Sunday, November 7, 2010

***All Single Parent Readings***

Feeling a Bit Scared In a Brave New Father-Free World

Donna Britt. The Washington Post. Sep 4, 1998.

Everywhere you look, there they aren't.

They aren't in the lives of Jodie Foster, Sandra Bernhard, Madonna, Erykah Badu or a host of other celebrity single moms. Not one was around recently when two Spice Girls, "Posh" and "Scary," announced their pregnancies. The complex picture that emerged after two blue-eyed Virginia toddlers were revealed to have been switched at birth -- a portrait complete with grandparents, a teary mother and assorted lawyers -- lacked even one.

I'm talking about fathers -- specifically dads who are married to the mothers of the infants they helped create. At least both pregnant Spice Girls are engaged. But in our brave new world of marriage-free child-raising, little was made of the fact that neither mom in the baby-switching case had wed her daughter's father. And that wherever the toddlers end up, they won't have a daddy.

But hey -- it was just another no-daddy news story.

We see them all the time. In recent weeks, two prominent East Coast journalists announced their marriage-free pregnancies. This week, I thought nothing could be sadder than the story of the Virginia woman who discovered the body of her missing son at the scene of the car accident where he had died -- and where police and medics had inadvertently overlooked him. Then I read that her fresh-faced, unmarried son, 19, had twin sons living in Alabama.

Statistics tell me that nationally, unwed births are declining. My gut tells me that the drop may be too little, too late.

There have always been fatherless children through divorce, death and contraceptive error; single parents who adopt are my heroes. But I'm alarmed by the casualness with which some people now approach unwed parenthood, the hardest job I, after my divorce, ever faced.

I don't know which makes me crazier: the girls and women who thoughtlessly have babies without the benefit of emotionally and legally committed husbands, or the guys who plant their seed with no intention of experiencing the magical -- and needy -- creature that blossoms as a result.

Or is it the culture that ignores unwed parenthood until it's too late?

Well, we'd better start caring. In a new, 14-year study of 6,000 males, ages 14 to 22, Cynthia Harper, of the University of Pennsylvania, and Sara S. McLanahan, of Princeton University, found that boys with absentee fathers are twice as likely to be incarcerated as those from traditional two-parent families -- regardless of their race, income and parents' education.

Clearly, fathers who live with their sons -- and presumably, their daughters -- often add something undefinable, nurturing and necessary to their children's development.

And as a society, we are ignoring that.

I asked my son, 16 -- who adores both his birth father and the very involved stepdad who is raising him -- why fathers matter.

"Fathers are so important," he said. "Kids need somebody other than their moms to talk to, to give them guidance about what men should do, how men think. You need a man around to know how a man feels."

Yes, you do. But how does that happen in a world in which uncommitted sex is not only common but celebrated by pop culture? In which -- for good and ill -- the stigma against single motherhood has greatly decreased? In which our relaxed sexual mores inevitably result in more single women getting pregnant?

As someone who always deeply longed for children, I understand how a woman who never found a loving mate could still want, and have, a child. Additionally, "many young women find no evidence within their families or neighborhoods that a marriage will be secure or that their child's father will stick around," writes Melissa Ludtke in her book "On Our Own: Unmarried Motherhood in America." Young single moms, she says, ask, "Why get involved with someone who will just tell me what to do?"

For financially secure older women -- who are aware of soaring divorce rates and of the many "committed" husbands who barely participate in child-rearing -- the choice may be based on a decision, said Ludtke: Life without a husband is tolerable; life without a child is not.

I understand. But where does that leave us?

Stumped, sad and confused, for my part. I'm sick of hearing unwed parents routinely say, "I wasn't ready to get married" -- as if they were ready to bring a costly and demanding new life into the world.

In a nation in which morality is increasingly negotiable, in which there are few rules and fewer consequences for breaking them, in which everyone feels the right -- no, the obligation -- to fulfill himself or herself regardless of the impact, I see no way out of our father-free fix.

Which leaves me feeling terrible. And dreading the next no-daddy news story.

Few Now Quail at TV's Unwed Moms

Unlike Murphy Brown, such characters are not targets of conservatives

DANA CALVO. Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles, Calif.: Oct 26, 2001.

Each week, more than 29 million people tune in to NBC's "Friends," making it the most watched show on television, but the program's newest story line--Rachel's decision to have and raise a child alone--has evaded scrutiny from conservatives, a group who spent considerable political capital on the same issue less than a decade ago.

When Rachel's pal Joey asks her to marry him so that she will not face this "scary" world as a single mother, Rachel squeezes his bicep, thanks him and replies warmly, "I'm not looking for a husband."

Rachel is not alone. On prime-time television this season, there are single mothers by choice on ABC, NBC, the WB and HBO. These are not divorcees or widows. These are women making a conscious decision to go it alone, and their convictions have drawn nary a peep from the likes of former Vice President Dan Quayle, who skewered the fictional newswoman Murphy Brown nine years ago when she decided to do the same. At the time, Quayle said Brown's story line glamorized out-of-wedlock births, and when Candice Bergen won an Emmy for her portrayal of Brown she made a point of mentioning the veep in her acceptance speech. (Quayle was out of the country for most of this month and unavailable for comment.)

"The professional, single mother is no longer the pariah," said Sheri Annis, a media and political consultant in L.A. who thinks the dialogue about single-mother households has changed radically since Quayle used Murphy Brown as an antithesis of his family-values platform. Partly, Annis said, it is due to the sheer numbers of single mothers compared with 10 or 20 years ago. But it is also because many of the women on TV choosing to raise kids are well- educated, wealthy and eager to assume the responsibilities of parenthood.

Those story lines reflect a cultural shift among a portion of the television audience that advertisers want to reach. This past decade's booming economy produced unprecedented numbers of well- educated women with disposable income. Suddenly, placing commercials on programs targeting that "modern woman" seemed savvy, not risky.

