Friday, June 17, 2022

Too Hot to Handle: Faith and the Fatherless

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

Single motherhood is the new “normal”.

Government programs of various kinds have made possible a generation (or more) of children, many of whom know no father but the state. The Washington Post reports that by age eighteen fully half of children today will have lived some period with a single mother.

And increasingly, evangelicals are being called upon to aid, abet and even validate single motherhood.

Tom: IC, are there predictable consequences to growing up fatherless?

Immanuel Can: Well, it’s never a good thing to lose your parents — either one. But a very great deal also depends on the circumstances of the loss: whether it was voluntary or avoidable, how you were treated, how the event was interpreted to you, the level of involvement of the missing parent, whether there was abuse or endangerment ... and so on.

That being admitted, every study ever done has shown that children do best by far in a home with two loving parents, so that part’s not really contestable.

Studies Have Shown ...

Tom: Well, I entirely believe what you’re saying, but the internet shows some would disagree with you. There seem to be tons of studies done between 1980 and 2000 or thereabouts that bear out the “two loving parents is better” theme, but a number of very recent studies at least appear to show that (a) the difference in performance between children with a father and a mother and children who only have mom at home is getting smaller, or that (b) in some ways single parent families produce stronger children. Now of course these are showing up in progressive media sources like the Huffington Post and Slate, and they’re long on assertions and short on evidence.

On the other hand, Mavis Hetherington agrees with you. She says one in four children being raised by single women “have serious social, emotional, or psychological problems”, compared to children raised in a home with both a mother and a father.

IC: Notice, though, that the liberal press runs two narratives on this issue. Narrative 1 is “Being a single mother is hard, and so single moms deserve all the respect / admiration / support we can give them.” But they run this at the same time as narrative 2: “Being a single mother is just fine: men are not necessary — not to the well-being of women and not to the normal, healthy development of either male or female children.” Clearly, they cannot rationally have it both ways, and yet they want to. It’s got to be obvious to anyone that there’s a lie being told there.

Tom: Oh, I absolutely agree. This more recent look at the issue supports what you’re saying. The Washington Times goes further, and maintains that you need not only two loving parents, you need two loving heterosexual parents, which is not a message you see often today.

So as usual, it appears the Left is generating its own “studies” to muddy the waters. One way they obscure reality is by assessing the development of the children of single mothers by entirely different metrics than have traditionally been used; for example, in one study, children of single mothers are praised for being “grittier”. I’m not sure “gritty” is the first quality I’m looking to develop in my ten year old. And there is the sexual activity metric: studies show fatherless kids have higher rates of sexual activity and sexual confusion. But if you don’t mind your teens being promiscuous, gender-confused or identifying as homosexual — and progressives not only don’t mind, they specifically advocate for these qualities — then of course all single mothers do “just as good or a better job”.

The Negatives of Fatherlessness

IC: I think we have to settle this question right from the start: do fathers really do anything unique and valuable? If they do not, then not having them is no problem; if they do, then it’s bound to be. Now, my view from seeing a whole lot of teenagers for many years now is this: fathers matter a ton … especially to teenagers. Normally, fathers are positioned best to be the inculcators of strong self-image in young women and of masculine development in young men. That does not mean that fatherless teens cannot develop at all, but that their developmental process is greatly enhanced by the presence of a caring father … and absent that, they often have a serious struggle to compensate.

Tom: Well, I think for the Christian there’s no discussion to be had here: there is an order for the human family that was established by God at the beginning of creation. It is ludicrous to imagine that human ‘progress’ has come up with a better way to raise children than the one contemplated by the Creator of the universe. But for the most part our society does not recognize that, so Christians are reduced to making our case for normalcy to the world by referencing the opinions of experts and empty statistics. If we’re going to do that, Photius has done a marvelous job of linking to the documented negatives of being raised fatherless. We don’t have to reinvent that wheel.

But we have not really distinguished between preventable fatherlessness (which is a huge factor in the modern phenomenon of single motherhood) and that for which there is no obvious solution: widows, victims of desertion, and so on. Because I think the position of the church on how to deal with the two sorts of single mothers should be very, very different.

... Like a Fish Needs a Bicycle

IC: Yes. This article from the National Post is about women choosing to circumvent fatherhood entirely, and doing so in a completely calculated and dispassionate way. What do you make of that?

Tom: Well, there are many different reasons behind what’s happening, and many different sorts of women in the same boat. There are younger women who engage in casual sex with men and decide to have their children, but for whatever reason do not want to (or cannot) partner with the fathers. Then there are women who are gaming the welfare system and using a “baby daddy” to generate another cheque every month. These two are the “traditional” causes of single motherhood.

But, in addition, today there are also women who find their bodies aging and can’t find a man they are willing to partner with in time to do things the traditional way, but still want to have children, so they go the IVF route. And then there are women who are terrified of sex or relationships but want children. Not to mention religious lesbian couples who want children and seek inclusion in the Christian community. There are more than a few of these, and advancing technology has made options possible for these women that were never on the table years ago.

It seems to me that the church needs to consider each situation individually, not simply “endorse single motherhood”, which some feminist Christians are pushing for.

The Child as Life Enhancement Feature

IC: But in all the scenarios you’re describing, I see that a common element is that the child is seen as a “choice”, “option” or “life enhancement feature” created to fulfill a woman’s desires for attachment or procreation. The needs that the child may have are secondary to the desire of the woman to choose the moment and conditions of her own life. The technology exists now to give her what she wants, when she wants it, and under what conditions she pleases. What the child may need … who cares for that?

I suppose this is all logical, given the long-standing respectability of abortion. If preborn children are just “choices”, then why not see children as mere options, timely enhancements for a woman’s self-image? And why not do so for their entire lives?

Tom: And if this sort of attitude exists outside the church, really, what have we to say except that “God judges those outside”, and so be it.

But we’re waxing verbose. Let’s talk about how this impacts churches next week, IC.

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