Peggy Drexler’s at it again. For years now she’s been trying to sell us on the idea that children raised by single mothers and lesbian mothers do just fine, thank you, and in so doing, she’s encouraging exactly the type of dysfunctional behavior that so mars American society. Here’s her latest (Huffington Post, 4/19/12).
Drexler doesn’t strike me as particularly anti-father and she clearly has a wholesome interest in children’s well-being. But try as I might, I can’t figure out what she’s actually doing. That’s because she never lets us know. For example, she assures us that she’s been diligently studying single and lesbian mothers for many years, but she never gives us a hint about what those studies consist of. Who are the mothers she studies? What are their demographics? Are they rich, poor, black, white, Hispanic? Are they Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, atheist? How old are they? What’s their educational background? How many of these people has she studied? Who’s her control group?
Most importanly, how does she assess the well-being of the children these mothers are raising/have raised? What’s her methodology?
She tells us none of that, asking us to take her conclusions on faith. Not wanting to do that, I emailed her, asking for her studies. She declined to provide them. Do they in fact exist?
As with most of her pieces, Drexler’s HuffPo piece is modesty itself. She makes no broad, sweeping claims and is at pains to offend no one. Indeed something like half the article consists of oh-so-cute descriptions of “Quentin” who by turns is three and six. If her quotations are any indication, Quentin is one tough, smart little dude. Good for him, but what does he prove other than what’s true of him? Not much if you’re a good social scientist; apparently a lot of you’re Peggy Drexler.
I’ve spent years studying these moms and comparing their children’s sense of right and wrong with that of kids from two-parent heterosexual families. These moms — whom I call “maverick mothers” — represent America’s newest and fastest growing sector of minority families. They’re transforming the way we think about mothers, recreating what it means to be an American family, and helping to liberate us from outdated notions that no longer apply. Because here’s the truth: The mother-father-child household is hardly conventional anymore.I’d love to know how she goes about “comparing their children’s sense of right and wrong,” but again, she doesn’t tell us. I’d think that’s a dicey proposition that would at the least require an explanation of her methodology, but Drexler’s keeping mum. But I can’t help noticing that, for Drexler, raising children with a biological mother and biological father in the same household constitutes “outdated notions that no longer apply.”
Put simply, that’s outrageous nonsense. That concept is neither outdated nor inapplicable. In fact, in the U.S. the more educated you are the more likely you are to have concluded that children need to be brought up in just the type of “conventional” household that Drexler considers passé.
But it’s not just her refusal to provide her own research that’s problematical; Drexler further refuses to acknowledge studies that uncomfortably contradict her bare assertions. For example, just a couple of months ago I reported on a University of Chicago study that found that boys raised by single mothers suffered a lack of “parental investment” that girls did not. That means that single mothers tend to short-change their sons in the love, caring, nurturing departments. They don’t read to boys boys as much as they do girls; they don’t cuddle them, sing to them, play with them as much. The result is emotion-starved boys with serious psychological and educational deficits.
What does Drexler say about that? Not a word. To do so would interrupt her blasé flow of happy talk.
Drexler knows she’ll get blowback from people who don’t buy her ideas that children raised by biological mothers and fathers are in some way artifacts of past civilizations, so she hastens to try to blunt their criticisms.
I’m not saying that kids without fathers do better, or that women are superior parents. Just that it’s possible — very possible — to raise exceptional, morally-grounded children no matter what your family looks like. That the development of your child’s moral character depends less on whether there is a male or female figure or two parents. That these instilled morals and values come from one place: you. These women are proof of that.Who could argue? Of course it’s possible for single parents, gay parents, lesbian parents, etc. to raise “morally-grounded children.” Almost anything is possible, but when it comes to public policy on families, what Drexler is peddling is snake oil. Assuming for the sake of argument that she’s done reputable research and her findings are as she claims, she’s still reporting on the exceptions to the rule. Indeed, she must be. Otherwise, all those studies patiently conducted over at least five decades are just flat wrong, a proposition for which Drexler needs to do more than make a few unsupported assertions.
For the purpose of formulating public policy that applies, not to the few families Drexler’s selected, but to tens of millions of fathers, mothers and children, we need to rely on the rule, not the exception. And the rule is that two biological parents are head and shoulders better at raising healthy, happy kids than any other childcare option yet devised.
And we don’t need articles that, for all their disclaimers, in fact encourage women contemplating motherhood to go it alone. Can it work out alright? It can, but the odds are against it. That’s something Peggy Drexler will never tell her readers and it’s irresponsible in the extreme of her not to.