Hopefully, by the time this posts, this horrible story will have become a footnote of history. I’m not really holding my breath – and it’s one of those measures that couldn’t possibly ever be passed, right? – but to give you the short version, a Republican Senator from Wisconsin wants to update the state’s statutes for the Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Board to require all literature to inform people that single parenthood is an overwhelming factor in child abuse.
That’s right. I know it’s stunning, it boggles the mind, but apparently child abuse is a direct result of single-parent homes.
(Just writing that made me throw up a little in my mouth.)
Let’s examine some observational facts, shall we?
1. The majority of single parents are not (as one might think) the result of having children out of wedlock. Take a look at divorce rates across the country, and I think you’ll find that the likelihood is far more that single parents come equally from divorce and unmarried unions. Oh, hey, look! Here’s an article that says that divorced people are more likely to be single parents than having children out of wedlock (by a relatively narrow margin). To put it another way, most single parents these days started out married. Preventing “children out of wedlock” would not make a significant impact in this… person’s… concept of “contributing factors of child abuse”.
2. A good portion of the dissolution of marriages (or even long-term relationships with children) is a result of (or at least heavily influenced by) the presence of some form of abuse. It’s hard to pin an accurate statistic on this for a wide variety of reasons, but observation says that most abuse happens towards a spouse first, and then an amount also trickles down to the kids. And when we talk about “abuse”, it’s almost necessary to define it more completely to reference physical abuse, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, financial abuse, and/or emotional abuse. Which abuse do you think the good Senator had in mind? Is he implying that sexual abuse, for instance, happens mostly to kids of single parents? If so, I’ve got news for him: that is every kind of wrong.
2B. I have a suspicion – not yet a theory, just a thought – that many cases of abuse come about from the stress of an unhappy relationship, and that if the two parents weren’t together past the realization of “this ain’t workin'”, the overall cases of abuse – spousal and child alike – would be greatly diminished. Again, this is not a statement of fact, merely a thought, though it is one that I would be curious to see investigated more thoroughly. Another way to put it would be that requiring or pressuring unhappy people to stay together actually would encourage child abuse, not prevent it.
3. It’s not many cases where that abuse from the dissolved relationship translates down to the kids. Sometimes, a case of neglect may result due to the sudden requirement for this one person to do the jobs of two – including having two jobs. The roles that were once meant to be shared (whether they were or not before is immaterial, almost) now fall to one person, and there are times when even the best of us have to put off “kid duty” for the sake of working late hours or just vegetating in front of the tv or computer for a little decompression time. (NOTE: It only counts as neglect when it’s excessive, such as interfering with care and feeding.)
4. I know many single moms who have to resort to a smack on the butt or even a proper paddle-delivered spanking to handle a kid who has now lost half of the disciplinary team. Is that child abuse? I think that depends on how it’s handled, but rather than wagging the finger at single parents for getting extreme in punishment, it would make a lot more sense to maybe provide them with a little extra support and training to learn how to handle their anger.
The bottom line is that to make even a suggestion of correlation (let alone causation) between single parenthood and child abuse is not just insipid and deranged, it’s downright dangerous. I can already see the scenarios in my head of truly abused spouses being unable to leave their abusers because they’ll end up losing their kids for “electing for child abuse themselves”. (No, I am not saying that this is what the proposed bill directly suggests, but it certainly lays the groundwork for such an event.)
Here’s a better pill to swallow:
If single parents got real support and were not vilified by conservatives and other similarly blinded groups, the place that they hold in our society as effective humans would be very different. While the social stigma of the single parent has softened a great deal in the last thirty to fifty years, there is still a massive discrimination around it. Single parents constantly have their financial stability denied with unfair hiring and paying practices. You literally have to hide the presence of your children during interviews to stand a chance of getting a good paying job most of the time, and if you make too many schedule requests (time off for doctor’s appointments, home by 3 to greet the kindergartner, etc), you’re now guaranteed to be on the slow track for advancement and raises. And don’t get the idea that it’s because single parents are less effective workers – the opposite is true – but the “butt in chair” perception as defining the “efficient worker” persists despite all kinds of evidence otherwise.
And what about the rest of the time when you can’t get a job at all, either because of unavailability of childcare or some other complicating factor? “Just get on state assistance” is a mantra that’s heard nearly all the time, especially by those in destitute situations, but the majority of people chanting that mantra don’t understand the implications: Once you get on government assistance (which is usually barely enough to survive on, let alone get ahead), any change you make in income affects that assistance, which means that if you get $800 in food assistance while unemployed, let’s say, and then get a minimum wage job, your assistance gets cut even though you will technically be making less than if you’d stayed unemployed, put you in worse position to feed your kids. And what if you’re a single parent with a special-needs child that requires a lot of medical attention? Medicaid does not pay for the good doctors most of the time.
As a social safety net, the system doesn’t work for anything other than perpetuating poverty, which leads to personal stress and loss of self-esteem, which then leads commonly to abusive cycles. The problem of child abuse is not created by single parents, but if it were, it would be because of their presence as unadmitted second-class citizens against those other people who managed to get all the way through business college instead of perpetuating the species, or those who chose to stay married in misery rather than stand up for themselves. (And, yes, that is often a very real situation.)
I get what Grothman is trying to do, to get something done “to protect the children” because, hey, kids are always great PR. But, as the saying goes, he’s got a great big head, and little bitty arms, and this plan was not thought through very well.
Does this piss you off as bad as it does me? Pop on over to Change.Org and sign the petition to stop this fraking madness.