Parenting Perspectives: Does it take a village to raise a child or committed parents?

I read the birth announcements most every day that I work. It's not that I'm all that interested in the region's new arrivals; it's just part of my job as a copy editor.

Kathy Tofflemire

I read the birth announcements most every day that I work. It's not that I'm all that interested in the region's new arrivals; it's just part of my job as a copy editor.

One can't help but notice a change in those announcements in recent years: It's rare to have a list in which all of the parents are married couples. In fact, studies show that today more than 40 percent of U.S. births are to unmarried women.

I'm not making a moral judgment (well, maybe a little). I'm just concerned about the future of all those little people.

When I was in high school, teen moms were nearly nonexistent. A girl might go off to spend a few months with Aunt Maude in Duluth, and the gossip usually faded after she returned. Classmates rearing children was a rarity.

Now there are in-school day care facilities where teens can drop off their children while they go to class. I don't disagree that it is important that everything be done to ensure a brighter future for those girls and their children.


I'm sure the vast majority of single mothers in The Forum's birth announcements are adults of varying ages, and not girls in high school. But changes in cultural attitudes have made out-of-wedlock births perfectly acceptable.

Some of the hospital forms that cross our desks do not list the father's name, but there is something even sadder about the occasional form on which the father's name has been crossed out. Abandonment from the get-go?

What I'm concerned about is paternal commitment, not so much to a significant other but to their child. It seems so much easier to walk away when no legalities are involved.

And even if the father dutifully pays child support, mailing a check every month is no substitute for being a father to a child.

Marriage, of course, is no guarantee that a child's father (or mother) isn't out of the picture.

I raised my daughter alone for much of her growing-up years after her father and I divorced. After three months, the child support payments, which I sought only on my lawyer's behest, ceased. But I was able to walk away from an unhappy marriage because I knew I could support my child without her father's help.

Dr. Phil always says that the most powerful figure in a child's life is the same-sex parent. OK, I lucked out there. But I wonder how different life might have been for my daughter had her father been more of a presence before she reached adulthood.

Celebrities have made out-of-wedlock births not just acceptable but fashionable. Hello, Brad and Angelina. And People and other magazines publicize the single women who pursue motherhood on their own, so to speak.


Children aren't doomed if they are born to a single mother, but statistically they are more likely to struggle with hardships.

Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, says, "Raising children is a challenge and an enterprise. Having two people involved in that enterprise will typically make it easier."

He notes that divorced fathers are more likely to stay in touch with their children than fathers who never married their children's mothers. And he also says that children living with parents who cohabitate do less well than children of married parents.

And that's my worry. Will all of these children born to unwed parents thrive to the same degree as those born to married couples?

An African proverb says "it takes a village to raise a child."

That was the title of a 1996 book by Hillary Rodham Clinton in which she focused on the impact individuals and groups outside the family have, for better or worse, on a child's well-being, and advocated a society that meets all of a child's needs.

That same year, during his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, nominee Bob Dole said: "... With all due respect, I am here to tell you, it does not take a village to raise a child. It takes a family to raise a child."

I am a fan of Hillary, but I'd settle for seeing children who have both a mom and a dad involved in their lives.


Kathy Tofflemire is a copy editor at The Forum.

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