Seems like there’s been a rash of celebrities and public figures coming down with foot in mouth disease over the last few weeks, doesn’t it? One right after the other, fueling Twitter and Facebook conversations with their did-they-really-say-that? faux pas. Maybe it’s a new symptom of spring fever, this outbreak of say something stupid. But this one might just top my list of favorites. Republican Senator Glenn Grothman has presented a bill to Wisconsin legislature to reduce child abuse, which would be a noble, honorable effort—if he wasn’t citing single parent households at the core of that criminality. That’s all it takes.
Senate Bill 507, presented last month in a state where a third of the parents are unmarried, claims: “…the board shall emphasize nonmarital parenthood as a contributing factor to child abuse and neglect.” That means right now, at this very moment, I’m exposing my daughter to hurt and harm because it’s just me, myself and I operating the parenting portion of the Harris household. Forget that I single-handedly put enough food in the fridge to feed a ravenous 13-year-old. That child has never, ever gone without a meal. Forget that she has all of her basic necessities met, plus an arsenal of above-and-beyond luxuries like chances to travel that I didn’t get until I was good and grown, a pricey private school education, and clothes and coats even she forgets she has. Material things don’t negate the existence of abuse. They mask it sometimes; they never negate it. But I’ve worked my hindparts off to keep that child healthy, make her happy, provide a stable home and forge a reasonably enjoyable lifestyle. Now I’m an abuser.
Grothman—who, by the way, has never been married himself and doesn’t have any children of his own—is basing his movement on a misty-eyed nostalgia about “old-fashioned families” and told a state Senate committee that he hopes the bill will “publicize something that’s politically incorrect but has to be said in our society.” To an extent, I can agree with that point. Given my druthers, I wouldn’t be raising my daughter by myself. It wasn’t the plan when I had her and even though I’ve been doing it solo for more than a decade, I’d love to be married and have a good man (key word: good) to be a husband to me and a father figure to her. But in the meantime, if this is in fact the meantime, I don’t feel like either one of us are suffering too much for the lack of testosterone in our home. My child is getting what she needs. And I’m surely not going to pluck up anything with outdoor plumbing between its legs just to have a male presence in the house.
Single parent homes aren’t anything as dysfunctional as old school traditionalists and law-creating conservatives make them out to be. In fact, I know just as many two-parent families that struggle along with their own sets of issues. There are extramarital affairs. Constant bickering. Kids caught in the middle. On the Harris homestead, there’s none of that drama. Folks build up mom and dad outfits like they’re the only answer to prosperity, and no bill or law or legislation is going to change the fact that that is no longer the reality of our relationships today. I have plenty people in my family who’ve been together for almost half a century in loveless, miserable marriages just for the sake of saying they’ve celebrated X amount of anniversaries. And they’ve really rocked their children’s perceptions of relationships—not to mention their self-esteem—because they’ve been on the frontlines of their parents’ battlefield. Shouldn’t that be illegal too? Doesn’t that qualify as child abuse and neglect, as well?
I suspect if single parent households were predominantly male owned and operated, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion. But if you’re a woman and you’re not married, the underlying suggestion is that you have no business putting yourself in any number of positions that could result in you becoming pregnant. Sexist double standards rear their ugly head once again. At the base of it all, Grothman and the supporters who cheerlead this flimsy effort to revive failing American ethics and values, are undermining what real, actual factual child abuse and neglect is. If you can saddle that accusation on just any ol’ body for any ol’ reason—and that’s just what this is, it ceases to be an issue worthy of investigation and validation. I haven’t built our lives based on the hope that The Amazing Dream Fulfiller will sweep me and my child off our feet. I by myself am enough. She by herself is enough. And together, we make a heck of a dynamic duo, single parent household and all.