The Thinking 

The Truth about Single Motherhood

March 12, 2010


Van Wijk writes:

When I was still a soldier (this was around 2004), a female soldier in my unit asked for my help in assembling a computer desk and TV stand at her home. She was a single mother with four children, and was around 7 months pregnant with #5. Since it was obvious that she couldn’t physically accomplish the task on her own, I agreed to help. While I was assembling the furniture her children, who ranged in age from around 1 to 10 years old, stared at me intently, as if they’d never seen a man before. There was a strange quietness to them (later I thought about how differently the children of some of my married friends behaved). I took my leave soon after the task was done. The next day the single mother told me that her youngest child had wept for a long time after I left.

This soldier would later ask me to do other errands for her, but I never went back to that house. The thought of seeing the youngest child again was heartbreaking. I found out later that the same soldier was having casual affairs with numerous men at that time.

I don’t think she was attracted to me, but I have since been approached by a few single mothers. My response to each of them was that the presence of children was a deal-breaker. I can think of nothing more emasculating than raising another man’s children, and I don’t ever want to face the emotions of having a child not my blood look at me as a father-figure. After much meditation, dying alone is far preferable than compromising on my principles.                                                                                              



Laura writes:

“I can think of nothing more emasculating than raising another man’s children.”

Yes. Although there is one thing possibly more emasculating: Letting another man raise your children.

Sage McLaughlin writes:

You wrote, “Although there is one thing possibly more emasculating [than raising another man’s children]: Letting another man raise your children.” 

Truer words were never spoken. Although knowing today’s sentimentalist view of the issue, you’ll no doubt be deluged with messages insisting that raising another man’s children is the most honorable thing a man can possibly do, indeed, more honorable than raising one’s own.

Laura writes:

Oh, and the man who must pay for another man to raise his children, financially supporting the mother while she lives with a boyfriend, is the most emasculated of all. He is a slave of the New Matriarchy.

Matthew writes:

Van Wijk’s story about how the child of a single mother intensely stared at him touched a chord; I have seen that look, too. Our family lives near an affluent suburb of Los Angeles where a great many of the parents wait until their 40’s or even 50’s to have children. A few women who have not yet married decide to have children on their own. And while this is an affluent suburb, the community also has a great deal of rental housing which makes it attractive to divorced mothers who want to send their children to good public schools. Finally, there is a cohort of middle-aged lesbian women with children in the community.

I do not claim to be a exemplar of traditional values or the perfect father, but our family is intact and I was raised in the Midwest, so I relate to my boys in a fairly exuberant, traditional way. Children find this engaging so they often approach me when I take the boys to the playground, the park, or the like. And on several occasions, I have been the recipient of “the stare” that Van Wijk describes. It is one of the most horrible things I have ever experienced. I vividly remember the first time it happened, our family was at Jamba Juice and a child of a woman who was obviously single or had been divorced for some time gave me that stare. It lasted for about ten minutes, until we finished our drinks and left. I was shaken by the experience and will never forget it. It was obvious that the boy recognized a reasonably healthy, traditional family when he saw one and hungered for it.

That said, I have to differ with some of the comments in that I did not find it emasculating. I wish I could be a father to that boy. Every time I get “the stare” from a poor child whose “parents” are lesbians, or see children with no father in their lives, my heart breaks and I want to help those children. Unfortunately I cannot, but if I ever see a way to help — perhaps by becoming a Boy Scout leader, perhaps by coaching — I will do it.

Laura writes:

Very sad and moving. 

Erin Hargrove writes:

My husband has been a Christian father for the last 25 years. He did Boy Scouts with our son and coached recreational soccer for our 3 girls. As such, he became very familiar with mothered-only children and the hungry look on fatherless children’s faces is something we have seen many times. In fact, even before we looked at the registration sheets for each child on our soccer teams we could tell which had intact families. It was particularly evident coaching a team of girls. The fatherless girls were constantly seeking physical attention from my husband. They’d throw themselves on his back, offer him hugs, look to him for approval every time they were successful with a task, “flirt” with him, etc. The two times I coached a team (he could only handle one team at a time so a couple of years he coached an older child and I took the younger one’s team) none of the girls behaved this way. He experienced much emotional conflict because to reject a child seeking affection is a terrible thing, but it would have been dangerous for him to give these girls what they needed. Our daughters never behaved this way with other men and the fathered daughters on his teams didn’t either. We never had to tell them not to – they just didn’t. They sought their daddy for affection, he gave it to them, so it never occurred to them to look to another man for it. In fact, they have a built-in radar about men who become too attentive and will mention immediately how creepy it is. Even if a man wants to try to fill the father hole in an unrelated child our culture has made it impossible – there’s too much sexual suspicion of men.