"These same women are reaching their late 30s now and thinking [about their] biological clock. TV's answer has been single parenting, [which is] non-disruptive to story lines and programs," said Tina Pieraccini, professor of communication studies at the State University of New York at Oswego. "Remember when Rhoda got married--it didn't work!"

As with Rachel, marriage for most TV single moms is not even a consideration. Last season, Ellenor on ABC's "The Practice" went to a sperm bank and eventually won full custody of her child, whose sperm-donor father sought equal parenting rights. Miranda on HBO's "Sex and the City" conceived during "pity sex" with her bartender ex- boyfriend, who felt sexually inadequate. Determined to abort the fetus, Miranda sits in the waiting room of a clinic, but then decides that her "lazy ovaries" might be offering her her one chance to have a child.

Less than 10 years ago Miranda would have been criticized for her casual approach to starting a family, to say nothing of her abortion stand. But now, according to Parents Television Council director L. Brent Bozell, there are more urgent causes to press.

"The top three issues are the graphic and gratuitous violence on television; the sheer promiscuity of sex; the raunchy language," he said

Annis offers another theory. "People aren't looking down on single motherhood, because it's everywhere," she said. "They're concerned about the children who don't have the access to education and health care."

Those quality-of-life questions were part of Quayle's argument-- that far too many real-life single mothers didn't have the advantages of Murphy Brown.

Typical of the way the single-mom story lines play out over time is Roz, the articulate, savvy assistant to Dr. Frasier Crane on NBC's well-watched show "Frasier." Roz conceived her baby during a tryst with a teenager several seasons ago and decided to raise the baby alone. She never mentions the child's father and does not appear to have any relationship with him. Parenting in Roz's world comes with few problems.

But situations such as Roz's are ridiculous, according to Don DeVine, vice chairman of the American Conservative Union, the country's oldest and largest grass-roots conservative organization. DeVine attributes his colleagues' silence to disgust rather than acceptance. Rather, DeVine believes there is no need to lash out at the producers of these images on television because America has realized the fictional scenarios have no relevance to their own lives or values.

"Most people have figured Hollywood is irretrievable and have tried to go about living their lives around it, or without it," DeVine said. "No matter how much brainwashing Hollywood does, those conservative values stay there. It's hard to find a liberal these days that doesn't see a single mom as a problem.... Conservatives still don't like what's going on in Hollywood and New York."

And most observers agree he's got a point about "what's going on in Hollywood." Television seems to be imitating real life for stars, not real life for ordinary people. Here, wealthy, white actresses such as Diane Keaton, Calista Flockhart and Jodie Foster have made single motherhood look manageable and hip.

"As you count it up, [the Hollywood single-mom phenomenon] certainly is an over-representation of the general population," said Pieraccini. "It looks like a more common, widespread choice on television with the well-to-do mother. But in real life, the more common thing is the divorced single mother."

As a group, single mothers in the United States grew by 27% from 1990 to 2000, producing an estimated 7.6 million single mothers today, census figures show. (That represents a significant drop from the previous decade, when single-mother homes increased 46%.) There is no data that breaks out whether the women within that group choose to have or adopt a child without a partner or whether they are single mothers as a result of widowhood or divorce. But individuals familiar with the culture of single mothers by choice say television's inclusion of single moms is probably showing a disproportionate number of these women.

Jane Mattes, head of Single Mothers by Choice, a 20-year-old worldwide membership organization that helps single mothers find information, agreed. "It's always going to be a small percentage of people who choose to have a child alone," she said. "All of the prophesizing--that marriage would go out the window, that women wouldn't 'need' men--that didn't happen. Most women would still prefer to have a child with a man they love and respect. But it doesn't always work out that way."

Still, some find it impolitic for groups to fault female TV characters who are clearly intent on creating a nurturing atmosphere for the children they've consciously chosen to raise. That extends to such story lines as the WB's "Gilmore Girls," which does not fall neatly within the confines of "better late than never."

"Gilmore Girls" centers on a mother and a daughter who are only 16 years apart. The mother, a member of a wealthy family in Connecticut, has never been married, although the father has a warm relationship with both of the women. The show's creator, Amy Sherman- Palladino, said "Gilmore Girls" writers are continually discussing the standards of a "proper" upbringing.

"Our main character was raised by the most moral, upright, wealthy people, and [yet] their daughter still ended up getting pregnant at 16," she said. The show has not merely avoided criticism- -it has been lauded for its wholesome content, with endorsements from the Family Friendly Forum and Viewers for Quality Television. That reception seems like a dramatic departure from the climate less than a decade ago, but to Sherman-Palladino, it makes perfect sense. She said the growing number of single mothers on television indicates that an expanded definition of family values has gained integrity.

"Family values means you love and take care of the ones around you," she said. "It got turned into a judgmental thing where a group of people tell you if you're moral. After a while, frankly, I think the country got creeped out by that."

Looking Beyond Sex

Donna Britt. The Washington Post. Nov 20, 1998.

Sitting across from ShawnNee at the coffee shop, I watch as she dabs a crumpled napkin at her wet, beautiful eyes. "I will tell anyone," she is saying, "that being a single mother is the hardest job they will ever have. You are responsible for putting a roof over a child's head, quality day care, class trips, everything."

Another dab. Every few weeks, I stop in to chat with this pretty and eloquent Silver Spring resident whom I met when she was in high school. Today, she's saying that she broke up with her 4-month-old son's father, whom she hoped to marry, because he kept hitting her.

Like millions of young women, ShawnNee, 25, didn't quite believe that the sex she was having -- because she was lonely, and needy, and it looked like love -- would result in a human being.

"Recently," she continues, "I offered to pay for {a friend's} abortion. I said, `You have no idea what's ahead of you.' "

Yet ShawnNee adores her baby. Watching her dab and sniff, it occurs to me: The sexual revolution is over.

Sex won.

