Should the new norm concern us?

02.20.2012, 1:05 PM

At the New York Times “Motherlode” blog, KJ Dell’Antonia is thinking out loud about that big headline:

Unmarried mothers, in some areas, have become the norm, no longer stigmatized by society. Regular readers of this blog will know that while births among teenagers are down in recent years, the majority of commenters here, at least, would support, not shun, a teenager of their acquaintance with a baby. That tolerance clearly extends to all unmarried mothers. Many of us pride ourselves on the modernity of this relatively new way of thinking — who would insist that only a family mirroring some 50’s-sitcom image of “nuclear” can raise a happy, healthy child?

But is our pride misplaced? Fifty-three percent of all children born to women under 30 is an awful lot of children born outside of what’s been considered, for more than a handful of years, the most stable family structure…

Can we find a way to support marriage at all levels of society without recreating the stigma for unmarried mothers and their children, and should we?


12 Responses to “Should the new norm concern us?”

  1. Christopher says:

    Of course that way has to be found, and aren’t you the ones to find it?

    I can’t believe that as these changes happen you’ll go from saying essentially “this change will make it impossible for us to talk about how children need their bio parents” to “it is now impossible for us to talk about this” so we are unable to talk about it. These changes out-of-wedlock birth, single parenthood, marriage equality have come and are coming. Is the ultimate goal, if that is the ultimate goal – and for you Elizabeth I believe it is, to help increase the bond between bio parents and kids and to better parenting overall, then why not focus on that instead of something like ssm which has no real provable correlation to what you really are concerned with. Opposing it only robs you of credibility with a large segment of the people you need to reach – the vast majority of people 40-plus have already made thier parenting decisions for better or worse.

    I’ve been in consumer marketing for 25 years and I know from experience that the wagging finger never sells anything.

    (Similarly, it’s funny how anti-ssm folks never actually promote civil unions but position them as a sort of be-glad-you-even-got-this framing, and then wonder that gay people and the straight people who love and support them aren’t satisfied with that.)

    Now that the dye is cast on these issues, isn’t it time to find the way to talk about them – to recognize these realities, and retune the rhetoric toward inclusion.

    I can give you one hint on gamete donation conceived persons – they have, I would posit, a legal right to know their parents because they were a third party to a contract that binds them for thier entire life without consent. In broad strokes, I think that’s an argument that can be won in court. It a question of parental rights vs the rights of minor and adult children. It is not a question of straight or gay as all sorts of couples use gamete donation and, further, (and I know you hate to deal with this fact but it works in your favor here Elizabeth) very very few gay couples use gamete donation, realistically 3% or 4% of all gay couples (only 21% of gay couples have any children at all) – so opposing or regulating gamete donation can be done without being or seeming to be antigay at all.

    In the process of retempering your rhetoric and efforts, you’ll find new allies and probably lose a few current ones. I can understand that your funders at IAV might not like that change but I think it’s coming nonetheless. Doesn’t it have to?

  2. marilynn says:

    Christopher you are so right.
    I was nervous that Elizabeth only disliked gamete donation for gays and lesbians but if you have seen anonymous father’s day as I have now 5 times its pretty clear that the movie focuses exclusively on straight couples with donor offspring and she speaks loudly and clearly against the practice saying that knowing is not enough. So that made me really happy because I am like you not in favor of gamete donation and see no reason to limit who someone chooses as a spouse over it though.
    Like you I think the approach needed for donor offspring to win and be free is a legal one not a psychological one and certainly not one where they try to cap the number of users by letting fewer people get married.
    The problem is a little thing called presumption of paternity for married couples. Its just laziness by the state presuming married men are the fathers. False presumptions discovered late are the basis for many court cases of paternity fraud and our court’s did something stupid they allowed the original false presumptions to stand because otherwise the child would loose half its financial support and potentially be put on the public dole. Because those unrelated men remained legal fathers after everyone knew they were not really the father it diluted the meaning of the word paternity and gave rise to the idea that paternity was not the stuff of science we thought it was. Also the law on sperm donation being so ridiculous it actually allows unrelated men to pretend to be fathers and so that opened the door for unrelated women to be marshalled in as parents in lesbian relationships. We don’t need to ban gay marriage we need to get rid of the presumption of paternity. And make voluntary declarations genetically accurate sworn statements.

  3. I’m all for promoting a return to abstinence before marriage, and monogamy afterwards, in a man/woman marriage. Call me naive, but think how many problems could be solved with some sexual self-control. The “sexual-revolution” has caused more heartbreak than it has solved.

  4. Alana S. says:

    People want sex without consequences.
    High calorie food without getting fat.
    Houses with no down payment.
    Products with no pollution.
    Drugs without side-effects.

    If a kid rushes out into the middle of a road- is it in the child’s best interest to just let it do as it wants? Not judge him? Not reprimand him? Not let him know in a swift manner that what he is doing is dangerous?

