Sometimes people are stupid. Usually I ignore it, because every now and then I’m stupid, and I appreciate it when people ignore that. But when stupidity crosses the line into harmful, or denigrating, or just flat out wrong…
The ignoring becomes part of the problem.
Like, say, when a bunch of celebrities sign a petition supporting a child rapist… (Emma Thompson had the good sense to remove her name, although that doesn’t quite make up for the bad sense of signing it in the first place.)
Or when a former Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court (who has supposedly been considered for the actual Supreme Court) writes an article for a major news outlet that calls marriage “the most fundamental thread in the fabric of our American values;” says one of my most difficult life decisions (planning to become a Single Mother by Choice) is “deliberately substituting your emotional loss for that of your child;” and concludes with a blatant fallacy about single parents.
Not so much with the ignoring.
Let’s start with this notion of marriage as “the most fundamental thread in the fabric of our American values.”
THE MOST FUNDAMENTAL THREAD IN THE FABRIC OF OUR AMERICAN VALUES.
Over, say, the separation of church and state. The First Amendment (or, for the gun folks, the Second Amendment). The Bill of Rights. THE WHOLE CONSTITUTION, really, with all its goodies like habeus corpus and civil rights.
These are the most fundamental threads in the fabric of our American values.
Marriage (unless you’re gay, but that’s a whole other post) is pretty much a global thing. People in Russia get married. People in Mexico get married. People in Egypt and Kenya and Malaysia and China get married. Al Qaeda terrorists get married, folks. The institution of marriage was around for thousands of years before America even existed, much less had any values to embrace as our own, and this elevation of The American Family to some vaunted state of supremacy or superiority is jingoistic at best and delusional at worst.
In other words: stupid.
Judge Leah Ward Sears then goes on to recount her own experiences as a judge, when she saw “the growing lack of reverence many Americans have for marriage,” and “parents who didn’t seem able or willing to connect their children’s problems with their own failure to provide their children with the necessary road map to self-sufficiency and productivity.”
Now, Judge Sears (Judge Ward Sears?) may have a point about the growing lack of reverence for marriage. Divorce rates have certainly gone up over the last several decades. Then again… is it lack of reverence, or just people realizing that they don’t have to stay in bad marriages?
Because here’s the thing. Sometimes, people are… what? Yeah. Stupid.
Sometimes they marry people they shouldn’t marry. Sometimes they marry people they should marry, but then one of them does something stupid and the other one doesn’t want to be married anymore. Sometimes both people do something stupid. Sometimes, believe it or not, no one does anything stupid, but life happens and people grow and change and realize they don’t want to be married anymore. Sometimes people are toxic together, and realize that the best thing for all parties involved (including the kids) is to get the hell out of a bad marriage.
Now, the judge would have us believe that it’s preferable for all married people to reconcile their differences and “tough it out.”
That’s just flat out stupid.
Anyone who knows anyone raised by parents who stayed married “for the sake of the kids” knows what a disaster that strategy can be.
I, personally, have one close friend who suffered through an extremely painful and traumatic childhood with parents who could not stand each other, but wouldn’t divorce because of their religion. Should my friend’s parents have risen above their feelings for each other and maintained a safe space for their daughter? Of course. But that’s a short term solution. The only long term solution to a situation like that is divorce, which would have been best for my friend, and for her parents.
And while Judge Sears is correct that parents are often unable or unwilling to “connect their children’s problems with their own failure to provide their children with the necessary road map to self-sufficiency and productivity,” I fail to see how that inability/unwillingness relates in any way to whether a child’s parents are married.
She continues with the following gem: “… many Americans are failing their children because they have already failed themselves. They often enter the court system with domestic problems and low-wage jobs, slim educational credentials, and no life partners.”
So… because I don’t have a life partner, I’ve failed myself? Silly me, I thought I just hadn’t met the right guy.
Fortunately, Sears has some suggestions for fixing “our society.” The first is to “stop glorifying single parenthood,” although two of the three examples she provides of “single parenthood” are of celebrities who aren't actually parenting single-ly (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, and Hallie Berry, who parents with a long-term boyfriend). Her other example is Michael Jackson—and whatever you or I may think about the King of Pop, by all accounts he was an attentive and devoted father.
She also goes out of her way to include the following “Memo to single mothers by choice: When you decide to have a child alone in order to fulfill your deep need to parent, you may be deliberately substituting your emotional loss for that of your child, who will grow up without a father.”
In response, a single mother by choice on the Choice Mom listserve to which I belong wrote this:
“If you choose to have children with the man you are married to (or hoping to be married to, or hoping to find) , you must consider the very real possibility that the marriage will fail and your children will suffer a lot more pain from the divorce and custody roller coaster (or a dysfunctional / unstable / abusive family situation) than you. You’ll be inflicting emotional torture on your children by attempting to satisfy your (and society’s) romantic / economic / sexual / social / traditional needs.”
Well said, Segal.
Because the point is this: while there may be an ideal way to have and raise children, very few people will ever achieve that ideal. Married people won’t. Single people won’t.
Which doesn’t mean we shouldn’t all try.
But to tie successful parenting to marital status is stunningly disingenuous. You’d think Sears would know that, since she herself IS DIVORCED.
Two more stupid things, and then my job here is done:
Sears starts her article with a shout-out to the Obama marriage (which is, indeed, something to be envious of). Yet, despite her awareness of the President’s life, she conveniently forgets that Barack Obama was raised by a single mom. Maybe it’s just me, but I think there’s an argument to be made that he turned out just fine.
Finally, Sears resorts to the old, worn-out myth about single parents: “children who grow up in single-parent families are less likely to enjoy the financial security, educational success and social skills of children living with their married parents.”
Come on. You’re an educated woman. And that nonsense has been BLOWN out of the water in study after study. What matters, what makes the difference in the physical and emotional health of children, is healthy family dynamics (whether those dynamics are with married parents, a single parent, or gay parents), educational opportunity, and financial stability.
Women who choose to become single moms—women like me, women to whom you directed your “memo”—tend to be well educated, successful, and financially secure. We choose to become moms, even though we are single, because we want to share our lives with a child. Because we want to provide a child with every opportunity to live a happy, rich, rewarding, satisfying life. Or, as the Founding Fathers put it, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Those, Judge Sears, are the most fundamental threads in the fabric of our American values.
Annoyingly, Sears then backtracks at the end of her article, saying that “she would never condemn anyone who has had a child out of wedlock or who has gone through a divorce.” Which reminds me of the scene in Pretty Woman where Richard Gere says, “I have never treated you like a prostitute,” and Julia Roberts waits until the door closes behind him, and then says, “You just did.”
Judge Sears, you just did.