The Kiddy Pool: The Rise of Single Motherhood

Every week in The Kiddy Pool, Erin Newcomb confronts one of many issues that parents must deal with related to popular culture.

The New York Times reported this week that more than half of all children born to women under 30 are born outside of marriage. According to the article, there are a number of causes for this trend, including a generation jaded toward marriage by their parents’ divorces, a preference for cohabitation (which, even with children, is less stable than marriage), and a recession that has particularly affected men’s earning power. Further, the article cites research claiming that these birthrate trends represent an educational, racial, and class divide, with wealthier, white, college-educated parents more likely to marry before children. Many of the women in the article discuss unplanned pregnancies and a reluctance to marry men who won’t provide increased social or financial stability.

Yet Slate columnist Jennifer Olien takes her response to this trend even further; she describes her own childhood (where her mother primarily raised her, along with a network of helpers) as “idyllic.” As Olien asserts, “in many ways it seems easier to raise a kid alone. Being a single parent by choice would mean not having to deal with another person’s sets of demands or expectations of what child-rearing means. I wouldn’t burden a child with the emotional baggage of divorce or the highs and lows of an unhappy relationship. It would just be the two of us and a supporting cast of extended family.” While much of Olien’s article seems thoughtful and well-reasoned, both she and the Times article are depicting a fundamentally different family than the one God describes. She does not acknowledge that she is coming from a position of privilege and that most single mothers do not have the sort of support system she idealizes. Olien also assumes that marital relationships are basically negative, and seeks to avoid conflict rather than compromise and work through it; she idealizes individualism at the expense of enriching a child’s life with meaningful negotiations that form the crux of real-life relationships.

I acknowledge that marriage, historically, has often not been what God intended, either. There’s a long history of marital alliances used for political or monetary gain, and I don’t deny that the family structure prioritized by the U.S. government and society fails to acknowledge the many manifestations that family takes, often for valid reasons. When my husband and I married, we gained the social and financial benefits that come with marriage—romantic things like sharing heating costs and automatically being each other’s next of kin. We also entered into a relationship that mirrors the union of Christ and the church, and thus marriage becomes not just a legal or social contract but a ministry.

My husband likes to say that choosing a spouse is choosing someone to socialize you. In terms of our spiritual development, that means that we are meant to pray together and for each other, and to correct each other’s faults in love. We are supposed to serve each other, refine each other, and ultimately use our marital state to serve others. Bringing a child into that relationship means that it’s not always easy or perfect, and that we don’t always act in accordance with the fruits of the Spirit. Part of the purpose of marriage seems to be healthy conflict—and then healthy conflict resolution—so that all members can grow more like Christ. It’s not perfect. It doesn’t always work. And there are lots of couples who begin with the best of intentions and still suffer tremendous disappointment. But for Christian marriage, it’s important to cling to the ideal, to hold fast to the union God created that transcends legal or social or financial incentives, because Godly marriage is about more than that. It’s about God. And that’s something children benefit from seeing, even if we have to wrestle through the rough spots.

About Erin Wyble Newcomb

Erin Wyble Newcomb earned her Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction and Women's Studies from Penn State University. In addition to parenting her daughters, running marathons, and making things with glitter, she teaches in the English Department at SUNY New Paltz. Follow Erin on Twitter @ErinWyble or at http://phdmama.com/.

  • Lila

    Without falling into the Gilder error of Wealth & Poverty, the importance of role models cannot be overestimated: girls need to see the interrelationships of both genders and boys need a male role model beyond the “friendly uncle.”

  • http://newbreedofadvertisers.blogspot.com/ Sam Van Eman

    Erin, thank you for the wise response.

    Personally, I come from broken parents who divorced. Lots of baggage there. But my wife and I are celebrating 15 good (with plenty of reasonable challenges along the way) years this summer. Our kids are better for the balance we bring. Sometimes we joke about how they may have turned out if either one of us had raised them alone. Yikes (mostly referring to my part). They need both of us.

    Keep writing and encouraging. And praying that the next generation will be inspired to marry because they saw what it did for their parents, the community, etc.


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