    Of course in that situation, the most loving action would be a loud and clear ‘No! Don’t do that!’
    The child’s well-being and even life may depend on it.

    We should intervene in a similar fashion when it comes to people (especially young people) who “run into the middle of the road” with their sex lives.
    To sit back and ‘not judge or shun them’ is the LEAST loving response. It is lazy and potentially life-threatening.

  5. Mark Diebel says:

    Christopher says, “I can give you one hint on gamete donation conceived persons – they have, I would posit, a legal right to know their parents because they were a third party to a contract that binds them for thier entire life without consent. In broad strokes, I think that’s an argument that can be won in court.”

    Harder than it looks. The argument did not work with adoptees whose records (and their original birth certificate) were sealed to them without their consent (except by court order). A federal circuit court accepted the argument that there is no fundamental right to adopt or to place a child for adoption, therefore there is no right to privacy from the parties involved. That might fly in the US. Making it work is another matter.

    One can hope. I won’t hold my breath.

  6. Mark Diebel says:

    Regarding the stigma of mothers who have children out of wedlock: To imagine a society that tries to retrieve a stigma which it used to feel towards mothers is to imagine something forced…as if society has to muster feelings that have died. Woe to the people who do not feel that way!

    What feelings replaced the stigma? Compassion? Disinterest? If compassion, that may represent an improvement that should not be worried.

    What is a better way than to revive a stigma? [I'm really asking.]

  7. Marilynn says:

    This is sick.
    Shaming and shunning people for taking care of the offspring they produce because they are not married to the other parent of their child? Why would you do that? Why would you want to make those people feel badly about raising the children they produce? Why would you want to make their children feel badly about the fact that their parents are not married to one another? In what way is that act of shunning or shaming loving? How is it helpful? In fact who’s rights or freedoms are compromised by unmarried couples raising their children in shared custody arrangements? A child has a right to support from his parents but he does not have a right to force his parents to be married to each other. Being married to the other parent does not directly respond to any need of the child. Both people are suppose to provide support their child in equal measure and they’ll have to figure out how to make that happen if they live separately.
    Nobody want’s their daughters getting married at 18 like they use to back in the Ozzy and Harriet days. Families today expect as much of daughters academically and as they do of their sons and we encourage young women to delay marriage until their late 20′s or early 30′s. But that is when women are the most fertile, the most sexually inclined and the most attractive so guess what, they will get pregnant and those that opt to go through with the pregnancy become responsible for the life of a person once their offspring are born. What do you think shunning those women will do? You think that other young women will see the shunning and say gee I’ll save myself for marriage? Until their 30? It was one thing to say that when saving themselves meant until 16 or 17 its a whole nother thing to ask them to wait until their 28 to have sex.

  8. Marilynn says:

    We are leaving women a tiny little 5 year window of time when its ok to get married then they have to wait a couple of years before they have kids and a whole lot of women are unable to reproduce by 33-40 and they go shopping for eggs. The shopping for eggs thing is the thing where you want to stop the women before they do it and tell them that donor offspring have their freedom restricted and their rights violated by their biological parents and by their social parents and the state offers donor offspring no legal protection from that. Its those people that need to be stopped. They are about to do something that tramples on the rights of another person; shunning umarried parents trying to raise their children – they are giving their children what they are owed. I just cannot believe anyone would seriously think shunning and shaming is acceptable if the action they are judging does not violate the legal rights of others.

  9. Phil says:

    I’m all for promoting a return to abstinence before marriage, and monogamy afterwards, in a man/woman marriage.

    Daughter, are you saying that same-sex couples need not be abstinent in the world you’d like to see, or are you saying that gay people should marry people of the opposite sex, in your view?

  10. marilynn says:

    Alana
    Last year I was at a stop sign on Lincoln and like 17th in the city and there was this little boy in his pajamas with his sippy cup standing in the middle of the intersection and I saw a man several yards ahead of him and I unrolled my window and said hey buddy your kid! He say’s that is not my kid. I said call the police I’ll block the intersection so nobody can get through in case the kid won’t get out of the street for me. I have Ruby with me and I think having a baby will make a baby trust me. Uh uh no way. No trust the strange lady with the red hair he went booking down the block and I saw the open side door to an apartment building. He lived in the ground floor apartment and from the little alley behind the door where people keep the garbage I could hear the mom calling to him and she was ghost white when she opened the door to get him. That is not the only time that happened to me there was a little girl down the block that was standing on the street only she only spoke spanish.

    Yes I intervened I did not want them to get hit by a car. I did not shun them or chastise them its not my place and I did not shun or chastise the mother or in the case of the little girl the grandmother. They knew that some breach in their home protocol had compromised the child’s safety and in both instances the police were on the way so they would have to answer to them and whether or not the incident was a symptom of a larger problem of neglect.

