Choice Motherhood: Is It Harmful to Children?

By on April 19, 2010

"Choice Motherhood" refers to single women who deliberately choose to raise children without getting married. Is this socially irresponsible?

mikki-morrissetteMikki Morrissette
Author, Choosing Single Motherhood: The Thinking Woman’s Guide

Mikki Morrissette is the author of Choosing Single Motherhood: The Thinking Woman's Guide and the moderator of the ChoiceMoms.org website. She is the Choice Mom to two children.

 

robert-franklinRobert Franklin
Fathers and Families

Robert Franklin has practiced law in Texas for thirty years. He writes and edits the blog GlennSacks.com and is a member of the board of directors of Fathers and Families.

Part I: Mikki Morrissette: Misperceptions about Choosing Single Motherhood

People who don’t understand why single women proactively choose to become mothers and the strengths of children they raise often make big leaps based on misperceptions, misunderstandings, and misplaced fear.

An expansive single mother by choice network of support groups has been around for more than twenty-five years. Thousands of women have been seeking out my Choice Mom educational resources, which I started developing six years ago for single women who proactively and thoughtfully consider or choose motherhood. An average of 4,000 people visit my ChoiceMoms.org website each month.

Single women who seek out these resources go through many conscious, careful steps to prepare for anonymous or open-identity donor insemination, open or closed domestic or international adoption, or negotiations with a known donor. Yet the prevailing wisdom from those not in the know is that we are selfish women who have kids on our own because we don’t like men, are afraid of relationships, and haven’t thought through the implications of single parenting and our particular method to motherhood.

I communicate regularly with more than 500 single women who have chosen or are considering motherhood on their own. I have talked with roughly 300 and personally know at least 100 of them. And I am a Choice Mom myself—my daughter was born in 1999 my son in 2004. So here’s what I can tell you based on my years of experience and insight into choice motherhood.

We Have Our Children’s Best Interests at Heart, Just as Married Couples Do

Yes, most of us do consider and have concerns about the impact on our children of being raised without a father or without full knowledge of biological kin. For those who conceive rather than adopt, an increasing number prefer an open-identity or known donor instead of the anonymous donor that is more typical of married couples with fertility issues. Open domestic adoption is also a growing trend.

As I wrote in my book Choosing Single Motherhood, men who are good for our kids tend to encourage them to take risks, follow rules, and act with discipline and self-control. A father gives them a second loving parent who cares about their well-being. And a parenting partner offers built-in respite. A mother stressed from earning money, keeping house, and nurturing everyone but herself can pass that anxiety along to her children.

Many women decide that the realities of single motherhood are too daunting for their particular situation, values, or temperament and decide to remain childless. Others do everything they can to build up the strengths of this choice. The women who choose this path tend to be highly self-sufficient, “can-do” women who find solutions build strong networks and are devoted to motherhood.

Like our successful counterparts who are widowed or divorced, we seek out male role models and build support within our families of origin and our school, church, and fellow parenting community. Like a family quilt, we blend together the many good materials we have in ourselves and our networks to create something greater than the sum of its parts.

We Profoundly Understand and Respect Relationships

Many of us have been dating off and on for a decade or two. Some of us, feeling great urgency, have considered settling for the next man who can help us have children, or we engage in serial dating, hoping the next man will quickly become The One. But many of us have decided that our future children, partner, and selves deserve a relationship that we know will endure.

Others among us have been married but discovered that the partnership wasn’t what it should be to nurture and ground a child together. With the education and financial means to move on, these women have embarked on having a child alone. Still others have lost interest in dating or lose interest after children are born.

Reprioritizing motherhood over dating or declining to settle into a mediocre or bad relationship is not being afraid of relationships, as our critics sometimes claim. If anything, these approaches reflect what I believe is a healthy commitment to letting life choices happen when the time is right instead of forcing them. Not all of us are lucky enough to find the right partner in our twenties or after a divorce in our early thirties.

For many Choice Moms I know personally, making such decisions despite a societal and often familial push to marry takes a great deal of strength and maturity. Overall, Choice Moms do not make these decisions lightly, and because of that, the quality of parents emerging from this process is very high.

Many of Us Would Prefer to Raise Our Kids with the Right Partner

One thing most critics don’t notice is that many men don’t actually want to have children. A growing number of women who find my Choice Mom discussion board are deciding whether to leave an existing relationship with a partner who does not want kids. Some have left partners who were not healthy and stable enough to parent.

In fact, a majority of us would prefer to raise a family with someone we love—but not with someone who has problems with drinking, drugs, violence, infidelity, or a lack of interest or ability in being engaged with family. Many children and adult offspring in therapist offices and substance abuse programs felt neglected by their caretakers. Juvenile facilities, child protective service caseloads, and prisons are overflowing with children young and old whose parents could not protect, nurture, and love them.

Choice Moms tend to fully understand the importance of attentive, involved parenting and will not accept a future partner who is unable to deliver the same.

Why Kids Suffer in Single-Parent Homes

A common reason kids in single-parent households suffer is that a debilitating divorce has separated the family, income drops dramatically, and the caretaking parent is often left in a difficult emotional state with children who inevitably feel anxious. The children need that caretaker most just when he or she is most irritable, depressed, or unable to communicate or show affection.[1]

This understandably traumatic time is not something choice households go through, which is another thing critics tend to forget. In choice households, there is no hostility or bitterness about the way a family dynamic has changed. Nor is there conflict before and after a marital relationship has ended.[2]

It’s also important to note that some social scientists point out that it’s not the absence of a parent that causes the problems as much as the difficulties that can happen as a result.[3] The circumstances of any child’s family life can be profoundly affected by the strengths and weaknesses of the caregivers in it. How a parent deals with sometimes overwhelming emotions especially in the aftermath of divorce or the loss of income is a crucial variable.

These are common denominators for kids who don’t do well in any family structure:

  • The primary caregiver has trouble finding adequate emotional/logistical support lacking in community networks or financial stability.[4]
  • The caregiver is overly stressed or depressed and thus inconsistent, unreliable, and withdrawn in discipline, affection, and communication.

A high percentage of children today are raised by single parents, yet the number who end up as juvenile delinquents or pregnant teens aren’t equivalent. A majority of kids raised in single-parent homes in fact do quite well. That’s why I find it useful to look at quality parenting (not quantity parenting) to determine what has worked so that the wisdom of good parenting—not simply married parenting—can be passed along to benefit all.

Most teenagers and young adults I have interviewed about being raised by a Choice Mom commonly express that the tight bond they have with their mother is related to feeling respected. As with any relationship, when there is open communication, a willingness to understand the other’s point of view, and a sense of genuine and deep devotion, children develop into strong, self-confident men and women fully capable of sharing the same relationship skills with friends and loved ones.

