Carolyn Hax Supports Single Motherhood

November 12, 2018 by Robert Franklin, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Usually, advice columnist Carolyn Hax is the very soul of good sense.  She rarely misinforms, misleads or misadvises a letter writer.  This, however, is an exception (Seattle Times, 11/7/18).  Hax’s inquirer signs herself “Wannabe Mom, Not Wannabe Wife,” a label that, strangely enough, is only tangentially related to her, her situation and her question.

WMNWW’s question – whether she should, without a partner, adopt a child – could be right out of the 1990s.  That was a time when the “Single Mothers by Choice” movement was in flower.  The women of that movement were intentionally giving birth to or adopting children without the involvement of a man.  It was all portrayed as terribly “courageous” on their part and few people raised their voices to challenge them.  One of course was Vice President Dan Quayle who famously questioned whether TV character Murphy Brown (Candace Bergen) should have been depicted as having a child without a father.  Quayle pointed out that doing so shouldn’t be considered “just another lifestyle choice.”

At the time, he was roundly ridiculed for doing so, but five years later, Barbara Dafoe Whitehead published a lengthy article in The Atlantic whose to-the-point title was “Dan Quayle Was Right.”  He was.  Whitehead made the case in 1993 and she did so without the welter of science that we have today on the subject of single parents and children’s well-being.

So, you might think that questions like WMNWW’s would have died out during the Clinton Administration.  But what exactly is she asking?

She tells Hax that she’s not going to get married and prefers being single.  But she wants to adopt a child.

My family, though supportive of my single life, is very unsupportive of my becoming a single mom. Some of their reasons are reasonable — it’s difficult to raise children alone, it might have negative consequences for my career, harder to get an adoption solo — others less so (what if the baby I adopt is a serial killer?). ..  It would be way better for the child to have a dad, not need so much time in child care, etc.

Sensibly cautious as her family is, they consider the child’s well-being.  But WMNWW has no thought for that.

I feel like they’re saying I’m being selfish for bringing a kid into this life on purpose.

Am I trying to have my cake and eat it, too?

So WMNWW’s question is all about her.  Is she being selfish?  She nowhere considers her family’s main point – that a child might not do well in her care.  Plus of course, whether she marries or not is only tangentially related to whether she has a child.  Yes, data strongly suggest that married relationships are best for raising children, mostly because they’re more stable and last longer than the unmarried kind.  But, as we all know, no one has to be married to have a kid.

Meanwhile, Hax goes off the rails, making something hard out of something easy.  Her “answer” to WMNWW is barely an answer at all.  Its first part is just a series of assertions designed to make it appear that anything the writer wants to do is like any other.

Well sure, it would be better for your would-be child to have a second parent.

And better for you to raise a child with the help of a co-parent.

It would also be better for kids with one terrible parent to be raised solo by the other.

And kids with two terrible parents to be raised by loving other relative(s), friend(s) or foster(s).

Hax goes on and on in the same vein, little of which has anything to do with either the situation or the question.  Eventually she more or less gets to the point.

And so what I wonder is how your family can be so confident their idea of the right way to raise a child will actually turn out right for the child you would have adopted but didn’t because they managed to talk you out of it?

But the idea that her family is saying that if WMNWW raises her child with a father it “will actually turn out right” is nothing but a straw man.  I very much doubt her family is claiming that sort of certainty.  After all, grownups realize that life is full of uncertainties and that anyone who thinks they can be sure about the future is about to take a fall.

But Hax’s response is entirely based on the notion that the writer’s family is claiming that, if she raises the child with its father, all will be well.  As straw men go of course that’s an easy one to knock down.  Predictably, Hax does so, all the while leaving no doubt that she supports WMNWW’s inclination to do parenthood alone.

What if the writer’s family members aren’t claiming certainty?  What if all they’re doing is stating the odds?  What if they’re saying that the overwhelming weight of social science has for decades shown that children of single parents tend strongly to do worse than those with two parents?  What if they’re saying that, while we can’t predict the future, we can take cognizance of the odds and act accordingly and we should.  Yes, a child raised by a single mother may do fine.  It’s also true that, if I step into the street without checking the traffic, I may not get hit by a city bus.  But I do check the traffic.  And so does everyone else.

It’s long past time when someone like Hax should have learned that advising anyone to have a child without a partner is irresponsible and, above all, dangerous for the child.  The answer to WMNWW’s question is “yes, you are being selfish.  Above everything else, the decision to become a parent is the decision to, for the first time in your life, put yourself second.  Tossing aside decades of science on child well-being in order to do what pleases you isn’t doing that most basic of parental things.  That alone means that you need to seriously rethink your inclination to have a child at all.”

There, that wasn’t so hard, was it?

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