Thursday, November 07, 2013

New reality series: Spree Killers 1. Check your local listings. (Part 2.)

Read Part 1.

Over the past generation or so, out-of-wedlock childbirth has evolved from something that's stigmatized, to something that's tolerated, to something that apparently is supposed to be celebrated with the same fervor as good old-fashioned, two-married-parent childbirth. There is no longer any difference between having an illegitimate child and having a child in a more conventional setting. It is the mark of this evolution, in fact, that no one uses the term illegitimate anymore. The very word sounds passe and judgmental; I'm betting that you paused for a beat, maybe even winced, when you read it here. Nowadays, the stigma more often attaches to anyone who criticizes out-of-wedlock parenting. It has become politically incorrect to do so. You see, it's all childbirth and it's all equally magical. Or so you'd think.

We can thank the women's movement (and its friends/enablers in libertine Hollywood) for this. I'm not saying that men aren't (at least) equally to blame for out-of-wedlock pregnancy itself; of course they are. But to the extent that single parenthood has lost its shame...well, that's another creature of feminism, of young women's refusal to be judged for their life choices, and of the disinclination of pop media (which are staffed and even run by many young, working women) to offend.

I ask you to read this piece on Pauly D's daughter. And hell, look, the baby is blameless and awfully cute...but...come on. You gotta love the glib writing: "Pauly hooked up with a chick he met in Vegas...and this is what happened." We have come a long way, indeed, from when Ricky was required to have one foot on the floor when depicted in his marital bed with Lucy.

I'm not arguing for a return to that kind of Puritanism, and I'm certainly not arguing for Sharia-like justice. I don't want Pauly D castrated or his Hooters baby-mama buried up to her shoulders and stoned. I don't want any scarlet letters handed out to single gals who make babies with married men. This isn't about morality per se, except to the extent that such moral conventions could help prevent us from bringing into this world millions of kids who already have a strike or two against them at birth. ... Yes, millions. In the U.S. in 2011, the CDC tells us, 1.6 million children were born to unmarried women. That's 40% of all live births. (Preliminary data for 2012 indicate that this figure rose by another 1%.) And for the record, this is no ghetto phenomenon. The number of births to poor, inner-city minority teens is troubling, but so is the number of births to white chicks in suburbia and Honey Boo Boo-land.

And this is just a joke to us? Something to build a TV series or two around? Something to celebretize via shows like Teen Mom or 16 and Pregnant? Or the breathless coverage of the gestational exploits of the Kardashian clan, Halle Berry, Angelina Jolie, etc? Not a week goes by that some entertainment site isn't making a joyous announcement re some actress or singer who's expecting her first child (or second or third) with her boyfriend or fiance...or just expecting her first child on her own (no paternal presence necessary). And in the case of the second or third child, it's not always the same Daddy as the first one. These are the role models we have for our young women.

With all the fawning and cooing we do at too-cute pix of these newborns, why do we not care more about what happens to the millions of non-celebrity kids as they grow up facing neglect and/or abuse and/or abandonment? Regardless of your personal politics, the data on single parenthood leave little room for debate. The evidence is voluminous/ubiquitous. That's why I'm not bothering to provide links to research materials in the remainder of this post: There are so many sets of corroborating studies and stats from diverse sources that you can easily Google any of these things for yourself; in a half-hour's time you'll be persuaded, if you aren't already.

Children born out of wedlock are far more likely to meet an untoward fate. They're more likely to be neglected, more likely to be abused (sexually, physically or emotionally), more likely to be raised amid poverty or some level of deprivation, more likely to do poorly in school, more likely to be juvenile delinquents (another phrase we don't use much anymore, perhaps because we don't want to make the single mothers of such delinquents feel too, well, delinquent), more likely to be substance abusers, more likely to resort to lives of crime, more likely to perpetuate the cycle by bringing more out-of-wedlock children into the world, more likely to end up in prison or dead. And, I might add, they're more likely to end up dead before they're even born (abortion), which perhaps is not such a bad outcome, given the destiny that seems in store for them. Though that still strikes me as terribly sad: the ultimate Hobson's choice.

To repeat, saying that illegitimate (there's that word again) children don't do as well as children of traditional marriage simply isn't controversial anymore. Except among young people or women's groups who simply don't want to hear it, it's settled science.

And this is also a good time to repeat that I am not exclusively blaming the Moms in these sordid entanglements. No less culpable are the young men who roam the countryside randomly and indiscriminately spreading their seed like stud horses, cultivating a harem of baby-mamas in various cities and states. (In footnote to the Adrian Peterson tragedy, he was quoted early on as saying that he wasn't even sure the murdered little fella was his. How lovely.)

The people doing all this frenzied breeding are self-selected to be lousy, even potentially dangerous parents, parent who are all about the "living in the now" and are either unconcerned with future consequences or are forging forward the naive delusion that "everything will work out somehow." This mindset is characteristic of all young adults, to some degree, but is manifestly true of the really reckless ones. What kind of guy has unprotected sex with a variety of young girls, never pausing to think about what could happen as a result? What kind of girl never gives a second thought to whether some spontaneous hook-up may result in a child? (Or, as noted, an abortion.)

