Single Moms: Are Your Kids in Danger?

In an article posted today at CatholicExchange.com, How Co-habitation is a Sin Against Social Justice, Dr. Jennifer Robuck points to co-habitation as one of the greatest dangers to the physical and spiritual well-being of children, particularly when children unrelated to the partner are living under the same roof. Morse writes:

“…we know that a cohabiting boyfriend is the person most likely to abuse a child. From British child-abuse registries, we learn that a child living with his or her mother and a live-in boyfriend is 33 times more likely to be abused than a child living with his or her biological married parents. From a study of inflicted injury deaths in Missouri, we learn that children living in households with unrelated adults were 50 times more likely to die of inflicted injuries than households with both biological parents present. In 82% of the cases, the ‘unrelated adult’ was the mother’s cohabiting boyfriend.”

The issue is not primarily the fact that the man is biologically unrelated (as is clearly demonstrated by the fact that so many couples choose to expand their families through adoption). But when a couple lives together without the sacrament of marriage, the instability of the partnership has a profound affect of the children living within the home.

I would add a caveat to Dr. Morse’s observations, however.  A single mother must consider carefully — and as objectively as possible — the type of man she is dating long before the question of marriage (or co-habitation) is raised. The sacrament of matrimony is not a magical panacea.  An immature, selfish wolf won’t turn “sheepish” just because you put a wedding band on the fourth finger of his left hand.

In my article “Marriage and the Single Mom,” I address some of the red flags that can creep into a relationship, signaling that the man in question is not a suitable spouse.

I don’t need to look any farther than my own family circle to show what can happen to children when their mothers make an ill-advised match. (Thankfully, my sister and her daughter managed to escape her abuser, and she chose much more wisely the second time around.)

The mutual self-donation that is part-and-parcel of a sacramental union is made by the husband and wife for the benefit of their children — whether or not those children have a biological connection to their parents.  If the woman’s future husband is willing to love her children without reservation, out of love for Christ, well and good.

If their mother has any doubts about this, however, she is wise not to risk the wellbeing of her children by tying her future to a man she cannot trust to love her children as his own.  Her highest responsibility is her children, and her happiness is inextricably tied to theirs.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that you will be alone for the rest of your life. Every life has its chapters and seasons, and the time may come when God brings the man who is worthy of your family into your life. Or, if you ask Him, He may also bring other people into your life who can give you the kind of encouragement and support you need right now. 

Have you asked Him? Today?

Divorced? Catholic? Here’s a resource for you!

Today at “Faith and Family Live” was a great article by DivorcedCatholicMom.com blogger Manya Held entitled “When Divorce Happens to Catholics.”

This looks like a great resource for many single moms. Be sure to check it out — someone you know and love may need it!

Marriage and the Single Mom: Now @ Mommy Monsters!

peek-babyCome on over to “Mommy Monsters” for an article I posted there today: “Marriage and the Single Mom: Some Thoughts.”

Today I’d like to offer a prayer for single moms everywhere … Those who are raising children on their own, temporarily or permanently. Military moms. Adoptive and foster moms. Divorced and separated moms. Never-married mothers who are doing their best, one day at a time.

I’d especially like to request prayers for my sister, Jennifer, who is divorcing her husband. Pray that God will provide for her needs, and the needs of her children. You might toss up a prayer for Jerry, too … Frankly, I have a hard time doing that without feeling like a total hypocrite, but you don’t know the twit, so you feel free. (Throw in one for me, too.)

Heavenly Father, bless single parents everywhere.
Those who are content, and those who are scared.
Those who are struggling, and those who feel secure.
Those who need a tangible, practical reminder
That you love them, and have called them
To imitate You in selfless, boundless love,
And to lead their children to heaven,
one prayer at a time.

Mary, Queen of Saints, pray for us.
St. Joseph, patron of families, pray for us.
St. Jude, patron of the hopeless, pray for us.

“Weird Moms” – A Belated Tribute

Karen at “Odd Moms” invited me to check out her blog the other day …  “I know the ‘Weird Mom’ contest is over, but I wanted to pass this along,” she wrote. 

I’m so glad she did.  I was especially touched by this tribute to her mother.  Neither Karen nor her mother have had an easy life. But they managed to impart to their children important lessons about self-reliance and courage — first and foremost, by their own example as courageous single moms.

Karen’s blog is a good reminder that not all EMs are adoptive or foster moms. Some of them are moms who are simply doing the best they can with what life hands them, one day at a time.

“Sex and the City” A Microcosm of Real Life?

Today on “Catholic Connection,” Teresa Tomeo was discussing “Sex and the City,” the new movie based on the hit television series starring Sarah-Jessica Parker and company.

