Orlando Sentinel

Unwed motherhood is a crying shame

Kathleen Parker
Published in The Orlando Sentinel on April 05, 2000

Sometimes you don't have to work very hard to come up with a clutch-your-throat, spit-out-your-coffee subject for a column. Sometimes just the facts will do.

Did you know that half of all babies born in the United States in 1998 were born to unwed mothers?

Choking yet?

What was once a rarity -- a mistake made by the ignorant or the immoral -- has become a cultural trend. These days we even celebrate unwed motherhood as though we've managed to do something remarkable rather than something unforgivably selfish.

We're especially rewarded when a famous person behaves infamously. Madonna and Jodie Foster come to mind. Who can forget the People magazine cover a few years ago that featured a pregnant Foster and the breathless headline: "And Baby Makes Two!"

Now nearly half the women in U.S. maternity wards are following the stars. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, about 1.29 million babies were born to single women in 1998. Donna Shalala, the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, called the trend "troubling."

In my tribe, "troubling" is what we say when the crab grass is taking over the yard. When half the babies in America are being born outside of wedlock, we use words like "outrageous" and "tragic."

These aren't teen moms. In fact, teens are behaving better than grown-ups these days. The teen birth rate is down. It's twenty- and thirtysome-
things who are making stray dogs blush.

The Alan Guttmacher Institute, a private research group, reminds us that unwed motherhood doesn't necessarily mean "no dad." Many women are living with a "partner," according to a spokesperson for the institute.

Ah, "Mommy and Partner." So generic. So open-ended. So millennium.

The growth of mommies 'n partners as a family substitute is being attributed to two cultural trends: Women in their child-bearing years aren't willing to rewind their bio-clocks while waiting for the right dude to darken their door, and the more relaxed attitudes toward unwed mothers.

Who's relaxed? I'm almost hysterical. As a mother of sons, I wonder whether my boys will find a woman willing to marry and raise a family.

Remember when guys suffered Fear of Commitment? Today, young women suffer Contempt for Commitment. Gloria Steinem's maxim springs to mind: "A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle."

It is almost axiomatic in such a culture that if a woman doesn't need a man, her children don't need a dad. Oh, the occasional superfeminist might concede that children need a "father figure," but few see the superior value of a wedded family over a partnering arrangement. Divorce, after all, is almost inevitable. And then what?

Maybe this: male abstinence. Don't laugh. Dr. Gerald Rowles, a family consultant and psychologist, is suggesting that on his pro-family Web site (dadi.org). In a spinoff of Rudyard Kipling's poem, "If," Rowles has created a new male credo: If you aspire to be a man, father, husband, he writes, then you must exercise a man's freedom of choice -- abstinence.

Rowles calls abstinence a man's "most powerful victory in the 'gender wars' -- the conquest of his own body." In a world in which women devalue men and fathers, where women hold the high cards in divorce and family-making decisions, it may have been inevitable that men would begin guarding their bodies and that which is uniquely their own.

Just like women once did.

Posted Apr 4 2000 11:10PM

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