Mutual respect is a learned trait I believe we can all benefit from.

Notes

[1] Based on the statistical details of S. McLanahan and G. Sandefur Growing Up With a Single Parent: What Hurts What Helps (Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University Press 1994) and the longitudinal survey results reported by E. Mavis Hetherington and John Kelly For Better or For Worse: Divorce Reconsidered (W. W. Norton 2002).

[2] A longitudinal large-scale study of Choice families is in its earliest stage. Most studies involve divorced or abandoned families. For more on why some of these children suffer see P. Amato “Children’s adjustment to divorce: theories hypotheses and empirical support” Journal of Marriage and the Family 55 (1993) 23–28.

[3] For an excellent encapsulation of research by one of the few social scientists who has also looked at Choice families see S. Golombok Parenting: What Really Counts? (Taylor and Francis Inc. 2000).

Part II: Robert Franklin: Single Motherhood: Still Not Just Another Lifestyle Choice

It’s been almost seventeen years since social historian Barbara Dafoe Whitehead’s article “Dan Quayle Was Right” appeared in Atlantic Monthly. Her title referred to the vice president’s criticism of single motherhood portrayed on television as “just another lifestyle choice.” Whitehead reviewed the overwhelming weight of social science that even then demolished the theory that single parenthood was an acceptable substitute for dual-parent childrearing. Since then that body of data has only grown larger and more persuasive:

All this evidence gives rise to an obvious conclusion: growing up in an intact two-parent family is an important source of advantage for American children. The intact family offers children greater security and better outcomes than its fast-growing alternatives: single-parent and stepparent families.[1]

Social scientists are rarely so absolute. The multitude of variables that attend nearly all sociological inquiry militate against dogmatic statements. Therefore, sociologist David Popenoe spoke volumes when he summarized three decades of research into family dynamics this way:

I know of few other bodies of data in which the weight of evidence is so decisively on one side of the issue: on the whole for children two-parent families are preferable to single-parent families.[2]

Sociologists Sara McLanahan and Gary Sandefur were similarly blunt:

The evidence is quite clear: Children who grow up in a household with only one biological parent are worse off on average than children who grow up in a household with both of their biological parents.[3]

Indeed, the findings on single-parent families accumulated for now some forty years are essentially indisputable.

Just the Facts, Mom

Education

  • In studies involving over 25,000 children using nationally representative data sets, children who lived with only one parent had lower grade point averages, lower college aspirations, poorer attendance records, and higher drop-out rates than students who lived with both parents.[4]
  • 71 percent of high school dropouts are fatherless.[5]
  • Fatherless children are twice as likely to drop out of school as are children of intact families.[6]
  • A longitudinal study of 375,000 high school students found that children born to single mothers had lower cognitive scores and lower educational aspirations than children born to married parents.[7]

Crime

  • Children of single-mother households are much more likely to be involved in crime than are children of dual-parent families.[8]
  • Even after controlling for income, youths in father-absent households still had significantly higher odds of incarceration than those in mother-father families. Youths who never had a father in the household experienced the highest odds.[9]
  • 70 percent of youths in state reform institutions grew up in single-parent families.[10]

Drugs and Alcohol

  • A study of 22,000 children ages 12–17 found that children of single parents are 50–150 percent more likely to use illegal drugs alcohol or tobacco compared to children who live with both biological parents. Girls who lived with only their mother were 1.9 times as likely to use alcohol, 1.8 times as likely to smoke, and twice as likely to use any illicit drug as were girls who lived with both parents.[11]

Emotional Problems

  • Single-mother family structure is a strong predictor of suicide among young adult and adolescent white males.[12]
  • A study of 3,400 middle-schoolers indicated that not living with both biological parents quadruples the risk of having an affective disorder.[13]

Physical Health

  • In a longitudinal study of more than 10,000 families, researchers found that toddlers living in stepfamilies and single-parent families were more likely to suffer a burn, have a bad fall, or be scarred from an accident compared to kids living with both of their biological parents.[14]
  • A study of 6,000 children found that those from single-parent homes had more physical and mental health problems than children who lived with two married parents. Boys were particularly affected.[15]

Teen Pregnancy

  • Girls raised by single mothers are more likely than those of intact families to become pregnant during adolescence.[16]
  • “A white teenage girl from an advantaged background is five times more likely to become a teen mother if she grows up in a single-mother household than if she grows up in a household with both biological parents.”[17]

Child Abuse

  • The rate of child abuse in single-parent households is 27.3 children per 1,000, which is nearly twice that of children in two-parent households (15.5 children per 1,000).[18]

Poverty

  • Children in father-absent homes are five times more likely to be poor. In 2002, 7.8 percent of children in married-couple families were living in poverty, compared to 38.4 percent of children in female-householder families.[19]
  • The above remains unchanged from 1996, when “children under six living with unmarried mothers were about five times as likely to be poor (55 percent) as were those living with married parents (11 percent).”[20]

What about the Children?

Those are by no means all of the detriments to children of growing up in single-parent families.[21]

And those findings are strictly due to the lack of a parent, not other factors. Indeed, across all boundaries of race, class, income, educational level, and religion, it is precisely the lack of a parent that is associated with those poorer outcomes for children of single parents.[22] Intact family structure is perhaps the greatest predictor of child well-being.[23]

So when Mikki Morrissette seeks to convince us that single motherhood is “just another lifestyle choice,” she has a steep hill to climb. Unsurprisingly, she doesn’t even try, preferring to focus not on child well-being but on “choice mothers” and their needs and motivations. She tells us about the “conscious, careful steps” they take about how they have their “children’s best interests at heart.” She assures us that they “respect relationships.” Indeed, her defense of single “choice mothers” runs to about 1,300 words but fewer than 300 of those have anything at all to do with children.

If the motivations of the adults were the only problem of single-parent households, Morrissette’s remarks might be reassuring. But the major problem with single-parent childrearing is not what’s in the hearts of the parents; it’s how the children fare. As over four decades of social science tell us, children of single parents tend to fare worse than do those of intact families. Morrissette prefers to mostly ignore that fact; wiser parents will not.

Morrissette’s Claims

But even Morrissette’s claims about “Choice Moms” are suspect. The book Women Power and Therapy: Issues for Women paints a picture of women who choose single motherhood that is considerably less flattering than Morrissette’s.[24] It cites studies that conclude that those mothers are much more likely than married mothers to have had disrupted families of origin. Those “Choice Moms” had poorer relationships with their own mothers and fathers than did married mothers. This gave them strong feelings of insecurity and lack of rootedness that they tried to assuage by becoming mothers. In short, for those women, motherhood was more about them than about the children. It’s no surprise, then, that Morrissette’s defense of single motherhood shows the same preoccupation with mothers and so little interest in children’s welfare.

