published Sunday, June 16th, 2013

Baumgardner: Be the father your children need you to be

By Julie Baumgardner

Several years ago, a greeting card company donated Mother's Day cards to prison inmates to send to their mothers. They ran out of cards.

After this success, company officials donated Father's Day cards for prisoners to send their fathers and were shocked when only a handful were used.

A recent Pew Research piece may offer insight. Based on an analysis of the 2011 American Community Survey, Pew asserted that 40 percent of all households with children under 18 include mothers who are either the sole or primary source of income for the family.

On the surface, this sounds like a victory for women, but if you look closer, it is a very different story. The report states, "These breadwinner moms are made up of two very different groups: 5.1 million are married mothers who have a higher income than their husbands, and 8.6 million are single mothers."

"You would never guess from the triumphant headlines in the media that almost two-thirds of the family breadwinners are single mothers," said Kay Hymowitz, William E. Simon Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of "Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men into Boys," and Marriage and Caste in America: Separate and Unequal Families in a Post-Marital Age."

"These mothers are not top earners, they are the only earners," she says. "Only 37 percent of the 'breadwinning women' are married mothers who are making more than their husbands and, in many instances, this is because the husband lost his job."

Of the 8.6 million single mothers, 29 percent are not working at all. More than half the children living in homes with single moms are growing up in poverty. According to the report, a growing number of these women never marry, and other studies have shown that never-married mothers tend to get less financial assistance from their children's fathers than previously married mothers.

"The Atlantic responded to the Pew study by saying, 'Employment and gender roles in the United States continue to shift away from the 'Leave it to Beaver' model. Murphy Brown is winning,'" says Hymowitz. "It speaks volumes that the article's vision of a single mother is a make-believe character who is a television news star."

So what exactly are we celebrating? Research still consistently shows that children do better in every way when their two parents are present in the home. It isn't about who makes more -- it's about helping families thrive.

On this day set aside to celebrate fathers, perhaps the reason so few cards were taken by the inmates is because so many fathers have chosen to walk away from the opportunity to care for and be engaged in the lives of their children. Others may want to be involved, but differences with the mother of their children makes it impossible. Whatever the case, guess who loses? The children.

Having a loving and nurturing father is as important for a child's happiness, well-being and social and academic success as having a loving and nurturing mother.

It is never too late to be the father your children need you to be.

Contact Julie Baumgardner at julieb@firstthings.org.

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