We sure didn't. If the generation that rebelled against its parents' traditional notions of sex and commitment won, why do we look like such losers?

In some communities, "my baby's father" has replaced "my husband" and even "my boyfriend" as the only acknowledged link between women and their children's daddies. In metropolitan Washington, a third of the households are headed by women -- and only one in five of the region's single mothers has a household income above $50,000, says a new report by the Greater Washington Research Center. On average, women still make less money than men and are more likely to be on welfare; they tend to be the financial losers in divorce.

"A lot of young girls want someone to love," ShawnNee is saying. "They don't believe in their worth. So they keep kissing frogs -- guys who aren't serious."

Older girls, too. A week ago, I learned a dear friend -- who's smart, thoughtful and pushing 30 -- is pregnant. I'd break out the champagne, except:

My friend is single; she's already caring for the two young children of an incapacitated pal; her baby-to-be's father is married, though separated. Having survived one guilt-swamped abortion, my friend -- who was on the pill when she conceived with this man with whom she wasn't serious! -- is determined to have her child.

Women without mates have been raising children -- some quite well, thank you -- for centuries. As long as there is divorce and death, as long as people fall out of love, there will be single moms. I am certain that my friend's intelligence and resourcefulness and the generosity that moved her to take in two needy youngsters will make her a wonderful parent.

As a former single mom, I am just as certain that she is embarking on the toughest, loneliest journey she has ever undertaken.

That's despite the supportive parents and pals my friend has nearby. "Nearby" may as well be "Beirut" when it's 4 a.m., you have to be at work at 8, and your newborn is wailing for the third time since midnight. When all that exists in the world is your exhaustion and the wailing.

It's unfair, just blaming sex. But hey -- babies start with the act that movies, music and TV shows suggest is fun and consequence-free. In fact, the consequences of sex are often tiny human beings with great big needs.

Human beings who just keep getting bigger.

Theresa Sykes, a science teacher at Montgomery County's ethnically and economically diverse White Oak Middle School, recently watched sympathetically as several parents burst into tears in the middle of parent-teacher conferences. All, she says, were single mothers.

The women's children, Sykes says, included "one very bright child whose grades were slipping because he was clearly grieving over his absent father, and another who'd always been really responsible who was suddenly rebelling -- his mom has to work two jobs, he's by himself . . .

"It's hard enough raising kids with two parents," Sykes says. "Some single mothers don't have any idea of what's down the road, when their cute little baby becomes an impressionable adolescent."

ShawnNee has looked down that road and is terrified. So has my friend, whose two adopted children will be joined by a newborn. As a perpetually overwhelmed married mother, I tremble for them both.

But how do we get a hip, overconfident culture to accept the old-timey notion that contraceptive mistakes happen? That women -- who, unfairly yet unavoidably, bear the principal financial, physical and emotional burden of kids without dads -- should avoid sex with men with whom they are unprepared to consider having a child?

I ask ShawnNee.

"It is much easier to get pregnant than people realize," she says. "But I realized that I had to change. To believe in myself . . . that you don't need a baby, or a man, to love yourself."

She stops dabbing and almost smiles.

"That you don't have to keep kissing these frogs."

Understanding BABY MAMAS

Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas. Orlando Sentinel. Aug 14, 2005.

Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas are both Philadelphia-based sociologists and the Authors of "Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage" (2002, University of California Press). Edin teaches at the University of Pennsylvania and Kefalas at St. Joseph's University.

Americans are up in arms over the latest instance of pop culture marketing the "wrong message" to the nation's youth. Fantasia Barrino's hit song "Baby Mama" celebrates what some view as the single greatest threat to the American family: young women who bear and raise a child on their own.

Today one in three American children is born to unmarried parents, but one rarely sees a "baby mama" pushing a stroller on an affluent suburban sidewalk or an Ivy League university campus. That's because having children while young and unmarried is far more than a fad. We live in an America that is profoundly unequal, with a yawning gap between rich and poor. As genuine opportunities for upward mobility plummet and living-wage jobs disappear, many neighborhoods in America's neglected inner city have become worlds without hope, populated by young women and men whose future prospects are already so dim there is simply nothing to lose by having a baby while young or unmarried. Here, hopes for college and rewarding careers are little more than pipe dreams. Here, becoming a "baby mama" rises to the top of the list of potential meaning- making activities through mere lack of competition.

Between 1995 and 2000, we entered into the lives of 162 poor black, white and Puerto Rican single mothers living in poor inner- city neighborhoods across the Philadelphia area. While suburban girls "hook up," conscientiously use contraception and have an abortion if they find themselves pregnant before they wed, poor young women practice contraception lackadaisically and move from courtship to conception at lightning speed. While suburban girls usually view having a baby before finishing school and establishing a career as an unmitigated disaster, their poor inner-city counterparts see childbearing as a natural part of late adolescence and early adulthood. Most suburban high-school seniors won't have a child for a decade or more. Meanwhile, Linda, a poor black mother of two from inner-city Philadelphia, exclaims, "Wait till you're 30 or 40 [to have children]? I don't think so!"

In poor urban neighborhoods, the norms suburban youth hold seem to work in reverse. The right thing to do, according to the women we came to know, is to greet a less-than-perfectly-planned pregnancy with a resolve to rise to the challenge. Conversely, they view those who terminate a pregnancy merely to advance their education or career as selfish at best, immoral at worst. Why? Coming of age in a poor urban neighborhood creates a powerful need for something positive to "look to." Before pregnancy, these young women's lives were often spinning out of control, dogged by school failure, struggles with parents and peers, the lure of drugs and alcohol and the omnipresent dangers on their neighborhood streets. Into this void comes a baby, bringing a profound sense of meaning and identity. The minute-by-minute demands of caring for a child bring order out of the chaos, generate a powerful sense of purpose and offer a profound source of relational intimacy -- a self-made community of care. Deena, a white mother of three, eagerly exclaims, "I wanted my son; I did. I wanted a baby. It wasn't like because everybody else had a baby. I really wanted to have a family. I wanted somebody to take care of."

