by Hannah Sapp, Heartbeat International
Motherhood and Marriage: The Disconnect
Women seem to be willing to choose to mother, but not to get married. What would cause a woman to be more comfortable being a single mother than finding the support of a husband first and then becoming a mother? How can her desire to mother overcome her desire for a stable father for her children?
At the 2014 Heartbeat International conference Lindy Dimeo, a center director in Virginia, presented a workshop called "Why Women Choose Babies over Marriage." Dimeo used information found in Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood before Marriage written by Maria Kefalas and Kathryn Edin to inform the way low-income women think about the issues of motherhood and marriage. Based on a survey of women with low socioeconomic status taken in Philadelphia, Edin and Kefalas propose that poor women will usually put mothering before marriage.
While the reasons that impoverished women choose to mother and not to marry may vary in different regions of the country and world, there are shared characteristics that can be helpful to understanding the motivations and thoughts of clients who desire to mother alone.
Understanding her Point of View
Crucial for understanding this trend of motherhood disconnected from marriage is acknowledging an inherited cultural notion that marriage is unsuccessful. More and more women are choosing single parenting because they see so few strong, lasting marriages today. They see the low or non-existent success of marriage, and they are not finding partners (or even potential partners) who would make good candidates for long term relationships or fatherhood.
For some women, fatherhood is a test of trust to decide if he has the potential to be a good husband. Some think "if he is a good father, then I can marry him." Dimeo discusses her experiences with a client in this very situation who expressed that if she chose to mother, she would experience unconditional love, because a man may not always be by her side, but her child would never leave her.
Wow. Can you imagine how much pressure that child will feel, to have their own mother rely on them for unconditional love? Yet, this is a common mentality. Women who view motherhood as a source of unconditional love and purpose are also searching for the same fulfillment as women who are bouncing from relationship to relationship looking for their heroic prince to love them.
These women are looking to satisfy the God-given desire for relationship and love.
How Can You Help?
Your conversation with a client is the perfect opportunity to pour into her the truth of her identity in Christ and share that He can fulfill better than anyone that desire for unconditional love. Dimeo mentions a demonstration using a set of three cups to tell a woman of her value as given in Christ.
The first cup is Styrofoam. It is disposed after only one use. This cup represents a woman who has had a one night stand or a friend with benefits.
The second cup is an everyday mug which one might use for a time, but after repeated use, disregard for another newer mug. The mug represents serial monogamous relationships.
The third cup is a valuable china teacup–a family heirloom. This teacup is priceless. Someone would put this teacup on display for all to see and would only use it for the most special of occasions, washing it thoroughly with much care after each use. The beautiful teacup is irreplaceable.
It is difficult for women to see the benefits of marriage when there is such a disconnect between the love God intended for marriage and what is found in the greater culture. Since magazine quizzes engage teens and young women, a couple of helpful tools to get them thinking beyond present circumstances and personal gain in having a child can be utilized from the appendix of the Sexual Integrity Program:
- What About Your Future
- Your Choices Affect Your Child's Future
- Marriage: The Right Choice for the Best Future
Each of the materials may act as a guide for a woman who doesn't see the fruit of marriage to understand those fruits by acknowledging facts derived from research about marital relationships and parenting. Using these tools helps to free the peer counselor from the temptation to use opinions to convince a client of the value of marriage for herself and her baby.
Lindy also mentions one final point important for every counselor to take into every conversation: Your job is not to just talk to her about sex– it is to care for her future. You have the opportunity to find out what the heart issue is that motivates her bad decision making. Usually, those bad decisions are tied to a desire for love, they are just misdirected decisions. Above expressing concern for her future, you have the ability to help care for her heart. You can point her to her identity in Christ and her value as His child: loved and adored.