Perhaps aware that the massive weight of social science is against her, Morrissette tries to craft a narrow exception to the well-established facts. She claims that the bad outcomes of children of single parents are simply artifacts of family disruption. According to her, it’s the conflicts within families and subsequent breakups that are the culprits, not single parenthood itself. If there’s never a father in the picture, she argues, there will be no mother-father bickering, no divorce, and no bad outcomes for children.

It’s true that divorce itself is harmful to children and that high-conflict families can be, too. But Morrissette’s claim that they, not family structure, are the causes of poor outcomes for the children of those families again runs afoul of well-known social science. Indeed, McLanahan and Sandefur place the onus of negative outcomes for children squarely on family structure.[25]

Logic, Common Sense Refute Morrissette

Apart from science, easily observed phenomena contradict Morrissette’s claim. As but one example, if her theory were true African-American children (70 percent of whom are born to single mothers) would not be suffering the many detriments they do. Among many others, the important longitudinal study “Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing” has produced a wealth of data on that very subject.[26] The clear pattern is of African-American mothers having children with little expectation of father involvement and hence little or no “family disruption.” If Morrissette were correct, those children should grow up about like the children of intact families, but they don’t. Indeed, they exhibit the same behaviors typical of children of single parents: increased delinquency, earlier sexual activity and pregnancy, increased physical and mental health problems, drug use, and poorer outcomes in school.

Morrissette’s notion that children of single mothers are free of family conflict and disruption is simply untrue. That’s because women who become single mothers don’t eschew contact with men before their children reach adulthood. The studies cited in Women Power and Therapy found that 90 percent of single mothers desired marriage, and most wanted fathers in their children’s lives.[27] Morrissette describes her “Choice Moms” the same way. Choice mothers, she says, understand that “a father gives [children] a second loving parent”; Choice Moms “seek out male role models”; many “have been dating off and on for a decade or two.”

So the understandable desire for male companionship doesn’t cease the instant a child comes into the picture. Indeed, their quest for a “father figure” may have the opposite effect. But relationships between mothers and boyfriends or mothers and stepfathers are notoriously less stable than those between married mothers and fathers.[28] That continuing parade of males through the child’s life creates continually changing loyalties both on the part of the child and on the part of the mother as well. A child with just a mother has all of that mother’s attention and affection. Those are diminished with the advent of a boyfriend, and children feel that loss acutely. The departure of the boyfriend restores the status quo but only until the next male companion comes along.

As sociologists Andrew Cherlin and Frank Furstenburg have said, as children become related to more and more adults, they owe less and less to each and are owed less by each.[29] Those diminished investments by adults are precisely what make the life of a single-parent child so precarious. Children of single mothers are almost twice as likely to be physically or sexually abused by their mothers’ boyfriends as are children of intact families by their father.[30] Far from reducing family disruption, father absence all but guarantees it, and children are the losers.[31]

What Are the Odds?

Can single parents raise happy, healthy children? Of course they can. Every day we see these parents doing their best for their children, and many succeed. But the decision to bring a child into the world is in part a calculated bet about the future, and as with any bet, the smart bettor weighs the odds. The overwhelming weight of social science shows us indisputably that any woman who chooses single motherhood takes an unconscionable risk with that child’s future. Her decision should be about the welfare of the child, not her own unfulfilled desires. It is that concept that “choice mothers” ignore despite all we know.

Notes

[1] Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, “Dan Quayle Was Right,” The Atlantic Monthly, April 1993.

[2] Cited by ibid. p. 82.

[3] Sara McLanahan and Gary Sandefur, Growing Up with a Single Parent: What Hurts and What Helps (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1994).

[4] Ibid.

[5] K. Crowder and J. Teachman, “Do Residential Conditions Explain the Relationship between Living Arrangements and Adolescent Behavior?,” Journal of Marriage and Family 66 (2004): 721–738.

[6] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center for Health Statistics, Survey on Child Health (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1993).

[7] J. J. Card, “Long Term Consequences for Children of Teenage Parents,” Demography 18 (1981).

[8] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center for Health Statistics, “National Health Interview Survey” (Hyattsville, Md., 1988).

[9] Cynthia C. Harper and Sara S. McLanahan, “Father Absence and Youth Incarceration,” Journal of Research on Adolescence 14 (September 2004): 369–397.

[10] Allen Beck, Susan Kline, and Lawrence Greenfield, Survey of Youth in Custody, 1987 U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1988).

[11] Robert A. Johnson, John P. Haffman, and Dean R. Gerstein, The Relationship between Family Structure and Adolescent Substance Use (Washington, D.C.: National Opinion Research Center for the United States Department of Health and Human Services, 1996).

[12] Patricia L. McCall and Kenneth C. Land, “Trends in White Male Adolescent Young-Adult and Elderly Suicide: Are There Common Underlying Structural Factors?,” Social Science Research 23 (1994).

[13] Steven P. Cuffe et al., “Family Psychosocial Risk Factors in a Longitudinal Epidemiological Study of Adolescent,s” Journal of American Academic Child Adolescent Psychiatry 44 (February 2005): 121–129.

[14] T. O’Connor et al., “Differential Distribution of Children’s Accidents Injuries and Illnesses across Family Type,” Pediatrics 106 (November 2000): e68.

[15] Gong-Soog Hong and Shelley White-Means, “Do Working Mothers Have Healthy Children?,” Journal of Family and Economic Issues 14 (Summer 1993).

[16] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “National Health Interview Survey.”

[17] Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, “Facing the Challenges of Fragmented Families,” The Philanthropy Roundtable 9.1 (1995).

[18] Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, America’s Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being (Washington, D.C., 1997).

[19] U.S. Census Bureau, “Children’s Living Arrangements and Characteristics: March 2002 P200-547,” Table C8 (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 2003).

[20] Jiali Li and Neil Bennett, “Young Children in Poverty: A Statistical Update,” National Center for Children in Poverty, March 1998.

[21] For example, adult criminality is strongly correlated with growing up in a single-parent home. U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, Survey of State Prison Inmates 1991 (Washington, D.C.: GPO, March 1993). Children of single-parent homes are more likely to repeat a grade. Debra Dawson, “Family Structure and Children’s Well-Being: Data from the 1988 National Health Interview Survey,” Journal of Marriage and the Family 53 (1991). Children of single-parent homes tend to have greater difficulty establishing appropriate relationships with peers. See, e.g., Angela K. Baker, Kimberly J. Barthelemy, and Lawrence A. Kurdek, “The Relation Between Fifth and Sixth Graders’ Peer-Related Classroom Social Status and Their Perceptions of Family and Neighborhood Factors,” Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 14 (1993). Unmarried mothers are less likely to obtain prenatal care and more likely to have a low-birth-weight baby than are married mothers. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center for Health Statistics, “Report to Congress on Out-of-Wedlock Childbearing,” Hyattsville, Md., 1995.

