Saturday, June 22, 2002

TEEN PREGNANCY, YOUNG MOTHERS, AND MARRIAGE: Last week Instapundit noted that a Florida high school now devotes pages in its yearbook to student-mothers and their children. Alex Whitlock honored these young mothers for keeping their babies instead of killing them in the womb, and I can't disagree. Loco Parentis praised them for managing to be mothers and finish high school at the same time (I can't disagree there), but she also criticized the stigma attached nowadays to being a young mother. As a relatively young mother myself, I can't disagree that stigmatizing young mothers makes no sense and is unfair. I agree when she writes, "There is nothing shameful about young motherhood. It isn't a dirty secret of some kind. We should get off of the backs of young mothers in this country. Age alone does not define a woman's ability to nurture and guide her child." It's the caveat she makes to her discussion of "young motherhood" that I have a problem with: "Leaving aside any questions of the advisability of having babies outside of a committed partnership ...." I don't think it makes sense to discuss society's stigmatization of "young motherhood" without considering whether "young mothers" are married. I doubt most people tar teenage mothers with the brush of stigma because they're young, but because they weren't married when they made the baby and never got married after they had the baby. And I think one good reason for stigmatizing unwed moms, whether 15 or 40, is that having babies out-of-wedlock usually deprives children of full-time (and often even part-time) fathers. Study after study shows how much children suffer without fathers (lower income levels, increased likelihood of delinquency, increased likelihood of having children out-of-wedlock) and at the hands of men who move in and out of their mother's house and bed. Not that anyone needed a study to know this; it's commonsense. Being a mother is a tough job whether a woman is 16, 26, or 36; being older doesn't necessarily mean you'll be better at it, and who knows, maybe being younger is an advantage. So it makes no sense to criticize women for having babies when they're 18 versus when they're 28, especially since women had children that young and younger in our culture for centuries and still do in other cultures. The real issue should be whether a woman, whatever her age, who has sex with a man without any thought to whether he would make a good father for her children, is doing everything she can to "nuture and guide" -- not to mention protect -- her children?

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