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Don't Hate Single Moms

The riots that scarred much of London last month came as a shock to the British public. As often happens with social upheavals of this type, the chattering class has spent the past few weeks discussing the cause of the riots, and has finally settled on a simple explanation: single mothers. The New York Times reports:

What Muslims were to the French riots, single moms seem to be to the English ones.

“The rightwing press and politicians have pondered the burning of Poundland and delivered their verdict,” Tanya Gold wrote recently in the left-leaning newspaper The Guardian. “Who brought us here, to this terrible place? Single mothers, yah.” […]

Single mothers are an easy target here: Britain has one of the highest rates of single-parent households among the wealthy members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (just as France is home to the biggest Muslim community in western Europe). A third of British children are now living with only one parent. […]

Moreover, the majority of Britain’s single parents live off state benefits and 70 percent of youth offenders come from one-parent families. The cliché of the welfare-scavenging single mother (for it is overwhelmingly mothers) failing to transmit basic social values to her children becomes seductively intuitive.

After the unrest last month, some pundits — for example, Peter Hitchens writing in the right-leaning Mail on Sunday — were quick to demand that all benefits for new unmarried mothers be stopped.

Hmmm.   It’s certainly true that children from single-parent families have less money, fewer opportunities and weaker moral guidance than their dual-parent counterparts — common sense, as well as numerous studies show this to be true. Children raised by two responsible adults have many advantages, and Britain (like the United States for that matter) should do what it can to encourage the form of family life most likely to offer the best environment for kids.

But how much do we really need to beat up on the moms?  The problem with single motherhood is not that the mother is present; it is that the father is gone.   Absent fatherhood, much more than single motherhood, is the true problem.  With all kinds of social and economic disadvantages, single moms are doing their best to stand by their kids and get them started.  The question is where are the dads — and why so many British boys don’t seem to grow into the kind of responsible partners who stick around.  Whatever problems are involved, single mothers, after all, have made the difficult decision to bear, raise and care for a child.

British fatherhood is in a far deeper crisis than British motherhood, and the next generation will not thrive until the Brits do a better job helping more boys become ready, willing and able to father children in more than a strictly biological sense.

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  • Peter

    Sorry, but the fact is that there would be less social decay if the women kept their legs closed and practiced some restraint.

    From the ancient Greeks on, it has been common knowledge that women control the terms of reproduction and thus can exert a civilizing force on men.

    Producing generation after generation of bastards will kill any nation.

    But in a way you’re right, Mr. Mead, not to blame the single mothers themselves, many of whom of semi-literate themselves. After all, it was the culture formed by the elite that denigrated marriage, the family, and religion and instead promoted welfare, easy sex, and secularism.

    And let’s recall the flak Dan Quayle got for criticizing the ever so trendy Murphy Brown.

    The cause is clear; the question is what is society going to do about it.

  • Mrs. Davis

    To think that this is a British problem is to ignore the mote in America’s eye.

    At the risk of being declared a Chillingworth there is plenty of blame to go around and mothers and motherhood should not be spared their fair portion. If unmarried they should have said no. And society needs to support them in making that decision instead of surrounding them with the hypersexualized predominant media. The gutter we live in is not what the founders had in mind when they adopted the first amendment. Bring back the Hayes Code. The movies were better then.

    Divorce should again be made difficult and fault based.

    And a legal father should acknowledge the birth and responsibility for the rearing of each newborn. Absent such father blood should be taken from the mother and child to be matched against all male blood samples. When determined natural fathers should have to pay future support to the mother and past support and penalties to the state.

    Until we have penalties that match the consequences the child, naive mother and society suffer, this epidemic of illegitimacy will continue.

  • Luke Lea

    We have a name for women who raise their children by themselves because the men who impregnated them have absented themselves from the relationship and do not accept the responsibilities of being a parent. We call them “single mothers” or sometimes, more informally,”single moms.” But we don’t have a name for the fathers, some of whom sire children by more than one woman. I propose we call them “single cads.”

  • Stephen Clark

    “Whatever problems are involved, single mothers, after all, have made the difficult decision to bear, raise and care for a child.”