Contrary to popular opinion, most "baby mamas" don't become single mothers because they no longer believe in marriage. Surprisingly, most aspire to marriage and place a sacred significance on the institution. But they think too much of marriage to wed in circumstances that will almost certainly lead to divorce. That's why they hold off on marriage until they are economically stable and emotionally mature. Melissa, a white mother of one, says people should marry "when they're 40. This way you've got everything situated [financially] and you know what you're getting into by then." She then pauses, and reflects, "I guess the kids come first. I don't know; I guess that's just the way it goes."

Unlike their 1950s counterparts, the mothers we met are not looking to wed so they can depend on a man to bring home the bacon while they stay home and fry it up in a pan. These mothers have suffered a host of ills at the hands of their children's fathers: domestic abuse and chronic infidelity, drinking and drug use, criminal behavior and the jail and prison terms that so often follow. Given these problems, it is astonishing that they have any hope for marriage at all. While some succeed in their search for a diamond in the rough, an exception to the neighborhood rule, mistrust of men runs deep. So while most hope to marry and marry "for life," they are careful to hedge their bets, insisting on being "set" economically in their own right before entering into the risky enterprise of marriage. Stella, an African-American mother of one, plans to marry her child's father but adds, "I want to be able to support my daughter independently. If things do not work out the way we want them to, I want to be able to do what I need to do for her without being stuck waiting for his help."

Meanwhile, precious few single mothers while away their hours sporting their babies around the neighborhood, competing with their friends about which baby has the cutest outfit. Who has time for that, when birth often brings a surge of determination to "get myself together for the baby"? As Fantasia's song extols, being a "baby mama" is all about, "payin' ya bills working ya job goin' to school," not waiting for a welfare check. This song vividly reveals the paucity of welfare as a means of survival: "You get that support check in the mail, ya open it and you're like `What the hell?' You say `This ain't even half of daycare.' "

Economists have shown that a poor girl's prospects aren't any better when they wait until their mid-20s to have their children, and most single mothers know this full well -- the $7-an-hour job they can land at 18 is the same $7-an-hour job they'll be holding down at 28. Most work to support themselves and their children and very few now rely on welfare for very long. So why should we concern ourselves with the growing number of women who put motherhood before marriage? While the young mother's future prospects may not be hurt, having a child outside of a stable two-parent union does put the child at risk for a host of social ills, including behavioral problems, school failure, mental-health problems, teen pregnancy and difficulty finding stable employment in adulthood. Many single mothers do an extraordinary job as parents, and not all of the men who father their children turn out to be good bets for a lifetime partnership. Some of these men are downright dangerous to the well- being of children. But on average, children do pay a heavy price for growing up fatherless, a price that few single mothers fully comprehend. To the extent that we care about children, we should work to improve single parents' ability to achieve what they themselves often say they deeply desire: a stable and lasting relationship with their children's father.

Ultimately, young women in inner-city neighborhoods aren't aspiring to become a "baby mama" to trap a man into supporting them, or simply to get that meager welfare check; they aren't getting pregnant because they can't get birth control or lack knowledge of the facts of life. They have children because they see little reason to wait. From their point of view, there is precious little to lose and so much to gain through motherhood. When other avenues for creating esteem -- a sound education, promising career, or comfortable lifestyle -- are blocked, having a baby is a way to bring order, purpose, and relational intimacy into lives that have already veered badly off track. Most of these young women know full well that raising a child alone is going to be an uphill battle. Yet they, like Fantasia, believe that "What don't kill you can only make you stronger."

How Kids Fare in New Welfare Era

Study finds single mothers struggle to work as well as care for their children

Marilyn Gardner Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor. Christian Science Monitor. Apr 16, 2002.

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Ask Mary Patino about the advantages of work over welfare and she offers an upbeat answer.

"My life is much different," says Ms. Patino, a food-service worker at a wholesale club in San Jose, Calif. "When I was on aid, it was stress - worrying about having enough money to pay the rent and give my daughters what they need. Now I have a steady income."

But ask if her children are better off, and she hedges. "On the financial part, yes," she says. "But as a mom, I know they need a lot more attention and time."

As welfare reform has propelled millions of single mothers like Patino into the workforce since 1996, questions about its effects on families have loomed large. Now a report released today offers the first national look at how toddlers and preschoolers have fared under the new system.

The good news is that the demand that welfare recipients find jobs has boosted family income. But the stubborn counterpoint is that the modest economic gains have not discernably improved families' living conditions or the daily lives of young children.

It's a sign that, while the welfare-to-work law has enjoyed bipartisan support and helped cut welfare rolls in half since 1996, lingering questions remain about its effect on children.

In the study, mothers' earnings averaged less than $13,000 a year, keeping most families below the poverty line.

Since government assistance diminishes as their job income rises, some mothers still do not have enough money to pay the rent. One- fifth of all mothers in the study had to cut the size of meals they serve their children because they lack cash to buy more food. Two in every 5 women also reported significant levels of emotional depression.

Researchers followed more than 700 single mothers for up to four years after they entered welfare-to-work programs in California, Florida, and Connecticut. Where other welfare studies have focused on elementary school children and high school students, this is the first comprehensive look at the impact on young children, who are most affected by their mothers' work.

The report, a collaboration by scholars at several universities, comes as the welfare system awaits reauthorization by Congress. President Bush has proposed expanding the hours that welfare recipients must spend in "work activities," which can include job training, to 40 hours per week. Currently, the requirement is 30 hours - or 20 for those with children under five.

The proposal is controversial, touching on a central debate about welfare reform: whether children will be shortchanged by having parents out of the home more often.

