Last year Kathryn Edin wrote in The Shriver Report about low income single fathers, in a piece titled What About the Fathers? She thought she knew all about these men, having spent years speaking to single mothers. But talking to the fathers themselves was a shocking revelation (emphasis mine):
…I had spent years living and talking with black, white, and Hispanic single mothers in some of the nation’s toughest urban neighborhoods in Philadelphia, Chicago, the deep South, and the West Coast—10 cities in all. I thought I had learned everything there was to know about these men from the moms. Besides, didn’t everyone know the guys were irresponsible? That they really didn’t care about the kids they conceived? In 2008, even presidential candidate Barack Obama was calling them out, saying they had better stop acting like boys and have the courage to raise a child not just create one.
Finally, fellow researcher Tim Nelson and I began actually talking to these men—more than 100 low-income noncustodial dads living in poor neighborhoods in the Philadelphia area. As it turns out, “everyone” wasn’t right. We were all dead wrong—me, the country, and even Barack Obama.
Edin explains that the pregnancies she studied very often were due to the decision by the mother to forgo birth control without the knowledge of the father, because motherhood will gain her status:
Pretty soon, the women are skipping doses of the pill or letting the patch or other forms of contraception lapse. Why? In these communities, motherhood often exerts a strong pull on young women’s hearts and minds and weakens their motivation to avoid pregnancy. Being a mom serves as the chief source of meaning and identity in neighborhoods where significant upward mobility is rare.
Then once the baby is born, the mothers have strong incentives to eject the father from the family, replacing him with what ultimately turns into a parade of men:
When a single mom in the inner city feels her kid’s father has failed to provide, there is an enormous temptation to “swap daddies,” pushing the child’s dad aside while allowing a new man—perhaps one with a little more going for him economically—to claim the title of father. These moms are often desperate to find a man who can help with the bills so they can keep a roof over their kid’s head. The problem is that these new relationships may be no more stable than the old ones.
When a mom moves from one relationship to another—playing gatekeeper with the biological father while putting her new boyfriend into the dad’s role—she puts her kids on a “father-go-round.”
Edin is describing the very double think I’ve been discussing here and here. It is overall a surprisingly good article, especially coming from a feminist organization. Edin recognizes that it is the mothers who are the ones who decide the structure of the family and if the father is to be involved beyond just a paycheck.
If they want to stop the father-go-round, moms will have to do what they can to keep the biological dad involved with his child and not push him aside. It’s up to them, because currently, mothers have most of the power de facto, if not de jure.
While the mothers eject the fathers to invite in a parade of new men, the rejected fathers end up repeatedly trying to create new families with other women, hoping they eventually will be permitted to stay:
Meanwhile, the biological fathers themselves end up on a family-go-round, having kids by other women in a quest to try to get what they long for—the whole father experience. Each new child with a different mom offers another chance—a clean slate. With eagerness, they once again invest every resource they can muster in service of that new fragile family.
However, Edin fails to realize the need for true commitment if we are going to stop the immense suffering of so many poor (not to mention middle class) children. Our elites have created a new family structure which is a disaster for all but the top quarter of the socioeconomic scale, but the UMC refuses to recognize the immense pain this selfish change is wreaking. Her suggestion to poor men is to make sure they have a high income and their relationship with the mother is “on a solid footing” before having children, in order to reduce the likelihood that she will become unhappy and expel him from the family:
Here is my message to young disadvantaged men: If you really want to be a good dad, wait until you are financially ready to have a child, preferably your mid-to-late 20s, if not beyond. Make sure your relationship with the child’s mother is on a solid footing first.