    A great deal is assumed in that statement and I think you’re trying to steal a march by making it. Suppose I were to challenge the assertion, implicit in your statement, that in the majority of cases conception through birth were well thought out. How would you justify it? Or, is the incidence of single motherhood higher now than in the past? My impression is that it is higher now. Doesn’t this fly in the face of your assertion that the decision was a difficult one to make: more difficult than, say, 50-60 years ago, with the growth over that period of a social safety net, part of which is specifically designed to meet the needs of single mothers and lessen the very burdens you suggest as evidence for the difficulty of the decision?

    Your point about absent fathers is very well taken. But, let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that the responsibility for making a poor choice is somehow lessened by the irresponsibility of another party. It seems to me that there is more than enough irresponsibilty to go around. I would include government policies, and politicians, as deserving of that label as well: good intentions may be noted, but they deserve no credit when the end result is a failed policy.

  • Mr. Davis

    To Mrs. Davis (I doubt we’re related, but I do have a lot of cousins),

    Your blood matching solution strikes me as super counterproductive. (Just in case you are my wife, its super stupid, too)

    How much administrative cost and overhead would it take to take, store and match the samples (in a legally defensible way, ‘cuz this would be challenged), and then how much to track down the dads who probably can’t afford to pay enough to matter anyway? Tons of state spent dough, that’s how much. Even liberal Democrats like me can see how costly and impractical this is.

    Since money and finances are the #1 cause of divorce in this country, how ’bout instead we have an income distribution of a country with a lower divorce rate, like any country in European Union, for example

  • Jim.

    Society must expect responsibility from fathers.

    In return, each father has a right to expect respect and fidelity from the mother of his children, which he is to return in kind.

    Government needs to get out of the way of societal institutions that encourage these mores.

    The Leftist expectation that government should be the father of us all is the real root of these problems.

  • lectrolink

    The author seems mystified about why men have left their relationships and he makes women sound heroic and selfless for remaining behind to raise the children. Hmmmph! Ask any divorce lawyer in the USA and you will learn that 3/4 of all divorces these days are instigated by wives. Here in America (and I suspect British law is similar), women have learned that family law favors them and provides means for their financial support. Not only can they expect hefty monthly payments from the father of their children (based in many cases not on their actual earnings, but on “potential earnings”), but welfare payments as well from the government.

    In my opinion, in most male/female households, women are the ones who largely control the extent of domestic harmony or tension. If women are feeling unhappy, unfulfilled, neglected, or just plain cantankerous, tranquility will not be restored in the home until she is feeling more agreeable. Men are generally faced with two choices: put up with this behavior and try to appease her; or leave. Those that stay are often the ones who have the rug pulled out from under them when the wives figure out they can eliminate the irritating male and get themselves a decent cash flow in the bargain.

    Combine this state of affairs with an inflated sense of entitlement many modern western women seem to have (stoked by celebrity soaked popular media), and you have an institutionalized system where women feel little or no guilt about jettisoning men as a prelude to working the system to get their share, fair or not.

  • Toni

    A modest proposal: make every man financially responsible for every child he creates, linked Social Security Number to Social Security Number for 18 years. DNA testing would ensure no false claims.

    Pass this law and watch men become VERY, VERY serious about male contraception.

  • Jeff77450

    @Toni: Run for office and I’ll vote for you.

    Some excellent points made by the first seven respondents.

    @Mrs. Davis: Do away with no-fault divorce and watch the domestic-violence and murder rates rise dramatically.

  • Stephen Clark

    Toni your modest proposal is interesting. I’ll go one step further by amending your proposal to include mothers: Let’s make both parents completely responsible financially – no government assistance – for the children they bring into the world. What say you? Do think this amended proposal of yours would make mothers as well as fathers very, very serious about contraception? And if not, why not?

  • f1b0nacc1

    Do away with no-fault divorce and watch the marraige rate (but not the out-of-wedlock birthrate) plummet. Incentives matter, and if you make it difficult to exit a bad (or simply unsatisfying) marriage, then people will not enter into them in the first place. Beware the power of perverse incentives….

    To be frank, I am terribly tired of seeing endless discussions of the difficulties that single mothers face. Abortion in the US and UK is available (to cite Gloria Steinem, it is virtually a sacrement these days), and contraception is as freely accessible as one could imagine. Study after study shows that the overwhelming majority of births are welcome (if not always planned), to there is little hope that more education (read: indoctrination) is going to help reduce the rate of illegitimacy. Women CHOOSE to have children, they are not forced to (yes, some limited exceptions exist, but these are statistically insignificant), which suggests that painting them as victims is disingenous at best.