Among the report's encouraging findings, the children who attended child-care centers - one-third of those studied - show better literacy skills than those who are cared for in other arrangements. Those enrolled in higher-quality centers made even greater progress.

"We do find a positive effect from child-care centers," says Susanna Loeb of Stanford University, a director of the project. "That's the most exciting part of the study."

Yet she is disappointed that children did not make greater gains in cognitive development.

Researchers see few improvements in parenting practices, such as parents reading to children. Most mothers say they spend less time with their young children because they work.

Although the home environment did not deteriorate when mothers went to work, neither did it improve, researchers found.

Professor Loeb emphasizes the need to establish child-care centers responsive to the kinds of work these mothers do. Many women in the survey work irregular hours, evenings, and weekends. Finding child-care centers that are flexible enough to accommodate their work schedules is difficult.

Patino, who took part in the study, faced child-care problems for her youngest daughter. Even now, her rotating work schedule makes it hard to arrange daycare.

Similarly, another participant, Deserie Varela of San Francisco, worried that her youngest child was spending 10 hours a day in child- care while she worked as a home-care aide. Her three children, she says, "really didn't like the fact that I was gone all day. In the beginning, they were trying to mess up a little bit in school. I had to straighten that out."

Because of health problems and the need to find better housing, Ms. Varela had to quit her job after two years and return to welfare. "It felt good to work, and I liked what I was doing," she explains. "But at that time it was just too hard." Her 45-minute commute each way on public transportation was difficult. She also needs to find a new apartment by April 27. After that, she hopes to return to work.

Bruce Fuller, a study director from the University of California, Berkeley, calls the report a "sobering warning that simply requiring single mothers to work more in very low-wage jobs is not likely to boost the well-being of young children. We can't put all our eggs into forcing women to work more hours in low-wage jobs, if the policy goal is to improve young kids' environments."

President Bush's answer to that challenge is to fund new efforts to promote higher marriage rates - since poverty rates are highest for single-parent families.

Aside from the political controversy over that proposal, such a result may be difficult to achieve. As Connecticut women in the study began working more, their newfound financial self-reliance apparently had a wider impact: They married less often than those who faced less pressure to work, researchers noted.

Fuller also challenges Bush's proposal to double the work requirements for mothers with very young children. "He doesn't want to spend any more money on child care. Our findings suggest that an investment in quality child-care centers would help accomplish the goal of improving child well-being."

Douglas Besharov, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington, is encouraged by the report's general absence of alarming findings. "You have a group of people [conducting this study] who are no friends of welfare reform, and they're really hard put to find any substantial increase in hardship. Theirs is not the only study that comes to that conclusion."

As for Bush's plan for 40 hours of work per week, Mr. Besharov says flatly, "It's not going to happen. Either Congress won't pass it, or, if it does, the states won't implement it. That's because there are so many loopholes. The federal government has no ability to impose these kinds of work requirements."

Whatever lawmakers decide, Varela has a wish list: "To have a really good-paying job, and a nice home, so that my kids would not have to be raised around here [in San Francisco public housing]."

Patino's wish is short: "A raise," she says simply. Then, in comments that would warm the hearts of policymakers, she adds, "Now that we're off aid and out of that system, we're leading a much happier life. The path where we're going is a much brighter one. Children deserve a lot more than what being on aid gives them."

A Young Father's Rare Choice

As Single Parent, D.C. Teen Juggles School, Adult Responsibility; [FINAL Edition]

Manny Fernandez. The Washington Post. Mar 7, 2005.

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Nothing disturbs the quiet of the Southeast Washington apartment in the darkness before dawn except the running water in the bathroom sink.

He lifts his baby gently from bed. Through the night, he slept without moving so they could lay side-by-side on a mattress on the bedroom floor, the first of the day's small sacrifices.

He guides her through the logistics of a toddler's morning, washing her face with a damp cloth, changing her diaper, telling her to say cheese so he can brush her teeth. He dresses her in a pink jumper with matching socks.

James Hall carries his bundled daughter through the morning chill on South Capitol Street, narrating their journey past rumbling buses and siren-wailing ambulances as if they were on an adventure in an exotic land. Finally, they step from the cold into the warmth of an Oxon Hill apartment. It is after 8 a.m. when Hall puts on his backpack and stands by the door.

The child cries, for the first time this morning. She grabs her tiny purple coat and heads for the door, too. He wipes her tears with his jacket sleeve. "You can't go," he tells her. "I got to go to school."

Hall is a teenage single father. He is the rare male among the 700,000 U.S. teenagers who become parents each year: He has chosen to tackle parenthood alone.

"There are grown men, adult men, who have the responsibility and don't do it. For him to make the attempt . . . is phenomenal," said Richard Gross, an assistant principal at Ballou Senior High School in the District. All five Ballou students who bring their children to the school's day-care center are female, and in most cases when teenagers become parents, the burden of child care falls principally -- often solely -- on the mother.

Hall spends his days leading a double life -- one as an 18-year- old senior at Ballou and the other as a young father raising a daughter one month shy of her second birthday. He is growing up and growing old, all at once.

He carries her yellow jumper in the same blue backpack in which he keeps his English homework. He skips lunch at Ballou to play basketball in the gym with friends, but wakes up hours before school starts to brush and braid her hair. He could drop out of school and work full time, but he wants to graduate. He could put her up for adoption, but he fought to gain custody and can't imagine life without her.

"It's hard," he said. "It ain't easy. . . . But I'm doing it. I know I have no choice."

Hall embraces fatherhood, making it up as he goes. His mother gives him advice, but early in the morning and late at night, it is up to him alone to clip the barrettes onto her hair, wash her clothes, give her a bath. They learn from one another. She learned how to walk by holding on to his legs; he learned how to tuck the diaper in so the tape doesn't stick to her skin after he noticed a scab on her side.