[22] McLanahan and Sandefur, Growing Up with a Single Parent.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Marjorie Braude, M.D., ed., Women Power and Therapy: Issues for Women (New York: Haworth Press, 1987) pp. 263–278.

[25] McLanahan and Sandefur, Growing Up with a Single Parent.

[26] See, e.g., Laura Tach, Ronald Mincey, and Kathryn Edin, “Parenting as a Package Deal: Relationships, Fertility, and Nonresident Father Involvement Among Unmarried Parents,” Fragile Familes and Child Wellbeing Working Paper No. WP-09-15-FF2009.

[27] Braude, Women Power and Therapy, pp. 272–277.

[28] See, e.g., Child Trends, “Charting Parenthood: A Statistical Portrait of Fathers and Mothers in America,” 2002.

[29] Cited in Whitehead, “Dan Quayle Was Right,” p. 74.

[30] See, e.g., David Finkelhor et al., “Sexually Abused Children in a National Survey of Parents: Methodological Issues,” Chile Abuse and Neglect 21 (1997).

[31] See, e.g., Robin Fretwell Wilson, San Diego Law Review 42, no. 3 (2005), pp. 848–881; D. R. Graefe and D. T. Lichter, “Life Course Transitions of American Children: Parental Cohabitation, Marriage, and Single Motherhood,” Demography 36, no. 2 (1999), 205–217; Child Trends, “Charting Parenthood.”

Part III: Mikki Morrissette: The Truth about Choice Moms: A Response to Robert Franklin

Robert Franklin is concerned about the struggling children in single-parent households. But in criticizing the decisions of hundreds of women to raise children on their own, he fails to make crucial distinctions between good parenting and bad parenting.

Ingredients for Bad Parenting

Franklin’s use of statistics is misleading. You can base any number of generalized opinions on what certain numbers tell you. For example:

  • Men are four times more likely than females to be heavy drinkers; more than 40 percent of separated or divorced women were married to or lived with a problem drinker or alcoholic.[1]
  • Women are three times more likely to be assaulted by a spouse than men are.[2] About one-third of the women murdered in the U.S. each year are killed by their partners, and roughly 1.3 million women are the victims of physical assault by a partner each year.[3]

So if we look strictly at the numbers, men are more likely to be alcoholics, and women stand a high chance of being beaten up by their partners. Does this mean that a child will likely be exposed to abusive behavior from a man and that mothers can better protect their children and themselves by not having a partner?

According to a 2001 report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 3 million children in 1996 lived with a parent who was dependent on illicit drugs, and 6 million lived with a parent who was dependent on alcohol. Studies find that children from substance-abusing households are “more likely to have problems with delinquency, poor school performance and emotional difficulties, such as aggressive behavior” than are peers with caregivers who don’t abuse drugs and alcohol.[4]

Does Franklin think substance abuse might have something to do with the prevalence of single-parent homes with struggling children? If I had married and then divorced an abusive alcoholic, my kids probably wouldn’t be as healthy as they are now. And if I were a substance abuser, I certainly wouldn’t expect my spouse to stay with me for the sake of keeping the children in a two-parent home.

And what about those prisoners Franklin talks about? He points out that “youths who never had a father in the household experienced the highest odds” of becoming criminals. Why is the father missing from the household? Could it be that he had drug or alcohol issues? Was he physically abusive toward mother or child? Did he abandon the family? Was he in prison? After all, more than 90 percent of federal and state prisoners are men.[5]

I expect Franklin is not proposing that women should gladly raise their children with sex offenders, alcoholics, and abusers in order to shield their children from the evils of a single-parent household. And while we’re on the topic, pedophiles, gang members and the chronically unfaithful—who all tend to be men as well—don’t hold much appeal as parenting partners either.

I know Franklin would take offense at the idea that, based on the statistics, the odds are that a child will be exposed to abusive behavior from a man and thus all children should be separated from their fathers. It’s the same reason I take offense at the idea that a child is likely to suffer in a single-parent home.

The majority of men are good fathers and husbands, just as the majority of single-parent households are good environments for their children. Yes, it’s hard to be a great parent if you are financially and emotionally handling everything without a strong partner by your side. But, by and large, we do pretty well.

There are nearly 23 million children in the U.S. (32 percent) living in single-parent families. The vast majority of those kids don’t end up going to prison, having substance abuse issues, dropping out of school, committing suicide, or conceiving a child while a teenager.[6]

So again, let’s focus on why so many single-parent households are able to succeed so that we can sincerely help the families who don’t.

Good Parenting Equals Dedication to Our Children

When I made the decision to become a Choice Mom, it’s because I was only a few years out of a divorce (from a lovely man who had no abuse problems) I was thirty-five when a relationship with a man I loved ended because he didn’t want to have children, I was making more than $100,000 a year, I owned my home in New York City, and it seemed irresponsible to quickly date my way into a marriage simply because my fertility years were waning. This is a very common story among Choice Moms.

As I’ve mentioned, I know hundreds of women who have made the choice to build a family on their own. Nearly 4,000 of them visit my ChoiceMoms.org website each month to educate themselves about this lifestyle. We communicate regularly on a discussion board that I formed only four years ago and already has more than 4,500 members.

To be honest, a few of them are not as mature as I would like. I don’t want self-involved parents for our children any more than Franklin does. But I can count on one hand the women on my board that I have felt were not responsible adults. And I know plenty of self-centered married parents. A marriage license is not a magic wand for good parenting.

Good parents:

  • let their kids know how important education is,[7]
  • don’t abuse alcohol or drugs,
  • seek help for depression so they can attend to their children’s needs,[8]
  • set boundaries and expectations, with respectful communication,[9]
  • do not inflict physical, sexual, or psychological harm on their children,
  • do everything in their power to protect their children from intensive stress, conflict, and trauma.

I could volley more research. I could show you a study of 75,000 kids that suggests that children living with their single dads are more likely to use drugs,[10] that kids living with their single dads are more likely to be physically abused than those living with their mothers,[11] or that children raised by single dads are more likely to spend less time in school.[12]

Yet I would never make the leap that fathers are not as capable as mothers in raising healthy kids. In fact, I married a widowed dad who was extremely dedicated to the well-being of his children, including an aggressive special-needs teenager. (We amicably divorced largely because he eventually realized that he didn’t want to raise more children.)

I even know an alcoholic who was a poor father and husband but is now, two decades sober, a wonderful grandfather and a great helpmate to his married daughter. Even substance abusers can become responsible adults who help to heal wounds they gave their children.

I am sure Franklin, in his work with Fathers and Families, could talk about many divorced men who are good parents with their children’s well-being at heart. Because there is nothing in the list of good parenting skills that requires the parent to have a spouse.

