PJ MEDIA — Scripted television does not reflect reality as it exists. Rather, in addition to dramatizing for entertainment, the creators often also intend to create a guide to what reality should be. Television programs tell us what is cool and what is not; they tell us what is desirable and what is not. A more precise way of saying this is that television programs often have political agendas.
One of the visions offered to us through contemporary shows is that single motherhood is cool. More than that, it is desirable, because it reinforces the feminist precept that women do not need men and are better off without them. Unmarried mothers and single motherhood are normalized, even encouraged. Many TV heroines are now single mothers:
- Detectives Amanda Rollins and Olivia Benson (Law and Order: SVU) are both single mothers. Rollins has given birth to two daughters by two different fathers and is raising them alone; Benson adopts a foster son to raise on her own.
- Brigette (SMILF, all 2017 episodes) is the single mother of her toddler son. The father is in a relationship with someone else, and Brigette is ambivalent about the father.
- Pregnant nurse Sandy (Remedy, Season 1, Ep. 10, 2014, “Quit the Horizon”) cancels her wedding to the father and decides to raise the baby on her own.
- Police detective Marla (Rookie Blue, Season 6, Ep. 2, 2015, “Perfect Family”) is pregnant after breaking up with the father and plans to raise the child on her own.
- Unwed Hannah, writer and protagonist (Girls, Season 6, Ep. 10, 2017, “Latching”), has a baby boy fathered by an instructor at a surfing school that she attended.
- Bonnie Plunkett, daughter Christy Plunkett, and granddaughter Violet Plunkett (Mom, 124 episodes, 2013-2019) are three generations of unwed single mothers.
According to the U.S Census Bureau:
Between 1960 and 2016, the percentage of children living in families with two parents decreased from 88 to 69. Of those 50.7 million children living in families with two parents, 47.7 million live with two married parents and 3.0 million live with two unmarried parents.
During the 1960-2016 period, the percentage of children living with only their mother nearly tripled from 8 to 23 percent and the percentage of children living with only their father increased from 1 to 4 percent. The percentage of children not living with any parent increased slightly from 3 to 4 percent.
So almost one-third of American children do not live with a mother and father — and of those, most live with their mothers.
Births to single American mothers varies by race and ethnicity:
Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander: 47.8%
American Indian and Alaska Native: 68.1%
In Canada, in 2009, 27.2% of newborns were born to unmarried mothers (although the high percentage of “not stated” — up to 29% in some provinces — could raise the total substantially).
There has been a worldwide trend during 1964-2014 of increased births to unmarried mothers, with Canada toward the lower end of the scale, and Scandinavian, other European, and some Latin American countries with over 50% of births outside wedlock.
Raising children is demanding and difficult even with two parents. Constant attention is required. Demand on physical energy is high. Parenting is difficult to fit in with other vital activities, such as making a living and maintaining a home.
Single parents are somewhat less likely to be employed than parents in a couple, and less likely to have lucrative jobs. In Canada, “in 2014, 69% of lone mothers and 82% of lone fathers were working. The comparable rates for their couple counterparts were 75% and 90%.”
Single parents — most of whom are mothers — must carry all of the burdens of parenting, making a living, and managing a household. This is a major challenge, stretching single parents far beyond comfort and sometimes to a breaking point.
Hannah, in the episode of Girls noted above, bitterly rebuked her mother for not telling her how stunningly difficult it is to raise a child on one’s own. The radical feminist character Dyann from the 2018 Governor General’s Award winner The Red Word becomes a midwife and a single mother in the decade after she is expelled from university:
Tears well up in Dyann’s eyes. “I’ve midwived for seven years, so I’ve seen it every day. But I had no idea [parenting] would be this hard.” (Loc 4452)
“She said she’d ‘be there’ for me, and all that obligatory penance crap. I left before [my son] was born, which in retrospect was stupid of me. I should have taken whatever help I could get.” (Loc 4457)
A controlled Finnish study determined:
Compared to children of married mothers, children of unmarried mothers were more likely to have lower educational attainment and occupational status. They were also less likely to reach the highest income third in adulthood and more likely to stay unmarried themselves. The associations were also present when adjusted for childhood socioeconomic position.
In an international study of eleven developed countries, the gap between children of married parents and the children of an unmarried parent was clear:
Single parenthood is associated with lower math and science achievement among young children. With only two exceptions, the single- and two-parent family achievement gap is found within each country, as well as for all 11 countries combined, for both math and science subjects.
Although both girls and boys suffer the negative effects of single parenthood, boys are more affected:
New research from social scientists offers one explanation: Boys are more sensitive than girls to disadvantage. Any disadvantage, like growing up in poverty, in a bad neighborhood or without a father, takes more of a toll on boys than on their sisters. … The reasons that boys react more negatively to disadvantage are varied and hard to pinpoint. Even in utero, boys are more sensitive to extreme stress than girls, and tend to have more unruly temperaments.
According to the researchers:
“Boys particularly seem to benefit more from being in a married household or committed household — with the time, attention and income that brings.” But they said there were clues to why boys are extra sensitive to disadvantage. A big one is that impoverished households are more likely to be led by single mothers, and boys suffer from a lack of male role models …
“It’s quite possible that daughters are drawing the lesson that I’m going be the sole provider and the head of the family and take care of everything,” the researcher said. “Sons could be drawing the lesson that the men I see around me are not working or committed fathers. They’re doing other stuff.”
Mothers, especially single mothers, tend to spend more time with daughters than sons. Boys, meanwhile, might need more oversight and discipline than girls to learn things like controlling their emotions and focusing on school.
Lucy Armendariz, a single mother of four, said her sons have deeply felt the lack of a male role model. Her oldest son, Kenny, 14, has received poor grades and skipped school often, though she said he is improving. Her two daughters, 12-year-old JoAnna and 8-year-old Selena, have each been on the honor roll and enjoy school. “For him, he wasn’t able to have a positive male role model for years,” she said. “My girls, they’ve had me.”
A study based on the U.S. National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (N 534,031 person-years) found that “youth incarceration risks in a national male cohort were elevated for adolescents in father-absent households.” Exacerbating factors were low income, teen motherhood, low education, and race. Furthermore, “[r]esultsshowed that children born to single mothers, who never had a father in the household, faced relatively higher incarceration odds than children who experienced disruptions later in childhood or adolescence.”