Teresa mentioned a study that was conducted on young women (not yet married) about how “Sex and the City” influenced their own dating life. Perhaps predictably, the effect overall was a negative one … and some felt that it glamorized the ultra-feminist perspective that “a gal should be free to ‘have fun’ and do everything [including bed-hop] a man can do.”

The thing is (having watched the show a time or two myself), I can recall several story lines in the show that would suggest that this is not a case that even the author of the series has been able to pull off convincingly:

* Carrie (SJ Parker’s character) gets her heart broken NUMEROUS times with her compulsion to secure the lasting affection of her favorite “Bad Boy” (Mr. Big). Although judging from the movie trailers she does manage to get her man in the end … what lasting happiness can she expect to find with a serial philanderer whose previous marriage she was largely responsible for ending — and who drove away the one man (Aiden) who was clearly far better suited to marriage and family? The Parker character is not a strong, confident, centered individual who wins Mr. Right after a careful evaluation of his suitability as a life partner; her heart is a tatter of scar tissue, held together by an obsessive fear of winding up alone.

* Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), a strong corporate lawyer whose career is derailed when she becomes impregnated by her on-again, off-again lover Steve (David Eigenberg), chooses life for her son Brady (yeah!) … and (give or take a few bedhops as the child is passed back and forth like so much baggage) finally winds up with Steve and his crazy mother. In Brooklyn (which appears to be a Manhattan career gal’s version of purgatory). The thing is, the live-in housekeeper, weekend brunching in the city with the girls, fabulous house, overly accommodating boyfriend/husband, etc etc. is so far removed from the life of most single mothers’ experience, I find her storyline more than a little implausible. And irritating.

* Charlotte (Kristin Davis), obstensibly the most “traditional” character looking to secure a husband and family. And yet she, too, is a fragile soul. Her first marriage to a well-monied doctor dissolves when her baby obsession wears holes in her marriage big enough to drive a triple stroller through (a story line that provides food for though for those of us who yearn for a child). Weeks after her divorce, she converts to Judaism to snag Harry (who initially repulses her because of his back hair and eating habits), husband #2, and like everything else, she dives into the trappings of her new faith, braiding challah and making matzo balls with gusto … but with little thought to the God behind it all. Finally, she and Harry adopt a little girl from China.

* Samantha (Kim Cattrall) is the uber-feminist with the most “manly” (from the feminist perspective) appetites. And yet, you don’t have to watch more than an episode or two to see how guarded, broken, and desperately lonely her heart is. She keeps up with the “men” she beds … by sacrificing everything that makes her most womanly. It takes a bout with breast cancer to wake her up and make her evaluate her life with her boy-toy “Smith.” Sure, he shaves his head in solidarity when she loses her locks to chemo … but will he still be around twenty years from now, when she’s well into her sixties and Charlotte’s daughter is back from college?

I’m not suggesting that we should all run out and see the movie … frankly, I’ve already seen more than enough of these four women to realize how much the young women around us NEED the friendship of women like us (instead of talking amongst themselves). Women who have navigated the relational minefields and are working to build a stable, secure family despite our many mistakes.

On the other hand, these story lines do raise questions that young women do well to consider, if only in their own hearts: Are their own dating habits, acquired over decades of “no strings” encounters, going to mellow into, in the words of Sam’s friend Carrie, “… ridiculous, inconvenient, consuming, can’t live without it love”? Love that keeps the husband gazing warmly at his wife’s photo on his desk instead of the perky new secretary’s caboose? Love that trusts (with good reason) when an “old friend” blows into town for a week? Love that perseveres when one or both lose that six-figure income and they need to start paying for college and/or a triple bypass?

Now, the fact that I am a happily married woman with two children, in some circles, disqualifies me to ask these questions … They are dismissed as the prejudicial rantings of a smug and sexually straight-laced religious fanatic. It doesn’t matter that I was thirty-five, with my own share of heart scars and regrets, when I married (having moved across the country at least partly to escape the toxic tango with my own “Mr. Big”). It doesn’t matter that I actually know enough about SATC from having WATCHED it that I can point out these tell-tale story lines that (let’s just say it) were not of MY making. I just calls them as I sees them.

Some of you may be reading this and mentally (or even physically) be taking me off your blogroll because I am more in touch with the secular culture than any good Catholic should be … or bringing up issues that are totally irrelevant to your lives since you would no more watch SATC than force-feed your family from the compost heap. I understand that … and I freely admit that there are many of you who are much farther along the trail to perfection than I am (and who write primarily for others who are similarly advanced in the spiritual life).