Here one is reminded of the iconic/ironic Groucho Marx line, I'd never belong to a club that would have me as a member. Why would you breed with someone who would breed with anyone at that age? What does that say about the maturity level of the breeders? Yet on and on it goes.

What's more, if a man is going to have a quicksilver temper, he is much more likely to have it in his teenage years or early 20s. So once again, the people having the babies out of wedlock are not only ipso facto less responsible, but are more likely to be a danger to each other and the blameless child. These young men are often the same ones whose names you see in the paper for petty crimes, or who get busted in school for fighting. (For that matter, even some of the Moms get busted for fighting).

Meanwhile, any woman who had a baby in her 20s and then again in her 30s will tell you how much more patient/less uptight she was the second time around. (This is also why grandparenting is so much more pleasant than parenting.) So in addition to the potentially volatile young Dads, we have the uptight, frsustrated, angry young Moms. What a promising foundation on which to build a family, no?

Then too, despite all the publicity about cases like little Maddy McCann or Elizabeth Smart or whoever, the data make clear that the biggest danger to a child is not some stranger or former handyman but rather Mommy's new boyfriend. In a tragic way, these are the true "nuclear" families, if you will: the ones most likely to explode.

Apropos of which, here's another section from the original article on Kailyn's wedding:
Kailyn [separated from the first father, Jo] amidst their constant fighting, and moved on to a new relationship with co-worker Jordan, only for that to end after Kailyn briefly went back to Jo. Then Kailyn met Javi and the couple were engaged in September 2012. Now she is pregnant with Javi's child. 
Just as I suspected: a nice, stable environment.

Which brings me back to the TV shows aimed at this demographic. Why are we "normalizing" these relationships and glamorizing the fact that some young mothers succeed? (Though I'm not sure you and I would define "success" the same way these young parents or the shows' producers do.) Do we want teenagers thinking that they can take this path and come out whole on the far end? Why do we need "positive" role models showing teens how they successfully coped with unplanned pregnancy?

Do you think we can make a pact, as a society, to try to discourage young people from making babies with other young people where they couldn't envision a long-term relationship even at the moment they were having sex?

Do we not owe our nation's children, or prospective children, at least that much?


Unknown said...

Good article. Very thought-provoking.

There seems to be some misordered text in first paragraph.

Steve Salerno said...

Thank you. And text flow corrected...I think.

Steve Salerno said...

Hmm. I'm not sure why flow problems keep creeping back into this post. Some kind of code must be in there that I'm having troubling finding and eradicating. Please bear with me if portions of the post read strangely (or more strangely than the norm, for me).

Jenny said...

Steve, I am reading a book that is really shedding light on the generation of kids who are coming of age today. The author, Ron Taffel, refers to them as the "free-est generation" and it would appear cultural conditions have created this perfect storm we are currently weathering. The title is Childhood Unbound.

I understand what you mean about bringing children to life and failing to take responsibility for them. It's such a huge topic and includes many things, in addition to the out-of-wedlock thing. Intact families and families who end up broken by divorce can be casualties, too.

Anonymous said...

Only a true boor would pile on Mr. Peterson if he has indeed lost a son, though I basically agree with your larger point Steve. How vastly the odds of tragedy are multiplied when we create children with people we have no intention of staying with. I'm of an older generation not originally from the US, but how did this become acceptable behavior or "policy"?

Steve Salerno said...

Where are you from, Anon? I'm guessing an English-speaking nation, given your obvious facility for the language. And your use of the idiom "pile on" suggests you've been here a while... ;)

roger o'keefe said...

You make terrific points here which is why I so often find myself wishing you'd stick to your original mission and forget the political stuff. But when you're being the guy who wrote SHAM, I'm still all in.

pinkpearl said...

A late comment, but what the heck: Are the stats on children born out of wedlock from the USA only? How do they compare with other countries, and what support do those countries offer single parents? You know where I'm going with this. Providing support to single parents generally improves outcomes for the kids. The USA doesn't provide much support, so it's no surprise that the outcomes aren't good. But marriage may have nothing to do with it.

Steve Salerno said...

Pearl, better late than never. Yes, the stats are for the U.S. only. I will look into your questions. Thanks.

But regardless of whether other first-world nations have better outcomes than we do...are you saying that we shouldn't try to discourage the single-parent phenomenon? That's not a rhetorical; I'm honestly asking how you see it.

pinkpearl said...

No, I don't think the single-parent option should be actively discouraged. That would stigmatize it and single parents and their kids have enough challenges. Instead I think we should consider child-rearing as a community- and society-wide responsibility. There is even a self-interest angle to that approach: today's child of a single parent is tomorrow's nursing aide in the old folks' home I'll probably end up in. So providing community supports to those children so they grow up to be emotionally healthy, so they understand respect and human decency because they have experienced it themselves - yeah, that is worth putting my tax money towards.

Also, we need to take a good look at why people who can't afford it have children out-of-wedlock (we don't seem to mind so much when affluent people, e.g. celebrities, do this). I think that their lousy economic prospects have a lot to do with it. They aren't going to miss out on a satisfying career by *not* having babies, they will be poor either way, so why not grab that bit of momentary pleasure while they can, and forget the condom?

I could say other stuff, but the above gives an idea of how I approach the issue.