A shot at single parents

Romney’s denouncing of single parents devalues their efforts.

Bronwyn Miller

During last Tuesday’s debate, in response to a question about gun regulation, Gov. Mitt Romney decided to shift to what he views as the real issue behind violence: single parenting.

To Romney, the solution to violent crime is not legislation, it’s fewer single-parent families. Ironically, Romney said all this while standing next to someone who was raised by a single mom — and is now the president. As I am also the product of a single mom, I reacted to Romney’s words with disbelief, sadness and outrage.

I thought back to a few days before the debate when a coworker told me she was getting a divorce. As she spoke, she avoided eye contact, her voice low, her head down. In her voice, I heard guilt; guilt for “failing” at the marriage, for “failing” her daughter.

Romney’s words perpetuate this torment and the flawed assumption that divorce is the kiss of death for children’s success. He makes it quite clear that there, very much, is a reason to self-blame; after all, you’ve set your child up for a misguided, violent life. To make such a sweeping statement about the inferiority of single parenting problematically brands any and all marriages as better than the alternative.

The message he’s sending about marriage’s supremacy is heard loud and clear by those already torn on whether they should stay in their problematic relationships. It is stigmas like those — in so powerfully perpetuated rhetoric similarly to that of Romney’s statement — that cause women to stay in abusive relationships “for the sake of their children.” These stigmas encourage women to sacrifice their safety and well-being because they fear not only that they will be ostracized in a society that shuns single parents but also that people like Romney are right about the fate of their children.

But they’re not. In looking at recent mass shootings, for example, what appears to be determinative of violence is the mental health of the shooters — not whether they had one or two parents. It is irresponsible for someone in a position of power to highlight other “explanations,” like single parents, above those that are most pertinent. How can someone who purports to represent us not address the real issues behind violence?

Romney stated that in two- parent families, “the prospect of living in poverty goes down dramatically.” He acknowledges that single parents can get trapped in a cycle of poverty, but what is Romney suggesting? He’s certainly not suggesting we provide low-income people with family planning services or assistance. Romney has made it very clear that he will in fact cut the assistance programs already in place, such as his plan to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood. Marriage does not by virtue ensure financial stability. To blame single parents but refuse to work toward rectifying any of the real issues — like economic inequality — illustrates how out of touch he really is.

In truth, I feel lucky to have the childhood that I did. I grew up very aware of the hardships of others, knowing that those living in imperfect circumstances should be supported rather than ridiculed. I can also say with complete confidence that had my mom stayed with her abuser, I would have had a much more unstable, detrimental childhood, even with two parents.

My mom raised three strong, successful daughters on her own. She’s living proof that single parenting does not doom children, as Romney suggested. My two sisters and I are empathetic and open-minded, and we understand that putting marriage on a pedestal within society is irresponsible.