And yet, it is my sincere hope, my earnest prayer, that someone will see themselves in this post and … make a different choice. Because the scars are real, painful, and lasting. How much better to avoid the wound altogether! And how good to know that, even if we make the wrong choice and find ourselves bleeding, we have not necessarily consigned ourselves to a lifetime of damaged relationships.

We can choose again. Make different choices. Smarter choices. Choose to break the toxic relationship patterns. Choose to stop, just stop. Choose to stop dating until our own issues are resolved and we are in a healthy place to start looking for the husband God wants to give us. Choose to stop obsessing about pregnancy, and invest in our marriages as they are RIGHT NOW. Choose not to put a child’s life in jeopardy with IVF experimentation. Choose adoption.

These are real-life choices you will never regret.

Leap for Joy … with Compassion

The voice of my beloved!
Behold, he comes,
leaping upon the mountains,
bounding over the hills.
By beloved is like a gazelle,
or a young stag.
Behold, there he stands behind our wall,
gazing in at the windows
looking through the lattice.
My beloved speaks and says to me:
Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away;
For lo, the winter is past,
the rain is over and gone…. (Song of Songs 2:8-12)

It seems like a strange reading, given where we are in the liturgical calendar (so close to Christmas). And yet, the Gospel reading gives us a hint (Luke 1:39ff). A young woman, full of life and wonder, hastens toward her dear, infertile friend Elizabeth, with whom she is about to share one of the most profound of all womanly experiences: motherhood. And as Mary’s delighted greeting fell upon Elizabeth’s ears, the new life within her leaped for joy.

Today something happened to me that made me consider this passage in a whole new light. Craig and I attended Christopher and Sarah’s school Christmas pageant, and I struck up a conversation with a woman whose son was in one of my children’s preschool class. “Anna” has three children and has never been married. I asked Anna whether she was planning to do something special with her kids over the Christmas break, and she admitted that she only had off work Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The rest of the time the children — the youngest not quite two — would be in daycare.

At this time of year, she admits, she lives on credit cards and basically works to pay for daycare. With no help from the children’s father — she can’t afford a lawyer to fight for her in family court, while his lawyer has had the father’s childcare payments reduced twice — she doesn’t feel she has much choice. And to a point, she’s right. Many of the most important choices she could have made are behind her: the most important being the choice “up and come away with” a wild stag, and to have and raise on her own several children. Like many single moms, she puts her head down and copes as best she can, fighting to keep the wolf away from the door … while her “stag” leaps and grazes far ahead, oblivious to her plight. How does one begin to give this woman the kind of assistance she needs, help that will remove both her and her children from this swirling pool of despair?

Back to today’s Gospel. We tend to read this account of the Visitation with the eyes of faith, with Mary running joyfully to share her news with Elizabeth, who welcomes her young cousin with unabashed joy.

As I left the program today, I had a different thought: Was it possible that Mary’s haste was even partly due to the fact that she needed time and space to process what was happening to her? That she ran to Elizabeth not with elation … but a teensy bit panicked? Her fiat had been willing and unreserved while she basked in Gabriel’s heavenly radiance. But when the aura disappeared, did her misgivings creep in with the shadows?

How different, then, was Elizabeth’s role. She was not simply the recipient of grace, but a benefactor as well. “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” Because of infertility, Elizabeth knew what it felt like to bear the judgment and shame of wagging tongues, and was in a unique place to be able to reassure Mary. She must have known difficult times were ahead of her young cousin. While she did not doubt Mary’s story — that God had chosen her to be the mother of His Son — she knew that the young woman would still need help. A listening ear. A helping hand. Above all, an open heart.

It’s the same for all of us. We all make choices (some intrinsically sinful, some merely imprudent) from which we need to be rescued, or certainly assisted. In this case, Mary had made a courageous choice (just as my friend Anna chose life for each of her children). She made it, knowing full well that tongues would wag and even those closest to her might judge her harshly. But she did it anyway, trusting that God would make her way straight.

This Christmas, as we celebrate the coming of the Christ Child, is there someone in your life — perhaps someone God has specifically placed in your path — that needs your help? It may be that this person is suffering the consequences of his or her deliberate actions. Then again, this person may simply be “Jesus in distressing disguise,” as Blessed Mother Teresa used to say. Take up the Spirit of compassion, relinquish judgment, and extend yourself in the name of the Christ Child, who gave up all of heaven so that one day we might share it with Him.

If you don’t know anyone personally, this might be a good year to pitch in at your local domestic violence or crisis pregnancy center, shelter, or soup kitchen. Merry Christmas!