On this recent morning, Hall leaves her with his mother in Oxon Hill and heads to school with one of his three brothers, Darryl, a Ballou sophomore. He sits at a window seat on the A6 bus. Sometimes, his mind wanders and he thinks about his rambunctious daughter. He wonders whether the people next to him think he's crazy, because he sits there, smiling.

Hall arrives at Ballou on time. He has already been up for three hours with his daughter, but his school day has just begun.

Wearing blue jeans, an oversize black T-shirt and a black skullcap pulled tight over his cornrows, he blends in with the hundreds of other young men heading to class, a thin but muscular teenager with the beginnings of a beard on his lower chin. In some ways, he behaves just like them, calling his girlfriend at all hours of the day, almost storming out of class when a substitute teacher gets on his nerves.

But he is more of an adult now than a school-age teenager. Hall missed about four months of school this year because he couldn't find a babysitter. His mother, Brenda, was working two jobs then -- at a grocery store during the day and as a security guard late at night -- and couldn't watch the baby. She quit working at the store to look after her granddaughter.

That has freed Hall to attend school day and night, taking six classes -- some of them make-up courses -- between 8:45 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. A quiet, serious student, he spent a recent Saturday finishing a book report.

Throughout most of his morning classes, he ignores the clatter of students in the halls outside and concentrates on his work. In the afternoon, during his law class, three students put their heads down and sleep, but Hall sits up, reading a court case for an upcoming mock trial.

He studies to graduate, and he studies for the toddler. "I don't want to be one of those parents where she goes, 'Daddy, why is this and why is that?' And I go, 'That's why you got a teacher.' If I don't know it and she don't know it, we're going to the library," he said.

Hall was in the delivery room at the Baltimore hospital that day in April 2003 when his then-girlfriend gave birth. He cut the umbilical cord and committed to memory the baby's essentials: 6 pounds, 9 ounces, 19 inches. He named her Ja'Mya, turning his first name into a girl's name, and gave her the middle name Princess. "I didn't do no basic name," Hall said. "I did a name I never heard before."

He and the mother later split up. He got a call soon after from social workers in Baltimore. "They said: 'We have your daughter. We want to know if you want to come and get her,' " he recalled. "They said they couldn't find the mother."

The baby had been unplanned, but Hall was different from many other guys his age -- he knew he wanted a family. He was ready to take on the responsibility.

"How can you leave a baby? I can't see it," he said recently, shaking his head. "I can't see it."

He has been raising Ja'Mya since he was 17, when she was little more than 6 months old, getting help along the way from his mother. Other people, including staff members at Ballou and a Washington- based nonprofit group, United Planning Organization, have offered him assistance from time to time. He said neither he nor Ja'Mya has had contact with her mother in more than a year.

Hall wants to raise Ja'Mya on his own, as much as he's able, so they share an apartment with his cousin in a tan-brick building on South Capitol Street SE. He receives roughly $200 in public assistance each month and food stamps, and struggles financially. He has been looking for a part-time job, for a car, for a dresser for the apartment. "Every dime he gets . . . he puts on that child," Brenda Hall said.

It's a few minutes after 7:30 p.m. and dark outside when Hall emerges from his final night class.

On the A8, he sits near the window, resting the back of his head on his book bag as if it were a pillow. This is a typical evening for him, from bus to bus and class to class, with little time for socializing. But he doesn't dwell on it. "I don't think about that stuff," Hall says as the bus lurches forward. "I probably miss playing sports. I don't really pay attention to it."

He steps off the bus. He has several more blocks to go before he sees Ja'Mya. He yawns but keeps on walking.

Hall sits in the Oxon Hill apartment, typing on a laptop his book report on "Black Diamond: The Story of the Negro Baseball Leagues." Ja'Mya sleeps in a bedroom while he works at a coffee table in the living room.

A few minutes past 9:30 p.m., after finishing the book report and moving on to a poetry assignment for English class, he takes a break and eats a hot dog, his first real meal of the day. He sits on the carpet and leans against the doorway at the edge of the kitchen.

Ja'Mya wakes up and walks over to him. She is usually a firecracker with four limbs, constantly running, jumping and bouncing. But now she rests in her father's arms, staring up at him with her big, dark eyes and big, curly eyelashes. He puts his chin on her head.

Hall asks her to touch her nose, and she does. He asks her to touch her head, and she does. He talks to her as he would an adult. Sometimes, he tells her to turn on the TV, and he waits for her to find the power button. He tells her to put away a penny in the water jug with the rest of the spare change. He doesn't help her so that she learns to figure it out herself.

It's 11:30 p.m. when he starts the long walk to his apartment. He has decided to let Ja'Mya sleep with his mother, as he often does when he stays late because he worries about the cold, "stupid people trying to rob people, crazy people driving drunk."

By the time he steps into the apartment, it's midnight, and he heads straight for bed. He sleeps alone on the mattress. He can stretch out. But it's not the same. He said it doesn't feel right without her breathing softly beside him.

Rise in single mothers driven by older women

Dahleen Glanton and Bonnie Miller Rubin, Tribune staff reporters. Chicago Tribune. Chicago, Ill.: Dec 17, 2006.

Kimberly Dearth's biological clock was beginning to tick pretty loudly. So when she discovered she was pregnant, she had no problem putting diapers before a diamond ring.

"It was unplanned but not unwelcome," said Dearth, 37, who is raising her 15-month-old daughter, Samantha, as a single mother. "Two different doctors told me that I would need fertility treatments. So when I found out that I was pregnant, I was shocked, I was frightened, but I was also very happy."

Dearth, a medical assistant from Cedar Lake, Ind., is among a growing number of women over the age of 35--when fertility rates begin to steeply decline--to become single mothers.

The number of out-of-wedlock births has reached a record high in the U.S., with nearly 4 in 10 babies born last year to unmarried women, according to a recent report by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The increase was seen in all racial groups.

