On mothers and children and disadvantages


Reading this article on msnbc.com, I couldn’t help thinking that someone skipped math or logic or something in college. Read this opening:

     “One in five of all American moms have kids who have different birth fathers, a new study shows. And when researchers look only at moms with two or more kids, that figure is even higher: 28 percent have kids with at least two different men.”

Really? When you eliminate all the women who couldn’t possibly have children by more than one man, the proportion of the remaining women who have children with more than one man is higher than when you include all women? Say it ain’t so! Basic logic: it is the same number of women, just a smaller pool that is calculated to make the proportion higher. It’s like saying that if you have 3 apples, 3 oranges, 3 lemons, and 3 plums, 25% of the fruits are oranges, but if you remove all non-citrus fruits, the proportion is even higher: now 50% of the fruits are oranges! There are 3 oranges both times, you haven’t added any new information.

I don’t really understand the purpose of this study, entirely. From the article, it seems to be looking at why women with multiple fathers for their kids are disadvantaged, but it is hard to tell. It seems to me to be pretty out of touch with reality all around, although that may be the reporting, not the study. Take this quote: “An important message that doesn’t appear to be getting through is just how hard it is to raise a child as a single parent.” I think most women know single parenthood isn’t easy, even when they don’t have a college education. There are lots of reasons women may end up a young single parent, and they are not all due to poor choices on the mother’s part, especially since the researcher does say that 43% of women in this situation were married when their first babies were born.

I find it interesting that there is absolutely no mention of men with children with different mothers in this article. The obvious inference from this lack of focus is that these men do not suffer the same disadvantages that the mothers do. If so, seems to be a much more interesting line of research. Why don’t they? What can we do as a culture that evens out this disparity, if it is there? And, how do the children of the fathers in this situation do? Are they disadvantaged in the same ways that children of mothers with multiple mates are? And, are all of the children of the fathers with multiple mates similarly disadvantaged, if the disadvantage exists? I suspect that it is often the case that the children in the men’s current relationship do not suffer as much as their children from a previous relationship. Obviously, this would not always be true; I know many divorced dads that are good fathers, even if they remarry and have more children. However, there is a reason why the unhappy child from dad’s first marriage is a stock character in books, tv, and movies.

But, even if we stay within the limits of the current study, I wonder what impacts the fathers of these children have. The only reference to this is in the article talks about the stress that the mothers feel trying to meet the needs and demands of more than one father, which is just odd to me. Why is it the mom’s problem entirely? Why aren’t the mothers and the fathers trying to meet the demands and needs of the children involved? It is the same problem with cultural attitudes to fatherhood I talked about earlier–the mother is set up at the person responsible for meeting all needs, those of her children, and also all fathers involved. She has to make sure everyone is happy and has their needs met. Of course that is stressful!

I would love to see a study on how to limit the disadvantages that children and parents experience when parental relationships don’t work out, and their parents dare to try again to have a fulfilling relationship, one that may include additional children. It seems like too many studies are about bad outcomes—this many people suffer because of whatever social situation—rather than looking at good outcomes—here is what people who don’t suffer have in common. We already know what the problem is. Let’s look at what we can do to fix the problem instead.


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  1. Pingback: Blog Cleanup « Susan's Musings

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