August 15, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
Here’s a pretty good New York Times article (New York Times, 8/13/14). Although the writer, Jodi Kantor, doesn’t seem to notice, it reveals yet another of the myriad reasons why single parenting is such a bad idea. In the process, it provides an up-close and personal look at the life of a young, poor single mother.
That mother is Jannette Navarro. She’s 22 and has a four-year-old son named Gavin. The gist of the article is that, for single parents like Navarro, low-wage employment presents an unexpected and largely unacknowledged problem – scheduling. Navarro works at a Starbucks which is a step up from her days at the Dollar Tree and KFC, but she still has to commute three hours to get there and seldom knows more than three days in advance whether she’s going to work a particular day or shift.
Employers, in their continuing quest to cut labor costs, have become adept at scheduling just enough employees to meet the need at the time. So Starbucks’ computers tell the store manager if it looks like a slow day and, if so, employees can be asked to clock out early. That saves Starbucks money, but it plays havoc with employees’ lives.
Last month, she was scheduled to work until 11 p.m. on Friday, July 4; report again just hours later, at 4 a.m. on Saturday; and start again at 5 a.m. on Sunday.
That schedule would be a hard enough for anyone to negotiate, but for a single mother with a four-year-old, it verges on the chaotic. Navarro doesn’t have a car or a license to drive, so she depends on public transportation. She tries to keep Gavin in daycare, but the center needs some sort of predictability from her and she just can’t give it. She’s under Starbucks’ thumb. Navarro, like many other low-wage workers (she earns $9 an hour gross) is caught between the needs of her son, her need to work and the needs of her employer that doesn’t see the sense in paying a penny more in labor costs than absolutely necessary.
But Navarro’s life is harder than that. She earns between $10,000 and $13,000 a year, net. She’s trying to get an associate degree, but she’s three credit hours short of completing it and, as mentioned, doesn’t have a car and can’t drive. They have no place to live, so they bunk with relatives, friends, acquaintances. In short, she and Gavin live in poverty with no obvious way out. Navarro is one illness (even a relatively minor one) or accident (again even a minor one) away from catastrophe.
The article’s point is that Starbucks, like many other employers, make matters worse for people like Navarro, and it’s undeniably true. But of course what else is true is the fact that employers will continue to look for new ways to cut their labor costs. They’re in competition with others in their field and other costs like rent, utilities, food costs, etc. are relatively static. That means the true definition of the word “compete” is “cut labor costs.” Up-to-the-minute scheduling of the kind Navarro experiences is one of the recent permutations of that and she and everyone else can count on the fact that it’ll continue. The Times piece highlights an important problem for low-wage single mothers and fathers, but there is no solution to it that employers are going to provide.
That leaves it to the employees and that’s where the Times article falls flat. It’s so focused on employers’ scheduling policies, it never addresses the issue of Navarro’s part in her own predicament. Exactly why did she choose to have a child out of wedlock when she was 18? Kantor isn’t interested, but that’s clearly the crux of Navarro’s difficulties. With no Gavin to see to, Starbucks’ policies would still be onerous, but they wouldn’t leave Navarro panicked as she so often is. She’d likely even have the time to complete her junior college degree, but with the child, she’s got not chance of that. To Kantor, single parenthood is as unquestionable as snow in February.
In typical Times fashion, we have no idea of what happened to Gavin’s father or why. We’re told only that he “disappeared without paying child support,” and that may be all there was to it. But, in figuring out Navarro’s situation, it’d be nice to know the nitty-gritty of their relationship.
When fathers leave, our culture has long adopted the narrative that he’s just a “deadbeat dad,” and indeed, some fathers are. But social science, like that done by Sanford Braver, consistently discloses an interpersonal dynamic between father and mother that’s altogether more complex than the usual blame-the-dad narrative.
One of the consistent themes of our anti-father culture is that fathers have no – and should have no – say in raising their children. At every turn we tell fathers they’re not important to children. Abortion laws deliver that message as do custody rulings, non-enforcement of visitation, paternity fraud, the very concept of the “deadbeat dad,” maternal gatekeeping, domestic violence laws, an unending stream of movies, television programs, news stories and the like depicting fathers as some version of violent, worthless or absurd.
So on those occasions fathers actually do walk away from their kids, should we really be surprised? After all, they’ve clearly gotten the message we send them every day in every way.
Did Navarro herself send that message to Gavin’s father? What did they do about contraception? Did he have any reason to think she was on the pill or any other of the some 37 choices women have to prevent pregnancy? If so, was it the truth? One study found that 33% of women at two community colleges had previously lied to their boyfriends about using contraception in the hopes of conceiving. Did Navarro do the same? If so, should we be surprised when the boyfriend, who was never consulted and was probably unready for fatherhood simply walked away? After all, it wasn’t his decision, why should it be his problem?
As with single motherhood, this culture never asks how it is that, in this time of reliable, cheap contraception, unplanned pregnancies number as many as half of all pregnancies. For some reason, the question never seems to come up in articles like Kantor’s, “how did Navarro and her boyfriend allow themselves to become parents?”
What about maternal gatekeeping? Once the baby came along, did her boyfriend show the type of caring behavior most fathers do? Or did Navarro hide the pregnancy from him thereby preventing him from undergoing the type of pre-birth hormonal bonding with his child that’s so necessary for parental (mother or father) involvement in childrearing?
After Gavin was born, did Navarro obstruct his contact with him? Did she make him feel like a second-class citizen when it came to parenting?
We don’t have answers to any of those questions because the Kantor wasn’t interested. As is true in almost every similar article, the father here is both invisible and voiceless despite the fact that it’s his absence that makes life so hard for Navarro and Gavin. In so doing, the article takes its place among all the vast array of pop culture that does exactly what I said before – tells fathers they’re not important.
Indeed, the article itself almost makes the point, albeit unwittingly. Having introduced her readers to Navarro and imbued them with the sense of panic and hopelessness she endures daily, Kantor then introduces us to her boyfriend, Nick Martinez. Martinez to is young and, like Navarro, works at Starbucks while trying to complete his education.
As he enters the scene, the reader experiences a lifting of the fog of perpetual crisis in which Navarro lives. Martinez has a place to live, so Navarro and Gavin do too. He has a job, so they have a bit more money. He has a car, so their transportation needs are alleviated. And best of all, he and Gavin get along well. Martinez enjoys playing the role of father and Gavin clearly benefits from the involvement of a caring man in his life.
Of course Martinez and Navarro aren’t married, but their relationship shows us that two adults are a lot better for each other and a child than one can ever be. Reading, we begin to relax because of Martinez’s presence. But again, Kantor doesn’t register the obvious point. Much as she wants it to be, Starbucks isn’t Navarro’s problem. Navarro is Navarro’s problem. She became pregnant and had the child despite having no real means of raising him. She could have waited until after she completed college to have a child, but she, at 18, chose otherwise.
Sadly Navarro continues to be her own worst enemy. It seems Martinez was not only all the things I mentioned, but also responsible enough to make demands on Navarro – demands that were for her own good. For example, he demanded that she get her driver’s license by a certain date, but she failed to follow through. Martinez clearly saw the writing on the wall. He had a job, was going to college, was single and had no child of his own. Everything Navarro represented was an obstacle to his having a better life. He could see what she’d made of her own and, for him, there were other fish in the sea. He broke up with her and moved on, plunging her into yet another crisis.
Again, Kantor gets little of this, but we do. Hers is a good article as far as it goes. It gives us the day to day reality of single parenthood when the parent is young and poor. It’s not a pretty picture. Whether Kantor knows it or not, it’s a great argument for dual-parenting.
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