If Franklin still believes that social scientists are absolute in their resolve that single parenting is “indisputably” taking an “unconscionable risk” with a child’s future, I’ve listed new reading material in the endnotes, including recent studies reflecting current trends. Some of them even look at variables inside Choice Mom homes, since all single-parent households, of course, are not built the same.[13]

Good Parenting Equals Community Connections

One of the predominant strengths of families that work well is the ability to build a strong village around our children. In my case, my kids have a wonderful connection with my parents (still married after fifty-two years). We regularly spend time with the families of two wonderful married dads and another Choice Mom. About twenty Choice Moms recently gathered at my church for a holiday celebration with our thirty children. I share my large house with a school teacher and a music therapist who provide fun childcare for my kids. Recently I celebrated with two single mom friends as our children competed against each other in a spelling bee—our three kids are at the top of their class.

Creating strong relationships with a healthy network of family, friends, and neighbors is a hallmark of successful parenting.

Franklin seems to obscenely suggest that single moms typically have a “parade of males” flitting through the lives of our children. (I presume he also suspects single dads have a parade of females in their children’s lives.) He refers to single mothers having children because of “strong feelings of insecurity and lack of rootedness.”

He obviously hasn’t met many Choice Moms, such as the lawyer whose dying father asked her to have kids on her own before it was too late, the devoutly Christian woman who was facing infertility in her early thirties and whose brother encouraged her to pursue donor insemination, my single friend who spent a year traveling abroad and was chosen by a birth family—in a large pool of coupled prospects—to raise the boy being placed for adoption, the woman who spent three years analyzing whether a man she was dating was a fit role model for her son before she agreed to his marriage proposal, or the bank manager who travels extensively for business yet has managed to raise three accomplished teens.

I know a woman who was raped and, with the input of family and friends, chose to raise the child rather than go through the heart-wrenching process of aborting or placing the child for adoption. I know many women who have faced the difficult decision to leave a long-term relationship with a partner who is not interested in having kids.

Many women who consider single motherhood end up choosing “no thanks.” But those of us who choose “yes” to motherhood are often able to do so not simply because of post-graduate degrees and upper-middle-class incomes—a demographic profile for many Choice Moms—but because of our strengths, security, and roots in the community.[14] We know we can provide a loving environment and will build the support network that our children need, with male role models, hired help, thoughtful childcare, strong friendships, and connections to our church and school communities.

Our Kids Respect Our Strengths as Parents

One of the tired arguments Choice Moms hear is that we are selfish to want to devote our lives single-handedly to raising children. There tends to be a leap of logic made by some that because we consciously decide to become parents on our own, we do not care about our children.

Franklin suggests that “how the children fare” is the important aspect of parenting. I fully agree with that particular slice of his argument, so to help alleviate some of his worries, I will offer this.

In my book Choosing Single Motherhood[15] I gave grown kids of pioneering single mothers by choice the last word. I wanted women to hear what we can do right—and what we can do wrong—as single parents. These young adults were honest—no one gets through parenting unscathed in the view of their kids. I also asked them to describe how their childhood impacted their personalities so we could judge for ourselves how they seemed to be turning out. Here’s some of what they said:

  • “Because my mother always treated me like her equal, I have a very strong sense of my own abilities and self-worth. Because she struggled, I understand struggle and persistence. Because she was a strong woman, I became a strong woman. I have an independent spirit and am not easily cowed or discouraged. At the same time, I have learned through my close and loving relationship with my mother how important it is to reach out and love and try to form those sorts of bonds in life.”
  • “What I especially learned from my mom was to do what you feel really strongly about and have integrity in doing it. Those are major character traits I got from her. She’s very intelligent and knows what she’s doing.”
  • “Personally, I think it has taught me independence. There are many girls my age who feel this inexplicable need for a boyfriend. While I always enjoy when I have boyfriends, I’ve never been one to be called boy crazy. I know I don’t need a boyfriend and I’m perfectly fine being single. Though crushes are always fun.”
  • “What has my mother done that was ‘right’ in raising me? I’m not sure how to answer this question without sounding like I’m bragging. To be perfectly honest, I feel that she has done most everything right. Going to college early as I did [sixteen] is a big challenge for anyone, and she has been there 100 percent of the time. From handling almost every aspect of my education to instilling in me a sense of right and wrong, I would say she’s done it.”
  • “As far as fears some have that a guy like me will grow up overly aggressive, or less analytical, because of the lack of a father in the home—it doesn’t make sense. I was excellent as a math and science student in high school. I went to a competitive prep school and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from college as a computer science major. There are a lot of stereotypes about single parenting, and it seems as if we’re all clumped into the same category.”

All Hands on Deck

I suggest that we not spend time and energy wringing our hands about kids who are doing well in single-parent households. Let’s instead focus on the families who are struggling—whether married, divorced, abandoned, or unmarried—because of job loss, natural disaster, lack of health care, addiction, mental illness, depression, homelessness, or early death of a caregiver.

I applaud the efforts of Franklin and the Fathers and Families organization to promote the strengths of men as role models, husbands, and fathers. Honestly, we need as large a pool of strong parents as we can get.

Notes

[1] Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, “Substance Abuse: The Nation’s Number One Health Problem,” February 2001. See especially pp. 36, 62, and 68.

[2] National Family Violence Survey, 2000, at http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/183781.pdf.

[3] U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, “Criminal Victimization, 2005,” September 2006.

[4] See Johnson Foundation, “Substance Abuse.”

[5] Allen J. Beck and Paige M. Harrison, “Prisoners in 2002,” Bureau of Justice Statistics, July 27, 2003, at http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/p02.pdf . See also L. F. DiLalla and I. I. Gottesman, “Heterogeneity of causes for delinquency and criminality: Lifespan perspectives,” Development and Psychopathology 1, no. 4 (1989) pp. 339–49, which points out that the most significant predictor of criminality is having a parent or other close relative who exhibits anti-social behavior or has been incarcerated.

[6] See U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “Percentage Distribution of Children in United States by Number of Parents in Household,” at (see especially Family Structure). See also N. Zill, D. Morrison, and M. Coiro, “Long Term Effects of Parental Divorce on Parent-Child Relationships: Adjustment and Achievement in Early Adulthood,” Journal of Family Psychology 7, no. 1 (1993): 91–103.

[7] See for example Minsuk K. Shim, Robert D. Felner, and Eunjae Shim, “The Effects of Family Structures on Academic Achievement,” paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New Orleans, La. April 24–28, 2000. See also a summary published at http://family.jrank.org/pages/11/Academic-Achievement-Family-Background-Family-Structure.html.

[8] See Richard Weissbourd, The Vulnerable Child: What Really Hurts America’s Children and What We Can Do About It (Addison-Wesley Publishing, 1996).