    As mentioned by several commenters, the divorce system overwhelming favors women over men (full disclosure, I am 25 years married, never divorced, so I have no dog in this fight), which leads one to wonder why men would ever enter into marriage, knowing that should things not work out, they will bear the far heavier burden in the aftermath. We do not raise men to be men any more (our host’s reference to the problem with fatherhood in the UK is well taken, and one need only look at the current generation of young men in the US to see that the we have the same pathologies at work), and have abolished concepts of honor and shame from our vocabularies. What was unthinkable a generation or two ago is now commonplace, and we are NOT better off for it…

    No easy way to fix any of this, but we can start with a few simple ideas. Abolish the notion that being ‘judgemental’ is some sort of sin, and bring honesty back into our public discourse. The cost of illegitimate births, libertine men, and promiscuous women is shameful, and we should shame those that make it possible. We need to acknowlege that some things are right and some are wrong, and that those who do not wish to accept this cannot simultaenously portray themselves as victims of circumstance, rather than of their own foolishness. Men who father children out of wedlock (particularly with multiple women) are cads, nothing more, and should neither be celebrated nor lionized, but shunned. Women who generate numerous bastards (often with multiple men) are sluts (the parallel to cads), and should be equally shunned. Shame is a useful teaching tool, and we should make full use of it. Requiring simple standards of those taking public assistance (drug testing is a good example) is intrusive, but those who choose to sponge off the state deserve very little respect for their purported rights. Those who find such requirements unacceptable are welcome to survive on their own.

    Standards and consequences provide incentives. Incentives provide results.

  • Jack

    It’s obvious from this post that W. R. Mead hasn’t spent much time thinking about this issue. Less charitably, perhaps he just doesn’t really understand women. Anthony Daniels (a.k.a. Theodore Dalrymple) has done as much good work on this subject as anyone.

    British women choose to have kids by their alpha male, bad-boy, sometimes violent, boyfriend. They don’t usually expect or even wish that he will stick around. They are aware that he might be a bad influence anyway and he could well wind up in jail. They are also aware that the British nanny state will take care of them and their child, so a father is unnecessary.

    Widespread single motherhood in Britain and the riots themselves are largely a result of the blue social model that Mead justifiably argues is on its last legs.

    If you take away the nanny state protections for single mothers, which is probably inevitable because of the rapidly decreasing affordability of said protections, then maybe, just maybe, British women will do what they can to snag responsible men who would make good husbands and fathers rather than the criminal bad boys that they really love.

  • Peter

    Mr. Davis saying in post #5: “Since money and finances are the #1 cause of divorce in this country, how ’bout instead we have an income distribution of a country with a lower divorce rate, like any country in European Union, for example”

    No, no, no. If European countries have a lower divorce rate than the U.S., it’s probably because marriage there is so rare that those going into it are super committed.

    And demographically, Europe is literally dying. Check the fertility rate country by country and see for yourself.

    There is little to nothing worth following in today’s Europe.

  • Mrs. Davis

    Do away with no-fault divorce and watch the domestic-violence and murder rates rise dramatically.

    Yes, they’ve certainly fallen dramatically as a result of no-fault divorce. I doubt the population of men who beat their wives or of wives who tolerate it would be affected. And by stating that marriages have the support as opposed to the indifference of the state, there would be fewer deadbeat dads leaving their sons to grow up like savages to beat their future wives.

    Even liberal Democrats like me can see how costly and impractical this is.

    What, two solyndras per year?

  • leehunter

    I am a sole parent. I chose to have and rear my child alone. Although at times it is difficult, I find it far better than the beating and abuse I suffered. However, I made this decision at a much wiser age. Most single moms enter motherhood as a means to find unconditional love. If society invests the time and money (yes folks! MONEY) up front when girls are young and impressionable, then maybe, just maybe, we would have intelligent young women who would learn IT’S BETTER TO KEEP THEIR LEGS CLOSED. Since, obviously, men, especially British men, cannot control their own sexual desires.

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