Professors Naomi Cahn and June Carbone deserve to be ignored. And yet, their real- world advice is so potentially destructive, it demands a response. The professors write, “Although it defies logic, socioeconomic, cultural, and economic changes have brought white working-class women like Lily [the woman whose life informs their Slate article] to the point where going it alone can be the wiser choice.”
Increasing numbers of American children are undoubtedly being raised in single-parent homes, primarily by their mothers. That includes 25 percent of white children, the population referenced in this article. However, the prevalence of such family arrangements does not mean that they are ideal for mothers, fathers, or children.
Circumstances may complicate a woman’s plans to become a married mother, but why should society push young women toward so difficult a path? Why do these professors dismiss working-class men as lousy providers and Peter Pans who prioritize video gaming? Without access to the book it’s difficult to know if this is a representative, or particularly provocative, excerpt, but Cahn and Carbone are yanking at the thread that connects society’s most basic – and vulnerable – social unit.
For the working-class single mothers who would bear the brunt of the professors’ proposal, this is a recipe for continuous stress. They must simultaneously maintain full-time jobs in a precarious economy and raise children without the built-in support system husbands provide. Such back-up is not a luxury when raising young children; it is a necessity. No parent is above falling ill, having an unforeseen accident, or simply getting stuck late at work.
The single-parent arrangement also poses risks for children. Vincent DiCaro, the National Fatherhood Initiative’s Vice President for Development and Communication, emailed: “Three plus decades of social science research confirm that child well-being suffers significantly when children grow up in father-absent homes. They are more likely to be poor, fail in school, use drugs, get pregnant as teens, be abused or neglected, and have emotional and behavioral problems.” Yet, Cahn and Carbone seem oblivious to such data.
During our subsequent phone interview, DiCaro noted, “There’s two Americas forming, one where they’re raising children within marriage and one where they’re not. The one where they’re not waiting to have children within marriage, that’s where poverty is happening.”
By extension, a 2013 Harvard University/UC-Berkeley study found that children’s economic mobility is strongly correlated with family structure. So, it’s not just one’s own family circumstances that impact a child’s future, but the neighbors’ tendencies too.
As for the fathers, whom Cahn and Carbone readily dismiss, DiCaro observed, “The article condemns [the father] for slacking off and playing video games but also says it’s okay, since his child doesn’t need him. . . . We’re perpetuating the very thing we think isn’t helpful. It’s not an excuse, but it’s an explanation. You get what you ask for.”
Cahn and Carbone suggest women ask for nothing beyond unfettered independence, lest their men become burdensome. Yet, involving children’s fathers isn’t an obvious negative for DiCaro: “This suggestion that working class dads are indifferent to their kids is not part of our experience at all. . . . We live in a culture that equates a father’s ability to be a good father with his ability to financially support his family . . . but there are plenty of things fathers can contribute to their children beyond money.”
MeiAngelo Taylor, who recently founded a fatherhood training program in Memphis and spoke to me by phone, agrees. In class, he discusses men’s providing for their children not only financially, but also spiritually and emotionally. Taylor explained, “Men have a lot of stress on them. . . . Society tells them to suck it up and be a man. No, it’s stressful, [and I] need to be able to share that with my kids. It’s important for your kids to see you fail and bounce back from it.”
Taylor remarked, “So many [programs] are geared toward women, but [there’s] not enough to support men. . . . There’s a lot of bashing. Neither group has to be torn down to build up the other. A lot of times, that’s what we have now. [It’s] not a healthy way to effect change.”
That’s true. Encouraging women to view the fathers of their children as enemies helps no one. It would be more constructive to focus on what Americans can do to equip more men with the skills they need to be involved fathers.
Life can be difficult, but it’s much more manageable with a family that supports you when you stumble. That’s why caring adults should encourage young women to focus on developing a stable home life. It’s truly the wisest choice they can make, for themselves and their families.
Melissa Langsam Braunstein, a former U.S. Department of State speechwriter, is a freelance writer in Washington, DC.