JL writes in response to Van Wijk’s comments:

That is a rather difficult statement for those of us raising children by ourselves through no choice of our own. I stay at home still with my children and make ends meet by living simply and doing without so that they still have me here. I’ve never had a career, was a homemaker and wife, but was left behind. Not all single mothers are feminists. I was raised by a traditional mother/homemaker and have always been one myself. It is a harsh reality but very, very sad that men avoid women with children because they don’t want to raise those children. I hope there is still some compassion for women who chose home and children and are not at all feminists but were rejected by men looking for something better.

Fitzgerald writes:

I for one have enormous compassion for single women that were shafted by crummy men as I am a single father who was left by a wife of 14 years. For those unfortunates, I am truly sorry, but in my experience, the majority of single mothers these days ditched their husbands for reasons that are spurious at best. For them I have no compassion, only outrage.

Laura writes:

I too have great compassion for all those whom have been callously abandoned by those who pledged to love them.

Jane writes:

While in general I agree with the problems you describe associated with single motherhood, I think your blanket description of men who do not live with their children or who have children that live with other men as emasculated was too much of an over-generalization.

My husband of many years fathered a child with a high school girlfriend. Both being high school students, they did the best they could with situation they’d created. They chose to forgo abortion, which is what many young people with promising futures would have done. However, they also chose not to marry, though I’m fairly certain their parents would not have consented to the marriage had they even wanted to do it.

Obviously, my husband has married me and we have 5 children of our own. Old oldest daughter (his firstborn) lives with her mother, stepfather, and two younger siblings. We provide for her financially and spend as much time as we can with her. When her stepfather’s career moved them to another state, we were devastated, by my husband has always expressed appreciation to her stepfather for being a strong presence in her life in a way that he hasn’t been able to over the past 3 years.

To call my husband or his daughter’s stepfather anything less than men of honor is insulting to the many families who are making the most of less than ideal circumstances. I know your readers will disagree, but what kind of wife would I be if I didn’t stand up for my husband?

Not all stepfamilies are born of similar origins.

Laura writes:

I agree that these generalizations do not apply in all cases. There are stepfathers who are better for the children they live with than the fathers. That does not make the situation you describe a good model for others. People of character or good fortune can often transcend problems that bring out the worst in others. Given an unplanned pregnancy, the outcome you mention, in which loving parents and extended families are involved, is ideal. It sounds as if your stepdaughter was not exposed to a life of constant friction between her biological parents and as if the adults involved cared about her interests first.

Laurence B. writes:

Several years ago I agreed to coach my younger sister’s junior high volleyball team. The team had 9 players, 3 of whom were living without father figures. It was an odd dynamic to begin with, because I was a senior in high school coaching 7th and 8th grade girls, so naturally I suppose some giggling and whispering was to be expected. However, these three girls were always a more persistent in their silly behavior. Their stares lingered longer, they’d ask for my approval (directly) more often, and they would respond in overly dramatic, downtrodden ways when they did not achieve the standard of whatever drill, game, etc. Half way through the season I was approached by the sports coordinator of the school and asked to take a diocesan sponsored sexual harassment course. Apparently, these girls were incessant, fantastical, and persistent enough in their discussions of the team and their coach at home that their respective mothers became concerned with my behavior. Though indignant at the time, I consented to the class because our team was undefeated and was likely to win the state championships.

When I arrived at the school for the next practice, after attending the generic class, I was shocked to find these young girls sitting around a boom box listening to that ‘Lady Humps’ song with admiration. Twelve year old girls reveling in that horrid degradation. Here I was, endeavoring to instill in them respect, discipline, precision, and concentration at this transitional stage of life, having to attend a class for sexual harassment to appease the single mothers of these girls, and they were singing along to a song about “lady humps.”

And what, besides turning off the music (which I did), could I have done? A lecture about self-respect or prudence regarding their bodies and behavior would’ve only furthered the unfounded suspicions these ignorant single mothers had. I further suspect that, because it was the their fatherless girls who were the primary instigators, they chose the song deliberately as a provocation/confrontation of their affectionless adolescence.

As a side note, because it also pertains to the women in leadership positions theme, I should mention our final game of the state tournament. In a most dramatic fashion, we were to play our district rivals and the only other team that could “hang with us.” They were led by a brutish, dike-ish woman whom I heard telling her players to single out our worst player and relentlessly direct all the balls toward her. Despite her chicanery, and relentless deprecating remarks toward her own players, which brought many of them to tears, we were victorious. After the match, she refused to shake my hand, but rather mumbled that I, being a young person (and perhaps, coincidentally, the only male coach in the league) had no business coaching the girls.

Randolph isn’t the only one with such problems.




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