is relieved when her children are finally gone. She was promoted at work, but the article quickly stated she made only, “$12.35 an hour, simultaneously in management and on food stamps.” She also had cervical cancer and couldn’t find the time away from work to take the required time off. These are not only the plights of single mothers. Are they not the plights of any mother?

It couldn’t get more crystal clear. The two-parent family is superior. The single mother is a disgrace. This is literally in the article where I had to remind myself that an actual reporter wrote the words and not the two-parent family, themselves:

Jeremy Faulkner plays tennis and takes karate. Justin plays soccer and baseball. They both swim and participate in Boy Scouts, including a weeklong summer camp that brings the annual activities bill to about $3,500. Boy Scouts has been especially important, offering the boys leadership opportunities and time with their father, who helps manage the troop and rarely misses a weekly meeting or monthly camping trip. Jeremy started as a shy boy terrified of public speaking. Now he leads the singalong and is racing to make Eagle Scout.“He’s just blossomed through Boy Scouts,” Ms. Faulkner said. “I could do the scouting with them, because we have single moms who play that role. But they have different experiences with their dad. Kevin makes good money, but he’s an awesome dad.” Ms. Schairer tells an opposite story: constraints in time and money limit her children to one sports season a year. That compounds Steavon’s isolation, she said, and reduces her chances to network on his behalf. When she invited his classmates to a park on his birthday a few months ago, no one came. “He cried and cried and cried,” she said. “I tried the parents I had numbers for, but they didn’t respond.”

The use and portrayal of the word, “privileged” and “core national faith”

“It is the privileged Americans who are marrying, and marrying helps them stay privileged,” said Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University… The people with more education tend to have stable family structures with committed, involved fathers,” Ms. McLanahan said. “The people with less education are more likely to have complex, unstable situations involving men who come and go.”

What captured me most about the statement above was the re-definition of the “haves” and “have-nots.” Labeling only the married population as “privileged,” is an incredible disservice to divorced and originally-single parents who make a great wage and raise happy, healthy children. This is what the article truly fails to recognize as it falls into the blame game without realizing it: Single parents are not all created equal. Many, many factors go into why a single mother becomes a single mother. To negate those factors and simply label non-married parental households the opposite of “privileged” shows a very short-sided attempt at journalism. One of the most interesting factors is the changing face of adoption and the ability for women to keep and support the children they give birth to. This brings up a very important element that isn’t  even mentioned in the NYT article. In Ann Fessler’s book, “The Girls Who Went Away,” she discusses the epidemic of the young women who gave up children for adoption between 1945 and 1973. Given little choice, these women surrendered their children to later experience dramatic psychological effects. Surely women deciding to keep their children has a dramatic impact on the progression of single mothers and the economy, since most later married and had Generation X. By far however, the sentence below is the most damning to the credibility of NYT’s diatribe:

“The economic storms of recent years have raised concerns about growing inequality and questions about a core national faith, that even Americans of humble backgrounds have a good chance of getting ahead.”

A national core faith? According to article after article, Americans young and old are abandoning Christianity in alarming numbers, the most alarming being the statistics of Millennials. According to the Pew Research Center,

More than half of non-religious American youths born since 1981 have abandoned their childhood faith.

It’s strange to me, that a national paper would take the conservative high road when speaking about single parenting. Plus, I can’t decipher the true meaning of the sentence. First the NYT states that growing inequality is a concern, then they discuss a national faith and it ends with “even Americans of humble backgrounds have a good chance of getting ahead.”  Thank goodness for the American Dream, (that we so often hear is dead.) Does this mean that children of single parent households can actually make something of themselves? Again, doesn’t this negate the perception and “studies” that single mother households are single-handedly hurting the economy and creating a lower class? And seriously, what about the men? No blame, no words and not one ounce of question is given to the men in these single-parent families. (Where are they? Why did they go? Why weren’t they around?) Women are not praying mantises. Why blame the females for the lack of men present? Even if every single male involved in the conception was a deadbeat or loser, there’s certainly blame to be had for the men who refuse to help care for their offspring?

 

Thank God for Kevin Faulkner

Kevin, described in the photo captions as the helper of household laundry, proud Cub Scout parent and all-around savior is given high praise for simply being the husband of Mrs. Faulkner in the two-person household. They did things, “in standard order,” the NYT states. (School, College, Job, Marriage, Children.) What’s their great reward? “The result is a three-bedroom house, two busy boys and an annual Disney cruise.” (Yes, the article actually revels in their annual cruise and happy children, while simultaneously putting down the single mother who wakes at 5am to bring her 3 children to work with her.) I would love an annual Disney cruise, but I spend my money differently. Maybe this says it all: “When Ms. Faulkner’s coaxing failed to persuade Jeremy to try hamburgers, Mr. Faulkner offered to jump in a pool fully clothed if he took a bite — an offer Jeremy found too tempting to refuse.” No single mother could ever think of that. Thank goodness there’s a man around.

 

 

Parents Rock

This is what I believe: Any parent, in any class of any color, creed, sexual orientation, has the right to not be condemned or judged when they are truly working to be the best parent they can be. It’s easy to claim there’s a new class of people without investigating why. Just like it’s easy to praise one male for sticking around in a marriage and blame the ex-wife or girlfriend of another for driving the man away. Our judgements can only go so far and in all reality, they are not warrantied in a national paper, nor should we accept this misguided attempt at showcasing two families. The article reaks of superiority for the Faulkners, while blatantly putting down the Schairer family. The truth is, a family is a family. The more we find the need to define what’s “right” or “perfect,” is where we miss the beauty of women like Mrs. Schairer, who tirelessly works for her 3 children.

As a single mother myself, I take great pride in earning a good wage, having an education and raising my child with grace, intelligence and strength- with or without a male present. I recognize how lucky I am to have wonderful male role models in her life, but I won’t call my plight, “lucky.” It was hard work, determination and blowing off the labels that “articles” just like the New York Times and Star Tribune pen. Single mothers are NO less for simply being single mothers. We are simply, who we are, doing the best we can and the disrespect we face is utterly baffling. It’s time to stop the bullshit, American Media. Our children are just fine.