I totally realize that I am a dinosaur, a relic from a time when we actually had community and that community and its approval or disapproval counted. In my era you did not get pregnant in high school because you were moral, chaste and good, you did not get pregnant in high school because you were terrified of what would happen to your reputation and that of your family.
Because we were not able to get birth control easily, not even condoms were readily available discreetly, the choices were not to have sex or to risk getting pregnant, thereby bringing disgrace on yourself and your family. It must be noted at this time that in the 1960’s, a less evolved time for gender roles, almost all of the disdain was heaped on the female if an unplanned pregnancy happened. Men were, it was held, just being men, or boys were being boys depending on the time frame.
It was their job to press the girls to have sex, but it was the responsibility of the “good” girls to say “no.” The irony is the girls who routinely had sex were savvy in the ways of not getting pregnant, so the few girls who actually did get pregnant in my high school class ( there may have been two out of a class of more than 400) were probably much closer to being good girls than a lot of their female classmates.
If anyone had told me forty years ago that having a baby without benefit of marriage ( in some cases it seems without benefit of introduction) would come to be viewed as business as usual in some circles I would have sworn they were crazy.
If we set aside all religious, moral and societal standards having a baby without a stable relationship with its father is still insanity. In this society people of virtually all classes are struggling. Getting pregnant in the 1960s usually meant the young man, if he was any kind of decent, would marry you. That did not mean the marriages were long and happy, but most generally they did occur. At least for the beginning of her child’s life the mother had a partner. Someone to hand her a bottle, hold the baby while she took a shower, make some money to help support the child.If he did marry you it was likely he could get a decent job at one of the factories to support the family. Manufacturing jobs no longer exist. If the male has no skills you have no source of income help.
Now it seems more than ever that far too often reproduction is left on the shoulders of the mother, especially if she is unwed. If the man decides he does not want to be a husband and a father he simply falls back on the 1960s tactic of swearing he is not the father. Unfortunately for him we now have Maury and DNA. And, we have child support enforcement. So, in most cases if he has got a job he will be paying child support. But, a lot of the fathers do not seem to understand what a job is, and paying money, and generally not that much, is not the same as partnering in raising a child. It does not mean getting up with 4 AM feedings, driving the child to daycare, taking him to the park, bathing her, feeding her, reading books to him, taking her for walks and pointing out interesting things.
It means one person, the mother has to do everything, including work to earn money to have enough to live decently. If the mother cannot bridge the gap between what the father gives and a decent life, then the child will suffer, as will the mother. I cannot imagine having a child that you would love to give things to but being unable to buy them even the things other children take for granted.
So, with birth control available, with career paths open to women that I could have only dreamed of at their age, with all of the information about sex, conception, relationships, economics and family structure available at their fingertips why are women still getting pregnant who cannot afford to raise a child? Even more puzzling why are they sometimes having more than one?
And no, my Republican friends ( as if I had any) it is not to suckle more deeply at the public teat. The 1994 TANF act made having babies to get more money obsolete. As a matter of fact the amount of time you can collect welfare is limited.
So why do these women commit economic, emotional and psychological suicide by having babies without benefit of stable relationship, let alone a marriage license. A marriage license can mean a lot of things, some of them romantic, but most of all legal. The license not only implies to the world that you all knew each other well enough to know each other’s middle names, it also means you cared enough about the other person to make a public declaration of it. Even if the marriage only lasts two minutes after the kid is born, it makes things much tidier. Everyone having the same last name, for example.
And, please, please understand America. Having a baby by someone does not automatically lift him or her to the status of fiance. Has the person asked you to marry him/her? Has a ring been exchanged? Are wedding plans in process? Plans that involve a wedding happening before the child enters school? If not he is NOT your fiance. He is your baby daddy, a totally meaningless term on so many levels. I know it makes you feel better to claim this person who you have three kids by intends to marry you, but generally speaking if y’all have not managed to go to city hall and get hitched after three visits to the labor room, it ain’t happening.
In addition being a “single mother” is not a badge of honor, nor does it mean that I, the president, your friends, the grocer, butcher, baker or candlestick maker, owe you one darn thing. I have seen women explain some failure on their part to do something they are supposed to, from providing a decent home for their children to participating in parent groups at schools by saying ” I am a single mother.” My question to them is, ” Did you know you were single when you had sex with that man and got pregnant?” If so, then single mother means irresponsible person. It is not the same thing as a woman whose husband has died, or who is single by no fault of her own.
Those of you who know me know that I am a serious feminist. I have mixed feelings about the institution of marriage, despite having been happily married for more than four decades. It still seems to me that women get the dirty end of the stick in marriage far too often, something that will be the subject of a future blog.
But, having raised three children, and been in the lives of several thousand more ( I taught 180 students a year for 18 years in public school and at least that many in ten years of college teaching), I know that the more people involved in meeting the needs of children the better. Since our communities have largely collapsed ( does your neighbor have a key to your house?), we need to have family units that have as many stable people in them as possible.
Part of being stable means having a JOB. I would personally like to see orphanages run by the state re-instituted so that people who should not have had children, cannot support them sufficiently and have no idea how to raise and care for them could have their parental rights severed to save the child. In my universe a woman who continued to have babies she could not afford would not be forced to stop having babies, but she would not be allowed to pass her feeble minded lifestyle on to future generations by raising them herself.
Again, this is not about moral right or wrong, being against premarital sex or anything of the sort. It is about the economic and societal destruction that comes about from producing children without having a stable environment to raise them in. One parent working is not going to make as much as two parents working, one parent raising kids is not going to be as vigilant and present as two parents. It is a matter of economics and child welfare, nothing else.
Here is a simple primer for you young women out there. I do not care if you have sex with everyone on the Eastern Seaboard, but do not get pregnant. Here is a checklist for you before you have a baby.
- You have finished your education–high school diploma at least
- You have begun a career that will support you and the baby
- You know how much it costs to raise a baby ( $13,000 the first year, about $310,00 until he is 18 if you do not send him to college, which btw would make you a bad mother)
- You know the man you are planning to get pregnant by will be around and do his part financially and otherwise.
- The man in question has finished his education
- The man in question has a job
- The man in question has not been involved with the criminal justice system in any serious way
- You have a support system of other women in case Prince Charming turns out to be a frog
- You are ready to be a mother, which includes being there to do what you need to do for your child even when you do not want to do it. In other words clubbing with the girls is a thing of the past for the most part
- You understand that the relationship between mother and child is for 24/7 until one of you shuffles off this mortal coil. My mother is 93 and still worries about me
There is nothing, nothing at all romantic about having a baby. They are noisy, messy, demanding and expensive. They will not improve your relationship with your man/boy, they will try it.
I enjoyed having and raising my kids, they are great human beings with good hearts, much intelligence and zany senses of humor. The fact we opt to spend a week together in a beach house each year and nobody ever hits anyone else is proof that we do like each other, at least most of the time. But having a baby mindlessly is one of the dumbest things a human being, particularly a female human being can do.
I look forward to the day when the only women who have babies without a stable partner are the celebrities who can afford to bridge the gaps left by a daddy, at least to some extent, with hired help!