[9] See for example: Richard Weissbourd, “Moral parent, moral child,” American Prospect July 14, 2002, and his book The Parents We Mean to Be: How Well-Intentioned Adults Undermine Children’s Moral and Emotional Development (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, March 2009).

[10] The International Child and Youth Care Center news item, based on PRIDE Survey research, published online July 23, 2001, at http://www.cyc-net.org/Newsdesk/news-july2001.html.

[11] Third National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect, published by National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect.

[12] D. B.Downey, J. W. Ainsworth-Darnell, and M. J. Dufur, “Sex of parent and children’s well-being in single-parent households,” Journal of Marriage and the Family 60, no. 4 (1998): 878–893.

[13] Impact of divorce: A landmark study by Mavis Hetherington in 2001 revealed that children raised in a family of emotional hostility were more negatively impacted than children who grew up in a divorced family: E. Mavis Hetherington and John Kelly, For Better or For Worse: Divorce Reconsidered (W. W. Norton, 2002). There does not appear to be a significant difference in quality of parenting among divorced and intact mothers, when controlling for income: D. Rosenthal, G. K. Leigh, and R. Elardo, “Home environment of three to six year old children from father-absent and two-parent families,” Journal of Divorce 9, no. 2 (1985): 41–48. See also: P. A. Heath and C. MacKinnon, “Factors related to the social competence of children in single-parent families,” Journal of Divorce 11 (1988): 49–65; P. R. Amato and B. Keith, “Parental divorce and the well-being of children: A meta-analysis,” Psychological Bulletin 110 (1991): 26–46. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, there were more teenage girls giving birth in 1958, when divorce rates were lower, than in 1998 ). Children of divorced homes with high grade point averages have mothers with a lower level of depression, a higher educational level, less conflict with their ex-spouses, and less intense levels of conflict between mother and child than those children with lower grade point averages. See A. McCombs and R. Forehand, “Adolescent school performance following parental divorce,” Adolescence 24 (1989): 871–880.

Impact of father absence: Vivian L. Gadsden and Marcia Hall, “Intergenerational Learning: A Review of the Literature,” National Center on Fathers and Families, at ; D. Wenk, C. L. Hardesty, C. S. Morgan, and S. L. Blair, “The influence of parental involvement on the well-being of sons and daughters,” Journal of Marriage and the Family 56, no. 1 (1994): 229–234. E. A. Blechman, “Are children with one parent at psychological risk? A methodological review,” Journal of Marriage and the Family 44 (1982): 179–195.

Impact of single-parent homes: Marilyn Ford-Gilboe, “Dispelling Myths and Creating Opportunity: A comparison of the strengths of single-parent and two-parent families,” Advances in Nursing Science 23, no. 1 (September 2000). Clare Murray and Susan Golombok, “Solo mothers and their donor insemination infants: follow-up at age 2 years,” Human Reproduction 20 (June 2005). See also Golombok’s concise and thorough research review in her book Parenting: What Really Counts? (Routledge, 2000). Fiona MacCallum and Susan Golombok, “Children raised in fatherless families from infancy: a follow-up of children of lesbian and single heterosexual mothers at early adolescence,” Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 45, no. 8 (November 2004). Note: A national substance abuse survey, based on 22,000 adolescents, found more substance abuse among the children of single mothers (5.7 percent) than among the children of two biological parent (4.5 percent) but that is a minimal rate for such a major structural difference.

[14] V. Jadva, S. Badger, S. Golombok of Centre for Family Research, faculty of Politics, Psychology, Sociology and International Studies, University of Cambridge, and M. Morrissette, Choice Moms,’”Mom by choice, single by life’s circumstance’: Findings from a large-scale survey of the experiences of single mothers by choice,” Human Fertility 12, no. 4 (December 2009): 175–184. Note also: Sociologists in the United States who have studied single mothers (such as Rosanna Hertz and Faith Ferguson) have found that single parents have a network of friends, relatives, and neighbors who are invested in their lives and the lives of their children. And since education level of parents is an important variable in achievement rates of children, note that in general more women than men are graduating from college. See Richard Fry and D’Vera Cohn, “Women, Men and the New Economics of Marriage,” Pew Research Center, January 2010.

[15] See my book Choosing Single Motherhood: A Thinking Woman’s Guide (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, May 2008).

Part IV: Robert Franklin: Choice Motherhood Is Not the Best Choice: A Reply to Mikki Morrissette

Fatherlessness is a wound that never gets better.

—Tonya Glantz, clinical training specialist, Rhode Island Child Welfare Institute[1]

In her first piece for PublicSquare.net, Mikki Morrissette chose to ignore five decades of social science that demonstrate that, across all demographic categories, children of intact families tend to do better than those of single parents.[2] Her promotion of single motherhood is incompatible with the science on family structure and child well-being. In place of science, she attempted to substitute the notion that it is not single parenthood but conflict within families that causes the problems the literature so amply describes.

But in her most recent article, she’s abandoned that argument, and wisely so. That’s because single-parent families are usually the centers of far more conflict than are intact two-parent ones. So even if family conflict were the main problem, single-parent families would still be a poor choice for children. As but one example, children with a single parent are far more likely to be victims of maltreatment than are children with two parents. Indeed, the Fourth National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (NIS-4) finds that children of single parents are up to eight times more likely to be abused and ten times more likely to be neglected than are the children of intact families.[3]

Anecdotal Evidence

Morrissette relies to an astonishing degree on anecdote to support her thesis. I have no reason to doubt that Morrissette is the best of mothers or that the five adult children she quotes aren’t 100 percent sincere about what they say. About just how well Morrissette “knows” “hundreds of women” through the medium of a discussion board, I’m considerably more skeptical. But the fact that she offers them as evidence for the validity of “Choice Motherhood” speaks volumes about how little she has to support her claims.

Surely Morrissette understands that each side of every discussion can cite anecdotes to support its point of view. Here are a few recent examples:

  • An Australian single mother murdered her two children rather than allow them to be with their father on Christmas Day.[4]
  • A single mother in Maryland murdered her two children. A third child testified in court to being beaten with a baseball bat and being choked until she lost consciousness.[5]
  • Single mom Almita Lockhart starved her eight-year-old daughter to death; the child weighed fifteen pounds when she died.[6]

I could go on indefinitely, but what do those anecdotal cases prove? They prove nothing beyond the tragic deaths of the children involved. But according to Morrissette’s logic, they show that single parenthood leads to the premature deaths of children. Actually they prove nothing of the kind.