Unlike two decades ago, teenagers--who are now having fewer babies--are not driving the trend. It is fueled, in part, by women in their 30s and 40s, many of whom had put off marriage and family to pursue a career. In recent years single mothers have fought to remove the stigma of raising children out of wedlock.

Married women also are having babies later, researchers said. More than a quarter of the 4.1 million babies born in 2005 were to women ages 30 to 54.

"This is continuing a trend that has been going on for quite a number of years," said Stephanie Ventura, a statistician with the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, speaking of unwed and married older mothers. "We've only seen greater rates in the 1950s when people tended to have larger families. Now we are seeing women making up for previously postponed childbearing."

Fourteen years after actress Candice Bergen drew the ire of Vice President Dan Quayle and other conservatives when her TV character, Murphy Brown, got pregnant and decided to raise the baby alone, single women are helping redefine the typical American family.

Despite efforts by social conservatives to promote traditional marriages, the Ozzie and Harriet stereotypes of the 1950s--a mother who stays home with the children while the father works--have long vanished from most American households. With nearly half of all marriages ending in divorce and more couples involved in non- traditional relationships such as co-habitation, married couples have become a minority, accounting for 49.7 percent of households, according to the U.S. Census.

With marriage no longer considered by many a prerequisite for having children, single mothers are integrating into the mainstream and getting attention in the media, including celebrities such as Angelina Jolie, Jodie Foster and photographer Annie Leibovitz.

Though some pregnancies are unexpected, many older women have gone to great lengths to give birth, such as turning to in-vitro fertilization using sperm banks or donor eggs, health officials said.

"Society's attitude has changed a little in that people understand that this is an option for single women who have not found the right man, or were divorced in their 30s, and really do want to be a mother," said Jane Mattes, 62, who founded the networking group Single Mothers by Choice.

According to Mattes, the Internet-driven group has grown from eight members in 1981 to 2,000 today. Most of them are college- educated women age 35 to 45 with an established career, debunking the negative stereotype of struggling young mothers on welfare.

"When you hear the term 'single mother,' most people think of teenagers or a divorced woman who was left with children, but most of these women aren't either," said Mattes. "They are choosing to become single mothers, which is very different. This is about making a personal choice."

As the number of births to unwed mothers rose 4 percent last year to 1.5 million, the number of births to teenagers--who two decades ago were considered synonymous with unwed mothers--continued a downward spiral that began in 1991, according to health officials. Girls ages 15 to 19 accounted for 40.4 births per 1,000 females-- the lowest ever recorded.

Black teenagers ages 15 to 19, who historically have held the record for out-of-wedlock births, have charted the biggest decline. Last year the percentage of births to black teens in that age group dropped by 3 percent, tying them with the decline among white teens. The biggest drop, 6 percent, occurred among black teenagers ages 15 to 17, marking a 59 percent decrease since 1991 and the steepest reduction by any race or age group. Hispanic teens saw a 1 percent decline last year.

Part of the reason is that young people are having less sex and using more contraception, said Bill Albert, spokesman for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancya non-profit, non- partisan organization. Experts said programs targeting teenagers also have contributed to the decline.

"There's a real concern about [sexually transmitted diseases] in general and AIDS. That has had a sobering effect on teen sexual behavior, and it's a way to focus young boys' attention that just wasn't there 20 years ago. It's no longer just a 'girls' problem,'" Albert said.

Albert said a relatively healthy economy in the last 10 to 15 years has also affected black girls. "Those who see a successful future are less apt to derail it with teen pregnancy and parenthood," he said.

The CDC's Ventura said the research tends to indicate teenagers are waiting until their 20s to have a child. More than half the births to women ages 20 to 24 were to unmarried women.

When Jenni Young became pregnant, she decided to have the baby, regardless of whether she had a future with the child's father. Now 1-year-old Fiona is the light of her life, she says, and she has no regrets.

"I was at a point in my life where I knew I could support her," said Young, 31, an attorney who works in the Loop. "It didn't matter if I had a man, because I knew I could do it alone."

Child care is the biggest hurdle, but Young said she has her mother, who lives with her, and a nanny to help her juggle work and family.

Karen Brown had heard the statistics about how hard it is for professional black women to find a husband. So she decided that if she did not conceive by age 40, she would adopt. She transferred from her job in Chicago to be near her sister in Greensboro, N.C., bought a house and started decorating a nursery. The only problem was there was no man in her life.

"A year later, I became involved in a relationship," she said. "We never specifically talked about the future, but he knew I wasn't taking birth control and he was like, 'if it happens, it just happens.'"

Brown, a sales analyst for a computer services firm, said she always intended to raise her child alone, without financial assistance from the man, with whom she no longer has a relationship. Today, she said, her top priority is providing a nurturing environment for her 9-year-old daughter, Mariah Addison.

"She does cry sometimes about not having her dad around, but we talk about it," said Brown. "These feelings are uniquely hers because I always had a dad at home. I do feel guilt sometimes, but we don't let it overwhelm us. We don't push it under the rug. We deal with it as it comes."

While mothers such as Brown are financially secure enough to care for their children, statistics show that is not the norm, according to Kay Hymowitz, a senior fellow at Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank.

"This is a very disturbing trend because children who grow up with single mothers are susceptible to a host of problems. They have a greater risk of poverty, emotional problems, school failure and of becoming single parents themselves when compared to children with two parents."

According to Hymowitz, author of "Marriage and Caste in America: Separate and Unequal Families in a Post-Marital Age," a traditional family structure gives children a better foundation.

"People assume the reason married couples' children seem to turn out better is because there are two parents, two incomes and two brains, but that's not true," she said. "Co-habitating parents don't show quite the same strength; nneither do stepparents. Marriage carries with it a whole set of messages about how to live, which are consistent with middle-class life in this country."

But for Quinn Ward, 29, of Atlanta, it is just as important to have role models for the child.

