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.