What the Science Says

Now on to the science she cites. Amazingly, very little of it has anything to do with the topic at hand, and much of it that does actually promotes intact families over single-parent ones. For example, she cites studies on alcohol and drug abuse by adults but neglects to mention that children in single-parent households are far more likely to be exposed to drug and alcohol abuse than are children of intact families.[7]

Morrissette’s irrelevant citations are many. She points out that our prison population consists overwhelmingly of males, but what has that to do with her brief for single-parent childrearing? She tells us about the qualities of good parents but cites no source for the proposition that single parents are just as likely as married ones to possess those qualities. She devotes a footnote to the impact of divorce on children. It’s an interesting topic, and if it were relevant to this topic, it might be more interesting still, but it’s not.

Not content with the irrelevant, Morrissette proceeds to cite studies that actually contradict her thesis. For example, the study cited in her footnote 7 concludes that children of single-parent families tend to have lower expectations of themselves academically than do children of intact families.[8] Footnote 13 includes a citation to a study that found greater substance abuse among children of single mothers than among children of intact families. Morrissette hastens to inform us that the difference was not too great, but how that supports her argument is anyone’s guess.

If Morrissette actually had solid scientific basis for her claim that single parenting is good enough, wouldn’t she present it?

Single-Mother Straw Man (or Straw Woman?)

But Morrissette is correct that children of single-parent households can turn out fine. And that’s the gist of her second piece for PublicSquare.net. It’s a point that no one to my knowledge has ever denied.

In a nutshell, her argument is that some—or even most—children of single parents turn out all right; therefore, single parenthood can be a good family structure. But the mere fact that certain children of single parents don’t necessarily suffer the host of ills so many of them do is no argument for the acceptability of single-parent homes. To do so would make no more sense than arguing that it’s okay to smoke because most people who do don’t get lung cancer.

In making any important decision, responsible adults gather the relevant data and make the best choice based on what they know. If the odds are long or the consequences of error dire, they’ll say no to the proffered option, and that’s the sensible answer to the option of single motherhood. Morrissette’s response is that what’s important to a child’s outcome is, above all, good parenting. We’re all for good parenting, of course, but she never explains why single-mothers are just as likely to be good parents as fathers and mothers together. That’s because single parents of whichever sex tend to be worse parents than two. That’s not because they’re not well motivated; it’s because single parents lack the resources that two parents have.[9] They have less money, less time, and less of what sociologists call “social capital.”

The literature on parenting is replete with data that show what would be obvious even without it. One income is less than two; two parents have more time to care for children than one; two parents bring two extended families into the child’s life, while a single parent brings only one. And all of those aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, etc., have their own life experiences, wisdom, and contacts in the community that can benefit the child. As McLanahan and Sandefur state, growing up with a single parent “frequently deprives children of important economic, parental and community resources and these deprivations ultimately undermine their chances of future success.”[10]

In keeping with her practice of citing sources that rebut her claims, one of Morrissette’s own citations recite that “researchers have also looked at the impact of single parenthood on parenting, and have demonstrated that, on average, children in single-parent households experience a poorer quality of parenting than children who live with two parents.”[11]

In short, none of Morrissette’s assertions holds up against well-established social science. Anecdotal evidence proves nothing more than the facts of each anecdote. And while everyone prefers good parenting to bad, the simple fact is that two parents likely do the job better than one.

Public Policy and Individual Choice Demand Dual Parenting

Decisions about parenting occur in at least two contexts—that of public policy and that of individual decision-making.

Governments should acknowledge the science on family structure and establish public policies that promote intact families. Although the main reason for pursuing those policies is child well-being, it’s scarcely the only one. The same social science that shows that dual parenting is good for children shows that it’s good for mothers and fathers as well. As but a few examples, married mothers are less likely to live in poverty and less likely to be injured by a domestic partner than are unmarried mothers.[12] Married fathers are less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol, less likely to commit crime, and more likely to be gainfully employed than are single fathers.[13] On the whole, then, married childrearing is good for everyone.

On the level of individual decision-making, no woman or man who considers single parenthood can know what the future will bring. Whatever the person decides, he or she must weigh the odds of the choice working out well or ill. Will his or her job last? Will it pay enough by itself to support a child? How will the child be affected by the parent’s future partners? What happens when the parent gets sick? When the child gets sick? What if the parent becomes disabled? All the issues raised by those questions and countless others tend to be better met by two parents than by one.[14]

The Dark Side of Choice Motherhood

Not only does Morrissette abjure science; she also neglects to mention just how a woman comes to be a single mother by choice. There are many ways, some of them irreproachable but others with a decidedly darker side. Morrissette never mentions that dark side.

The decision to become a “Choice Mother” is the decision to have a child without a father involved in the child’s life. One way uses the services of a sperm bank, and another is adoption, but both are fairly rare.[15]

The dark side of “Choice Motherhood” includes things like paternity fraud and the simple expedient of the woman lying to the man about whether she’s pregnant or, if he knows about the pregnancy, lying about the identity of the father. Uncomfortably for Morrissette, law books have many such cases of mothers going to remarkable lengths to keep children from fathers who are loving and responsible.

As but one example, the Utah Supreme Court ruled recently on the case of a Wyoming woman who became pregnant and lied to the father, saying she had miscarried. When he discovered her lie, she moved first to Montana, then to Utah, and finally to California in order to deprive him of access to his child. For somewhat arcane legal reasons, the day before she was due to deliver, she telephoned the child’s father to say, “You will listen and you will not speak. First of all I want you to stop harassing me and that includes your mother. I am in Utah. You will not father this child. You will pay child support until the child is in college. You will never see this baby. Do you understand?”[16]

His (and his mother’s) “harassment” of her consisted of his repeatedly expressing his desire to take an active role in his child’s life. This was a man whose qualifications to be a father have never been impugned.

How many fathers like the man in Utah who are ready, willing, and able to take an active, loving role in their children’s lives are denied the opportunity to do so by mothers who choose to prevent it? There are no certain data to answer that question, but the following figures suggest that many are.

Some 14.2 percent of all mothers refuse to identify the fathers of their children for inclusion on the birth certificate.[17] That’s despite the strenuous efforts on the part of the U.S. Office of Child Support Enforcement to establish paternity at birth.[18] The American Association of Blood Banks finds that in 26.88 percent of cases in which paternity is contested in court, the man who thought he was the father turned out not to be.[19] My own research indicates that between 6.9 percent and 10.1 percent of all children born in the United States are unknown to their true fathers. That’s between 290,000 and 420,000 children per year, or 5–7 million children under the age of 18.[20]

As I said earlier, some ways of becoming a “Choice Mother” are fine, but intentionally concealing paternity from the father is not one of them. And that phenomenon brings up yet another issue that Morrissette fails to mention: maternal control over fathers’ parental rights.

Fathers’ Rights in Mothers’ Hands

Family law varies somewhat from state to state, but one overarching theme is that, to a degree found nowhere else in American jurisprudence, mothers control fathers’ rights to their children.[21] One of the main methods of a woman exerting that control is refusing to inform the father of his paternity. A single man who doesn’t know that he’s fathered a child is a man at risk of having his parental rights sharply curtailed or lost altogether, as the man in the Utah case discovered to his dismay.