Though she became pregnant during her sophomore year in college, she never allowed it to deter her goals. She graduated and earned her master's degree while shuffling her son, Quint, around the University of Georgia campus. When he was 5, she took him with her on an exchange program to Ghana.

"To be successful and get to the place where I am, sometimes you have to take your child with you," said Ward, who works in marketing for a large insurance firm. "The key is to have a good support system of family and friends, and we have that."

Welfare is Not the Daddy!

Darryl James. Jul 1-Jul 7, 2010

If we were truly concerned about the future of our children, then we would focus on the benefits, not the costs of amending the Welfare system, because as study after study has shown, our children are doing worse with fewer fathers in the home.

An early study from the Journal of Genetic Psychology found that the differences in development between children were connected more to the amount of interaction with the father as opposed to the socio-economic status of either parent or even the number of adults in the household.

Current studies prove that children without fathers in the home are more prone to an assortment of difficulties.

Yet, society focuses on jailing fathers who do not pay, which has not proven to make them pay or make them show up.

The problem is not that fathers just want to have children and walk away, as we have been told. The problem is that Welfare, in many ways, supplants the father, and in other ways, the courts simply ignore or impede fathers who desire to be present.

Nearly 40 percent of unwed mothers are living with a man and are already mothers to one or more additional children, but the "income-tested" Welfare System creates blockages to marriage.

Governmental assistance programs often root out males who may be dating single mothers prior to deciding to marry and attempt to assign financial responsibility to them, often resulting in a breakup.

For example, if a mother who is living with her boyfriend applies for benefits as a single head of household, she will have support from the system, while her mate ostensibly will have his own income, even if it's minimum wage.

But if the two do decide to marry, the system will immediately count the man's income against the woman's Welfare eligibility, reducing or ending her benefits.

What this means, as dramatized in the 'Seventies movie Claudine, is that benefits are maximized when a single mother remains single, and slashed if she marries. The two incomes represented by the man's income and Welfare benefits, are reduced to solely the man's income-a huge burden delivered with no preparation.

In this manner, the Welfare System forces impoverished couples to choose to remain unmarried over combining incomes in a marriage. While the popular concept of single Black mothers is of Welfare Queens, that concept is neither based on truth or intelligence. Welfare benefits are scarcely enough for a family to survive on and most of the Welfare fraud is actually committed by white women.

Welfare case workers will even deduct gifts from a man from the amount of monthly assistance provided to the single mother.

What must be stated and underscored is that these solutions arc designed to create financial responsibility, not to place fathers in the lives of children.

And, in reality, there is no huge single parent Welfare drain on the economy. Total Welfare program costs in the United States are just over $400 billion per year, which is only FIVE PER CENT of the Gross Domestic Product. And only half of this goes to households with children.

But, even as America's president seeks more billions for a failing war effort overseas, many Americans fly into a rage over the possibility of Welfare's five percent of the GDP growing to a whopping six percent.

The total arrearages in child support is just under $100 billion dollars, while the cost of the Iraq War will be over $1 trillion by the time things are all said and done.

If we acknowledge the fact that 70 percent of men in arrears earn less than $10,000 annually, then forcing a single woman off of Welfare benefits if she marries, tacitly creates fewer marriages and more single parent households. It also makes for fewer fathers in the lives of children, when the man is pursued for repayment of Welfare benefits.

Can the Welfare and Child Support System be revamped to make more fathers present in the lives of more children?

The easy answer is yes.

First, since the focus on making him pay has failed (arrears have actually risen despite arrests), more efforts to make him present should be pursued, which will benefit everyone.

Instead of continuing to penalize parents, society would fare better to actually reward couples who many and combine incomes while improving their standing.

For example, instead of slashing Welfare benefits when a man is in the home, the system would be pragmatic to provide assistance for education or the acquisition of trades, in addition to time-limited extension of daycare support and transportation costs for both parents.

The net result will be fewer amities languishing in poverty and on Welfare.

Additionally, a single father who is present in the home and taking full advantage of those incentives should also have his debt to the Welfare system reduced substantially. Largely, impoverished men are being jailed and their licenses are being revoked for being unable to reimburse the Welfare system, not for refusing to pay into a single mother headed household.

A great many fathers hit the road when facing a loss of license and/or jail.

If we wish to have more fathers in the lives of children, then we must stop viewing them as responsible for repaying the government If a single mother's benefits were to be unaffected by marriage, particularly to an already impoverished father, no one would have to make choices between marriage and Welfare benefits.

The net benefit here would be mostly for single Welfare mothers and the low-wage earning, fathers with low or no skills, who are the overwhelming majority of so-called "Deadbeat Dads." Both groups are also among those for whom marriage is most elusive.

Funny, but with all the current hoopla over same sex marriages, there are no huge outreach programs by either church or state to urge single parents to set marriage as a goal to better the lives of their children.

Political and social leaders would do their communities justice by providing the positive message that marriage will improve the lives of all involved, as opposed to the negative message that fathers desire to be absent which has generally been proven to be a lie.

And, both church and state must stop delivering confusing messages about sex, while allowing the media and entertainment to deliver sex and sexuality. The battle is against sex education in the schools, with little other education suggested. We know that people will learn from somewhere, so the decision is whether they will learn in the schools or in the streets. Some adults have yet to learn.

Finally, the Welfare System must stop competing with fathers as the breadwinner in the lives of single mothers and children.

The bottom line to all of this is that single fathers, especially single Black fathers, have gotten a bad rap. Most of the negative views are based on mythology and personal biases, not fact.

The sad reality is that even though I have presented research and statistics in this book, many ignorant people have still responded with their same old, tired stereotypes, ignoring everything except their silly misconceptions, which they have allowed to pose as truth.

If we truly desire to improve the lot of those at the bottom, then those above had better be about the business of creating pragmatic solutions

We can continue to chase after men who have little money, and we can continue to crow about how fathers "just need to pay," but at the end of the day, that campaign has failed.

Perhaps it's time for something new.

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