“Children are not a distraction from more important work. They are THE MOST important work.”
All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and training in righteousness,
2 Timothy 3:16 NRSV
In 1992, when Dan Quayle condemned the television character Murphy Brown for giving birth out of wedlock. He reopened an old debate that quickly became highly polarized. Some people claimed that growing up in a fatherless home. It was the major cause of child poverty, delinquency, and school failure. In contrast, others denied that single motherhood had any harmful effects. Some objected even to discussing the topic for fear of stigmatizing single mothers and their children.
Not talking about single motherhood is scarcely an option. More than half of the children born today will spend some or all their childhood with only one parent, typically their mother.
If current patterns hold, they will likely experience higher poverty rates, school failure, and other problems as they grow up. The long-range consequences could have enormous implications.
But what exactly are the consequences — how large and concentrated among what groups? Do they depend on whether a single mother is widowed, divorced, or never married? Does public support for single mothers inadvertently increase the number of women who get divorced or choose to have a baby on their own?
Children who grow up with only one of their biological parents (nearly always the mother) are disadvantaged across many outcomes.
Single Parent Homes
Children who grow up with only one of their biological parents (nearly always the mother) are disadvantaged across many outcomes. They are twice as likely to drop out of high school, 2.5 times as likely to become teen mothers, and 1.4 times as likely to be idle — out of school and work. There is a massive difference for the children who grow up with both parents. Children in one-parent families also have lower grade point averages. They also have lower college aspirations, and poorer attendance records. As adults, they have higher rates of divorce. These patterns persist even after adjusting for differences in race, parents’ education, number of siblings, and residential location.
The evidence, however, does not show that family disruption is the principal cause of high school failure, poverty, and delinquency. While 19 percent of all children drop out of high school, the dropout rate for children in two-parent families is 13 percent. Thus, the dropout rate would be only 33 percent lower if all families had two parents. The children currently living with a single parent had the same dropout rates as children living with two parents — a highly improbable assumption.
The evidence, however, does not show that family disruption is the principal cause of high school failure, poverty, and delinquency.
THE RAT RACE
Most single parents have to work full-time jobs to support the family. They compensate to try to become two parents, run the household, and take care of outdoor and automobile maintenance. These families would also plan the family budget, take care of tax returns, permits, licenses, insurances, and so forth. Tired parents come home from a full day’s work to begin the night shift at home, day after day, night after night. Most do not get enough sleep — ever. Most do not get the minimum of private time that we all need — ever. Yet many of these same single parents are constantly called on to take care of other people’s children, on the assumption that they have nothing better to do on weekends and holidays.
This kind of treadmill existence is hard enough for those few of us who have chosen it because we have adopted children as single persons. However, single parents have not chosen this. They could become very bitter, resentful, and discouraged from the demands of the situation, the loneliness, and the insensitivity of others who ostracize them or impose on them. There is a need to constantly strive to keep things in perspective and proportion, set priorities, and hold to them. This calls for a more than usually strong and persevering prayer life, all the more difficult because of the fearsome pressures of time and fatigue.
Fatigue and Prayer
When one is chronically dead tired, prayer does not come very spontaneously. Single parents especially need the stimulus of spiritual reading that parents can do easily in small installments. Snatches of the liturgy of the hours taken from favorite texts of the day in a single volume breviary are an excellent way of doing this. Some popular contemporary authors are also good. They must be written and read in microscopic sections with profit and inspiration. Some classical religious texts are also constructive in this way. Similarly helpful are prayer groups that meet regularly in homes, but these often grow out of situations where only married couples can participate or are invited.
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