Therefore, “Choice Motherhood” constitutes an exercise of maternal power over fathers’ parental rights and, into the bargain, the child’s rights to a father. In the cases of artificial insemination and most adoptions, the man has unilaterally given up his rights. But in many cases, women become “Choice Mothers” by intentionally depriving a man of his child irrespective of his qualifications as a parent.

In a more equitable world, mothers would be required to tell fathers about their children, and issues of parental fitness would be decided not by maternal fiat but by due process of law. My guess is that Morrissette and her “Choice Mothers” would want no part of a system that gave single fathers enforceable rights to their children.

Choice Motherhood Is an Unnecessary Risk

Most single parents do their best. I’m confident that Mikki Morrissette is an exemplary mother. Thankfully, many children of single parents become healthy, happy, productive adults. But in the face of data that are, in sociologist David Popenoe’s words, “decisively on one side of the issue,” the choice to become a single parent is the choice to take unnecessary risks with the child’s future well-being. In many cases, it is also the decision to deprive a father of his child and a child of its father. That choice may work out well enough in the long run, but no one can know that at the start. To promote single parenthood as either good public policy or a responsible individual choice contradicts all that science teaches us about the matter. Into the bargain, it often abridges the rights of fathers to know and love their children and the rights of children to know and love their fathers.

Mikki Morrissette and her “Choice Mothers” do us all a profound disservice by continuing to advocate a family structure that long ago proved its propensity for harm.

Notes

[1] Julie Steiny, “Let’s Talk About Importance of Fathers in Children’s Lives,” Providence Journal February 21, 2010,

[2] Sara McLanahan and Gary Sandefur, Growing Up With a Single Parent: What Hurts, What Helps (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard, 1994) p. 1: “In our opinion, the evidence is quite clear: Children who grow up in a household with only one biological parent are worse off, on average, than children who grow up in a household with both of their biological parents, regardless of the parents’ race or educational background“ (emphasis in original).

[3] A. J. Sedlak et al., Fourth National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (NIS–4): Report to Congress, Executive Summary. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, 2010.

[4] Amelia Bentley, “Mother Gets Life Sentence for Killing Children,” Sydney Morning Herald February 24, 2010.

[5] Sarah Karush, “Md. Mom Convicted of Killing Kids Found in Freezer,” Houston Chronicle February 23, 2010.

[6] Ethan Sacks, “Houston Mother, Almita Nicole Lockhart, Charged with Starving Daughter Halle Smith, 8, to Death,” New York Daily News February 5, 2010.

[7] Robert A. Johnson, John P. Haffman, Dean R. Gerstein, “The Relationship between Family Structure and Adolescent Substance Use,” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C., 1996.

[8] Quoting from her citation of Shim, Felner and Shim, “However, a larger portion of the students from step- or single-parent families tended to have very low expectations (of academic performance). They also tended to experience more stresses at school, which had negative effects on achievement.”

[9] McLanahan and Sandefur, Growing Up With a Single Parent.

[10] Ibid. p. 3.

[11] Clare Murray and Susan Golombok, “Solo Mothers and Their Donor Insemination Infants: Follow-Up at age 2 Years,” Human Reproduction 20 (June 2005). Emphasis added.

[12] U.S. Census Bureau, Children’s Living Arrangements and Characteristics: March 2002, P200-547, Table C8 (Washington D.C.: GPO, 2003).

[13] See, e.g., U.S. Census Bureau, Statistical Abstract of the United States, 2007 (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 2007). Daniel R. Myer and Steven Garasky, “Custodial Fathers: Myths, Realities and Child Support Policy,” Journal of Marriage and the Family 55 (February 1993): 73–89. Robert Coombs, “Marital Status and Personal Well-Being: A Literature Review,” Family Relations 40 (1991): 97–102.

[14] McLanahan and Sandefur, Growing Up With a Single Parent.

[15] About 39,000 babies conceived by artificial insemination were born in the United States in 2005. That is less than 1 percent of all children born. In 1999, the most recent year for which figures have been compiled, there were about 20,000 children adopted by single parents. Evan B. Donaldson, Adoption Institute.

[16] See Cause No. 20070818, O’Dea vs. Olea (2009).

[17] In 2000, I contacted the Bureau of Vital Statistics for the eight most populous states in the country and requested computer analyses of their birth certificate records. Specifically, I requested the number of births in the state for the previous year and the number of birth certificates with the space for “Father” either left blank or filled in as “unknown.” The data by state were:

  • California: Total births—522,882; Father unknown—53,840,
  • Texas: 342,199/48,488
  • Florida: 195,564/30,891
  • Illinois: 182,503/30,769
  • Michigan: 133,649/21,228
  • New Jersey: 113,332/11,723
  • Ohio: 152,457/22,976
  • Pennsylvania: 145,606/20,586
  • Eight-state totals: 1,688,192/240,461 or 14.2 percent.

[18] The U.S. Office of Child Support Enforcement has been charged since 1975 with establishing paternity of children born out of wedlock. Its results have been poor. For many years, paternity establishment stood at only about 30 percent, although that abysmal rate has improved. Jessica Pearson and Nancy Thoennes, “Acknowledging Paternity in Hospital Settings,” Public Welfare (Summer 1996).

[19] American Association of Blood Banks Parentage Testing Standards Committee, “Annual Report Summary for Testing in 2004.”

[20] Data sources included the Office of Child Support Enforcement; David A. Coleman, “Male Fertility Trends in Industrial Countries: Theories in Search of Some Evidence,” in Fertility and the Male Life Cycle in the Era of Fertility Decline (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999); American Association of Blood Banks; United States Census Bureau; Bureaus of Vital Statistics of California, Texas, Florida, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey; the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing group of Working Papers; National Survey of Families and Households; and others.

[21] The control that mothers can exercise over fathers’ rights is most analogous to the control exercised by a parent over the rights of a child. That is most often true among single parents because laws that presume that a child born to a married woman was fathered by her husband protect his rights at least to a degree. But among single parents, the simple act by a mother of concealing a pregnancy or lying about paternity can extinguish the father’s parental rights forever. In the case of adoption, it will likely mean that he will not receive notice of the termination of his rights. In cases of paternity fraud, a man who doesn’t know he’s fathered a child and thus fails to care for it can see his rights extinguished or markedly diminished if he ever does learn about his child. In other cases, a mother who moves out of town, out of state, or out of the country effectively prevents the father from ever learning about his child in order to assert his parental rights.

No state in the nation requires a woman to inform a man of his paternity. By denying him knowledge, she denies him the opportunity to care for and bond with his child. That can mean the loss of his parental rights. She thus controls his parental rights by controlling his knowledge of his child.