by Vicki Larson
Last week, I discovered that I was responsible for all the world’s problems.
This was news to me, although my teenagers have been alluding to something like it for a while, just within a smaller world — say, 1,200 square feet on a certain block in a certain town in Northern California.
But because I am a single mom, I am guilty, accused by Ann Coulter, conservative political commentator, columnist and author. Coulter recently declared on the “Today Show,” where she was promoting her new book, “Guilty: Liberal ‘Victims’ and Their Assault on America ,” that single motherhood was "a recipe to create criminals, strippers, rapists, murderers."
Funny — I think my two boys have other plans.
But since there are basically two ways to get noticed in this two-minute sound-bite world — pushing sex or outrageousness, and Coulter happens to be the mistress of both — the messenger often obscures the message. I wanted to delve further.
So I read “Guilty” — not the whole book, just the juicy bits on single moms — and I couldn’t help noticing how I’ve heard most of this before, most recently in an article in Slate last year written by Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, the magazine’s advice columnist. In fact, Coulter cites Yoffe’s article.
And both Coulter and Yoffe target women who get knocked up out-of-wedlock but keep their babies anyway and single moms by choice (and I felt a bit relieved that Coulter says divorced moms shouldn’t latch onto the single mom category, although she has other unkind things to say about us). And there are more and more women choosing that path.
But blaming all the world’s ills on us — I mean, them — bothers me. I know a handful of kids who were swept up in the middle of the night and sent to wilderness programs who came from wealthy, white, traditional families. Two-parent families mess up, too; just ask any shrink or read an Augusten Burroughs memoir. Although Coulter cites numerous studies about single mothers, without knowing what else is going on — addictions, abuse, mental illness, poverty (and single moms are among the poorest, according to Census data) and just plain ol’ bad parenting — it’s likely skewed. And nowhere do we know what percentage of kids from single-parent families end up as criminals and strippers — 50 percent? 5 percent? .05 percent? Plus, most of the studies date from the 1990s; I’d like to know what’s changed.
And everything’s changing. More people are OK with hookups and cohabitation; more young men are getting vasectomies; more couples are choosing to be child-free; more men are skittish about marriage, perhaps rightfully so given divorce laws; more women are becoming choice mothers, even in their 20s — we are morphing into something very different from the 1950s Cleaver family model and we’re not going back.
What good is it to point fingers?
Still, as a single mom — or co-parenting mom, as I share 50-50 custody with my kids’ dad — I know how hard it is, how having to work full time keeps me from being as involved with my kids as I was when I was a stay-at-home mom, how tired and often distracted I am, how much poorer I am (although I work harder), how they are left to their own devices much more now, how even little things like getting them to doctor appointments and basketball games involves a lot of scheduling and time off from work.
I’ve seen the exhaustion and tears of former co-workers, choice moms and single moms who adopted, who constantly missed hours, sometimes days, because of their kids’ needs.
I can’t deny that despite the joys (and there are many), raising kids solo creates problems for everyone — parent, child and the world at large — to various extents. I would like to know what kids of choice moms think; I know what mine say about divorce: “Sometimes, it sucks.”
And I am distressed that men are somehow getting pushed aside, creating an odd self-fulfilling prophecy of Gloria Steinem’s statement that “a woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle” — at the same time that more men than ever are actively engaged, hands-on daddies (even stay-at-home dads) and doing more around the house, every wife’s dream. In a way, it seems cruel to ditch them this way: “Sorry, boys, but sisters are doing it for themselves.” And even though many single moms actively seek out men to be part of their children’s lives, it is more like an enrichment activity, according to some researchers.
Whether we believe Coulter's statistics or not, most research indicates that children do better with two parents in a happy marriage. And as the mother of two boys, I believe they deserve a world that sees them as more than just an enrichment activity or a sperm depository. But if those are the only options available to them, they might as well become strippers — it might be a great way to meet a partner.