    It would not be my place to judge those people or shun their kids or repromand them. The loving thing to do was to call for help and try to keep them somewhat safe until help arrived. If I had seen the parent put the child in the street and walk away – seen a deliberate act intended to harm the child well then I might feel justified in reading the parent the riot act while I waited for help to arrive. When I see people choosing to place children in a compromising situation like not being able to know half their family I feel like they are doing something they know will cost someone something they have a right to and I’m not so worried about speaking frankly about what I think of that – I don’t feel bad about judging that situation because no way was that accidental those people know that they are preventing another person from knowing their relatives and that its not right but they do it anyway. But shunning them is just a whole ugly place to go. If you shun people you give up on reaching them to make a difference at what ever point they are at in the moment. Like for instance getting people to at least tell the child about being donor offspring or applogize to the child for having made a decision that cost them so much or helping them locate their other relatives. Shunning shuts down communication its pretty bad Alana.

    If you are responsible for the child that ran in the street chastizing and punishing them might be the path you take to get the child to realize it is dangerous so they don’t do it again. But the child has to be in your charge for that to be your place. An outsider could intervene in an emergency, suggest a different course of action in a non emergency but it would be really overstepping boundaries to punish another persons child for them right?

    And would shunning a child for running in the street, would that ever be the appropriate response? Alana I am really hoping that you don’t actually mean you think its ok to shame or shun young unmarried parents who are trying to raise the children they’ve produced. I mean I am hoping against hope that you do not think that is an effective way to reduce teen pregnancy – by shunning and shaming young unmarried mothers and fathers so others won’t want to do it? Nuh uh you cannot believe that please tell me this is not what you meant. Showing teenagers how difficult it is to raise a child in separate homes without much money and having to take welfare to meet the child’s needs is really more than sufficient deterrent. Having your teens volunteer at a shelter for homeless parents or something might also be a good deterrent and a good way to keep your kid occuppied after school when a lot of hanky panky is likely to be going on. These are loving ways to deter teenagers from getting pregnant without shunning or shaming those that have.

    Come to think of it, having your teenager help other teenagers who did get pregnant strikes a really wonderful balance of achieving what you wanted to achieve with shunning as a deterrent while supporting young parents who are at least trying to live up to their parental responsibilities.

    Service to others is the loving and compassionate way to intervene if you want to help someone. Its just a suggestion Alana but I really try to live up to that. Ruby helps rap socks I collect at work all year and we give them out every Christmas eve at Civic Center to the homeless that sleep on the sidewalks there. We walk around and hand them packages with bows on them so they will have a wrapped gift at Christmas. That teaches her about the real Christmas being gifts for people with no home. I really do believe that she may learn from that both compassion for those less fortunate and learn that is not where she wants to end up herself. At least I hope it teaches her that. I hope I am making a wise decision.

  11. marilynn says:

    “Can we find a way to support marriage at all levels of society without recreating the stigma for unmarried mothers and their children, and should we?”

    I think I get what Elizabeth is saying. She thinks that its not possible to show unmarried people that its a bad idea to have kids before marriage if we are making it more apealing by being kind and supportive when it does happen. If I am reading her right she is worried that it sends a mixed message. I think David is worried that telling a woman she does not need to have a man to raise her child is tantamount to saying that father’s are unimportant.

    For David’s part, he needs to realize that telling a woman she does not need to be married to do a fine job raising her child is not the same as saying a child does not have a right to be supported to adulthood by his father. It means the mother does not have a right to be supported by her child’s father, that is all. Fathers are still important and if you are worried about the subtle differences being misconstrued by the masses, that might be a really good teaching opportunity for someone that people listen to and respect. There you go Elizabeth opportunity #1 teach the world that although his child is not and telling a woman she does not need a man does not mean that her child does not need his father.

    And opportunity #2 would be to deter young unmarried people from having children before they are married by making in-service volunteer work a high school graduation requirement in order for schools, private and public to receive accreditation. A semeser working for a charity that aids unwed parents trying to raise their children and make ends meet under difficult circumstances – let high school kids buddy up like a big sisters or big brothers kind of thing and have to help them grocery shop help them schedule help them do what they have to do or have them work at a shelter or at a home for girls who are giving up their children for adoption or have them work at a clinic where kids go with VD although to be honest I’m not sure if that last one would fly. I also think kids should have to do a semester in hospice or in a convalescent hospital, in a homeless shelter and a semester as a teachers assistant in a classroom for disabled children. I also think having at risk teenagers do in-service work helping tooter grade school kids will make them feel like they can contribute something positive to the world and that they can be looked up to and need to act like roll models.

    There is much we can do to deter undesirable behaviors while helping people who already made the wrong choice deal with the consequences productively. Besides its really difficult to mobilize people in a group shunning effort and how can you judge the long term effectiveness of shunning really? I guess by lower birth rates to unmarried people but it would be nice if you could say none of the kids who went through the volunteer program had children prior to marriage or if they did they were out of college or something like that.

    So the answer Elizabeth is yes you can and you should.

  12. Sexual intimacy belongs exclusively in a marriage between a man and a woman. I realize this is unpopular and “prudish,” but there are no exceptions to this divine mandate.