Tuesday, September 9

The Lessons We’re Not Teaching

Not long ago, I ran across a New York Times article that deeply frustrated me. It was intended to be a human interest piece about the scheduling software many companies (particularly fast food and other service industry employers) are using to manage their labor forces, and the havoc the resulting schedules can cause in individual lives. The story was framed around the life of a young single mother with no support network who’d been forced to put her educational dreams on hold and battle every day just to function around her unpredictable and uneven schedule. The writer focused on the myriad of ways her situation was damaging to the girl’s life, her son’s life, and the lives of the aunt and uncle who were her only support.

Two things aggravated me about this article. The first, which I won’t deal with here, was that it focused on an incredibly narrow slice of reality without giving the slightest nod to the other factors and realities at play. There was no mention of why companies are motivated use such software (the precarious balancing of operating costs, taxes, and limits on what customers will pay creating razor thin margins ), or acknowledgement that most jobs such as the one being profiled (a Starbucks barista) were almost never intended by employers to be the sole supporting income of a family. It is misleading and unproductive to suggest that something like scheduling software is the root cause of so much anguish, when there’s so much more involved.

The thing the truly frustrated me, though, was the fact that there was a very stark lesson played out in the story that no one will touch: having kids before you’re relationally, physically, and financially ready is disastrous and damaging for everyone involved.

This young woman, if she had not had her son by an absent father while she was still a teenager, could have been living safely and affordably, going to school, and building a strong support network. She could have been creating the kind of stable life she didn’t have, and welcomed her son into a happily family and safe home ten years later.

We do our sisters and our daughters (and their future children!) a grave disservice when we pretend that there aren’t very real physical, emotional, financial, and relational long term costs to having children out of wedlock and before you are able to care for them.  

I have spent the last year watching a very smart young woman I know sink every spare dime into lawyers, trying to protect the daughter she had by an idiot she left years ago. They were never married, and he had no interest in the child until he found out the mother was getting remarried. Now, in what should be a wonderful time in her life, she is spending every day and every penny she has embroiled in emotional drama, court time, worry about her daughter’s safety, and the resulting devastation to her formerly happy relationship with her fiancé and her job.

These stories are not the exception – they are the rule. Playing up happy stories of when someone does beat the odds and championing women’s “right” to have children out of wedlock without judgment make cruel mockeries  of the lives shattered and battered by the harsh realities of most single parents and the children they weren’t – and often still aren’t – prepared to care for.

The world is not perfect; we cannot control everything. But we can and should teach girls not to sabotage their lives, or the lives of the future children, by believing pretty PC lies or brushing the bleak consequences of bad choices off as the fault of random, incidental influences like scheduling programs. The plain, unvarnished truth is harsh, but girls deserve to know the truth while there’s still time to make good choices and change their world.

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