On Monday morning, January 15th, between 8 and 8:30 am, Rosanna Hertz, author of Single By Chance, Mothers By Choice: How Women are Choosing Parenthood Without Marriage and Creating the New American Family will be on NBC’s Today Show. In anticipation of her morning fame we asked her to reflect on all the interviews she has gone on since the publication of her book. Below Hertz writes the answers to the three questions that pop up most in interviews.
First, I am often asked if I think single mothers are selfish for having children without a partner. The question makes me wonder if I would have had the courage to become a single mother? This was not a position I found myself in, but I imagine that I would have missed out a lot, on an important part of my life, had I not become a mother. The women in my study felt the same way when they made their decision. “Selfish” would have been to marry and divorce just to have a baby. They wanted to marry a soul mate forever even if that person came after the baby.
In that respect, single mothers taught me a valuable lesson. They had better support networks than I have ever had. They asked people for help (such as watching their child for a few hours) and didn’t feel they always had to do everything themselves (which I tended to do). These mothers made great use of extra space in their homes (finding roommates who would become important in their life with their child). They discovered that great childcare is essential and all of the women treated their childcare providers like family. Asking for male school teachers (we can all use more male teachers in our school systems), became an important request on behalf of their children. Their friendships with both women and men were stronger than mine, a key ingredient in their lives, because they expect more from friends and extended family. They knit together community in a way that is rare and I admire single mothers for that.
Second, I am asked about the future of marriage. Marriage will continue to exist (at least for heterosexual couples). I call the women in my study “reluctant revolutionaries” because they did not see their individual choices as part of broader societal changes. Families all over the world are undergoing change. Delaying marriage and remaining single long into one’s twenties (for both men and women) is quite common. This delay is beginning to bump up against women worrying about their ability to birth children.
Still, single motherhood is on the rise throughout the world. Last January I went to Japan to meet with university faculty to talk about families. I was surprised to learn that even in a more traditional country, where there is a lot of concern about the decline in births, single motherhood is on the rise. I don’t know if women in other countries would have preferred to be married when they became single mothers; however, the women in my book would have preferred what I am dubbing “Plan A” — to be married prior to having a child. Plan B – motherhood before marriage, was a reversal of a conventional life sequencing,to have a baby before time ran out. It was not a permanent way to live. Some did find partners and marriage and others did not.
And, in answer to the third most common question: no one regretted her decision to become a mom.