I read a lot about the family, parents, children, child rearing, family law, the social science of the family, etc. Much of what I read is in some way ill-informed, biased, shallow, etc., but sometimes I run across a piece that is so aggressively bad, so entirely lacking in redeeming qualities, that it’s hard to get a grip on. This is such a piece (Huffington Post, 1/29/13).
Where to begin? The high-school-level prose? The rhetorical questions left unanswered? The utter lack of evidence for the proposition asserted? The tone of whining entitlement? What about the desperate desire to avoid the truth at any cost, even to the extent of purposefully refusing to read anything on the topic at hand? Cara Lemieux’s article is such a smorgasbord of awfulness, it’s truly hard to decide.
Lemieux seems to be a producer of sorts for ABC. Occasionally she reads a book on parenting, calls the author and writes an article on her interview. Based on her HuffPo piece, she should definitely stick to producing. Writing and thinking aren’t her long suits.
But whatever her personal merits and demerits, the gist of her article is that we should stop blaming single mothers for being single mothers and start blaming fathers for making them that way.
What I am saying is if we really want to change the statistics (on children of single mothers), we need to start talking to the party that is abandoning their responsibilities — not to the party that is doing everything in their power to live up to theirs.That’s not just a summary of her article, it’s all of it; the other 500 words or so are just filler. But what is clear is that Lemieux believes that “the party that (sic) is abandoning their (sic) responsibilities” is meant to indicate fathers and ”the party that (sic) is doing everything in their (sic) power to live up to theirs” means mothers. Where does Lemieux get the idea that, as a general rule, the fathers of children born to single mothers are “abandoning their responsibilities?” Amazingly, she makes no effort to say. She wrote an entire article with that as her thesis and makes not the least effort to support it. Naked assertion is good enough for her and, she hopes, for us, but I suspect most readers demand a bit more. The same holds true for her claim that single mothers are “doing everything in their power to live up to” their parental responsibilities. Not a hint of support for the claim. Not a word. High school English teachers demand more of their students than that, don’t they?
How does Lemieux come by her ignorance? It turns out to be entirely self-imposed, so I suppose it’s a point in her favor that she freely admits it.
So, in an effort to avoid becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy, I decided to deliberately avoid reading anything related to those statistics while I was pregnant and single. I had to, or I think I would have lost my mind.Her determination to avoid facts about her chosen topic extended well past pregnancy, but at some point her bubble of ignorance seems to have been pierced by a couple of headlines. Ever the anti-intellectual though, she was able to avoid reading the articles. Hey, it’s not easy staying dumb, but Lemieux manages.
But it’s not just remaining ignorant in the face of so much information that taxes her, it’s the fact that, if she did read something on the subject, she’d have to change her opinions about single motherhood and therefore her high regard for herself. What’s truly remarkable though is not her non-reading on the well-researched subject of paternal motivation regarding children and why women become single mothers. Given the opportunity, she even avoids her own anecdotal situation.
Oh wait — did we all forget how most moms (referenced in these articles) become single moms? Right, at one point there was a man… and then there wasn’t. But for some reason (which infuriates me), the headlines don’t typically frame the story that way.No Cara, we didn’t forget, but by all means tell us. She doesn’t. She doesn’t even tell us how she became a single mom. I suspect I know the reason why Lemieux chose to raise the issue of how women become single mothers and then dropped it like a hot rock. After all, if we examine that we have to deal with information Lemieux doesn’t want to mention and come to conclusions she hates and fears drawing.
How do women become single mothers? There are many ways, but virtually all of them involve the exercise of maternal power over the rights of fathers and their access to their children. For example, if a woman wants to exclude the father from her child’s life, there are many ways to accomplish the feat and she can feel confident that the family court system will back her up every step of the way.
First, she can just not tell him about the child. Once pregnant, she can simply tell him she wants to break up. Any efforts he might make to continue the relationship constitute stalking for which he can be arrested.
Should he somehow learn of his child, the matter becomes more difficult for her, but by no means impossible. If enough time has passed, courts will give him at best a marginal role in his child’s life while still requiring him to pay child support not only in the future, but also for all the time she kept knowledge of the child from him.
If he happens to have the money to pursue his rights more aggressively, a lie or two about domestic violence or sexual abuse will reliably throw him off the track while preserving her receipt of child support.
Does the court grant him greater access to his child than she desires? She can move to a different state or even take the child to a different country. The latter of course is illegal, but what matter? Even if she’s found, it’ll be years before courts will adjudicate the matter and, often as not they’ll simply abrogate the plain meaning of the international pact meant to remedy parental child kidnapping. As we’ve seen before, if she evades accountability for her crime long enough, courts will reliably rule that too much time has passed and the father’s presence would be too upsetting for the children. Presto! She’s home free. And of course she’ll remain unpunished for her wrongdoing.
What about maternal gatekeeping? Has Lemieux ever heard of that? It’s astonishingly common as the many studies of the phenomenon show. Mothers do all sorts of things to cut fathers out of the lives of their children, including all of what I’ve referred to above plus murder, but Lemieux and her ilk will never let on about it.
Then there’s the fact that mothers are the ones seeking divorce. Seventy percent of divorces in the United States are initiated by women and we know why. Brinig and Allen report that the variable that “swamps” all others is that mothers know they’ll keep the kids. That’s not fathers leaving, Cara, it’s mothers. If mothers were so interested in keeping fathers involved with their kids, why would they do that?
For that matter, why would they be the ones filing 80% of the claims of domestic abuse in custody cases, the vast majority (some studies say 85%) of which are never substantiated? The clear answer is that those mothers are doing their utmost to destroy the father-child relationship.
Ditto Parental Alienation. Although both mothers and fathers can be alienators, because the vast majority of custodial parents are mothers, it’s mothers who do the vast majority of alienation? How do women become single mothers? PA is a tried and true method.
If dads were truly as uninterested in their children as Lemieux pretends, none of what I’ve referred to so far would be necessary, but it’s as common as dirt. In fact, as Lemieux would know if she’d ever read anything on the subject, men of all races, in all income brackets and all levels of education passionately want to be fathers. They want a substantial (although seldom exclusive) role in caring for their kids. For someone who can’t manage to read even simple mainstream media articles, I know it’s a lot to ask Lemieux to read a whole book, but Sanford Braver’s “Divorced Dads” is a good one. It and countless articles from Sarah McLanahan’s longitudinal study entitled Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing are helpful too. Harvard researcher Kathryn Edin is another good resource. They show fathers not only caring about their children, but moving heaven and earth to maintain contact with them over the dogged efforts of mothers and their allies in family courts.
To put it bluntly, across all categories of race, ethnicity, religion, class and geography, fathers are anything but the feckless, uncaring creatures of Lemieux’s imagination. How they come to be separated from their kids has far more to do with their willful exclusion by mothers and courts than by their own personal shortcomings.
The backlash against the growing fathers’ rights movement, the overwhelming weight of social science showing children’s need for two parents and its rapidly increasing acknowledgement by courts, legislatures and popular culture is weak and entirely lacking in intellectual heft. Face it, the anti-dad crowd’s got nothing to go on. So they resort to junk like Lemieux’s. As I’ve said before, if they had anything of substance – or even anything that makes sense - don’t you think they’d produce it?
Thanks to Glenn for the heads-up.