Those who scoff at government efforts to promote marriage do not understand the life of a single parent. The glamour girls in Hollywood may believe single motherhood is a dream, but for the everyday working mother it means hard work and sacrifice. What could possibly be wrong with community programs that reinforce the bonds of matrimony? Or programs that prepare young men and women for the realities of marriage? With the divorce rate at nearly fifty percent, matrimony clearly needs some assistance. Broken homes bring hardship to the entire family, but children suffer the most and there is no government program that will ease that pain.
The news about children growing up in a single-parent household is not good. Children suffer numerous consequences of divorce, and studies have shown that they are more likely to fall prey to emotional problems, drugs, premature sexual experiences, and failing grades in school. But what do we expect when mothers are forced to leave children home alone to care for themselves? Even if daycare is provided, young children miss out on after-school sports and other activities because there is no one to shuttle them to and fro. Mothers must deal with these troubles while most probably working full-time and trying to be both mommy and daddy, which is, by the way, an impossible feat.
While marriage may be the goal, no one is advocating that bad marriages continue at any cost, and promoting marriage certainly does not mean that women should suffer in abusive relationships. In a policy brief, Maggie Gallagher, affiliate scholar at the Institute for American Values, reports that a study from the University of Denver showed that preparation for marriage programs may help reduce the risk of domestic violence and the likelihood of divorce.
But according to Kathy Rodgers, president of the National Organization for Women Legal Defense and Education Fund (NOW-LDEF), “The Bush administration is promoting an ideology of marriage and family life that’s about image, not reality. It’s a way of avoiding, not embracing, government’s responsibility to really help families.” The responsibilities of working and raising a family alone are enormous, and it should come as no surprise that marriage eases the burden. That is not an ideology, it’s a fact. Feminists, however, do not like to acknowledge that a woman might still need a man, but they cannot hide the truth that children still need their fathers.
The NOW-LDEF write in their position papers that “Federal marriage promotion diverts welfare funds from basic economic supports, lacks public support, coercively intrudes on fundamentally private decisions, wastes public funds on ineffective policies and inappropriately limits state flexibility.” But if it is right and appropriate for the federal government to spend money on abortions for teenagers, why isn’t it reasonable to spend federal dollars on helping couples prepare for and cope with marriage? Both are private issues.
In a CNN report on single mothers, Stephanie Coontz of Evergreen State College says that the number of unwed mothers is an “international, long-term historical process that involves the increasing independence of women.” Yes, now an independent young woman can go have an abortion (in most places without parental consent), she can go on to college where condoms are passed out like candy, she can land a job that requires so many hours per week that she has no time to even think about having a family, she can then choose to have a baby without a husband, and she lives happily ever after. Is anyone still buying that?
Daniel Lichter, co-author of a study on marriage and unwed mothers and professor of sociology at Ohio State University, claims that other programs are of more importance: “The findings of this study suggest that government marriage promotion cannot substitute for other policies to help the disadvantaged, such as minimum wage legislation, affirmative action, and education and training programs.” Who is promoting an ideology now? While these programs may help relieve some of the stress and assist a single mother in training and education, there is no substitute for having a father in the home. Dr. Lichter suggests that we must solve the problem of unwed childbearing first, but it seems to me that the two go hand-in-hand. Promoting marriage may very well reduce the number of women who have children out of wedlock.
We are in real trouble if the best we can hope for is to continue throwing money at existing programs that are obviously not working. Once upon a time, women depended on men to be partners in marriage and the head of the family. Now women are head of the family, but they are dependent on the government. Are we better off now?
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