Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Marry Before Kids: An Answer to Tracy McMillan

Tracy McMillan has written very popular piece at The Huffington Post that is funny, insightful, and deliberately over the top, explaining to aging single women, like herself, "Why You Are Not Married." McMillan's politically incorrect advice has drawn some criticism, including Lisa Wade's piece at Sociological Images that I addressed yesterday.

I did want to take issue with one point that McMillan, a thrice-divorced single mother, makes:

if what you really want is a baby, go get you one. Your husband will be along shortly. Motherhood has a way of weeding out the lotharios.

 McMillan's advice is not completely wrong, but it is very risky.

On the one hand, it is true many women who have children out of wedlock do eventually marry someone, including most teen welfare moms (see Edin and Kefalas' Promises I Can Keep).

On the other hand, it is much harder to court with children.  It is less likely that step-fathers will be as good for kids as would natural fathers married to natural mothers. Most of all, McMillan's strategy discounts the bad effects on the children of their single-parent years. Things may work out OK eventually, but there are usually costs from the tough years.  And if things do not work out eventually, all the years are likely to be tough.

I think Tracy McMillan does offer a helpful reality check to single women who do want to marry, though she offers it in an almost brutal way.   But I think she errs in her advice about the relationship between marriage and children.


Alex said...

Beau --

I understand your use of the term 'natural' to mean biological in this post. But us adoptive parents are 'natural' too. Even Biblical.

Please use the term biological, if you must.

Gruntled said...

I did not intend to exclude adoptive parents. I read many biologists, who have a more specific meaning of "natural."

Alex said...

I understand. But I'm asking -- is there a compelling, scholarly reason that 'biological' should not be used in place of 'natural'?

Gruntled said...

The debate is, I think, not so much scholarly as political. As far as science is concerned, nature is biology and biology is nature. Both are quite complex, but however complexly we understand natural phenomenon, they are understood to be rooted in biology.

Because of the social prestige of scientific explanations, many social practices which are not, strictly speaking, biological, nonetheless wish to be considered "natural." Much discussion of "human nature" follows this pattern.

So, in a society that honors science, "natural" is taken to mean "good" or at least "sufficiently justified." In the same way, in a society that honors democracy, "normal" is taken to mean good. Yet non-biological kin-like relations are not "natural" in a scientific sense, however much good they foster. And minority practices are not "normal" in a statistical sense, however much good they foster.

Anonymous said...

I really didn't like McMillan's column. And I thought it was silly for a woman who's been divorced three time to give advice on how to get married. Perhaps she is too good at getting married and not good enough at waiting and finding the right person.