How are the Children Doing? Don’t Ask
Save for a giant but unsurprising omission (see below), the Star Tribune this past Sunday (June 10), ran an informative front page feature by reporter Kim Ode about how increasing numbers of middle class Americans, very much including Minnesotans, have been shunning marriage until they’re ready, or at least readier, financially and in other ways.
As has been regularly the case with such newspaper and other articles over the last 18 months, the Star Tribune piece cited a 2010 report by my colleagues and friends Brad Wilcox and Elizabeth Marquardt of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia in regards to how single parenthood in particular, and family fragmentation in general, have become increasingly middle class trends. No longer are they overwhelmingly lower-income phenomena. At several points the article also smartly quoted the University of Minnesota’s Bill Doherty, one of the nation’s true leaders when it comes to understanding what’s going on with American families, both bad and sometimes unexpectedly good.
So if there was excellent news to be had in the article, it was in Ode’s wise employ of both superior researchers and research. Far from excellent, however, was how the piece focused almost entirely on how grownups have been faring in the midst of all these big changes, with barely a word written about how their children might be doing. As omissions go, and as teased above, this one has come to be routine, whopper-sized though it may be.
Yes, obviously, a writer can touch only so many bases in limited inches. Focus is admirable. The Strib, moreover, is not in the business of keeping me happy. And I trust I personally wouldn’t have been overjoyed, long ago when I was a reporter, if some think tank spoilsport critiqued a Page One story I might have written.
But I have an un-blind spot where all this is concerned.
Questions about how kids are doing would seem to be reasonably important when it comes to stories about how rising proportions of men and women are purposefully making babies together outside the shelter and relative constancy of marriage – or for that matter, often outside of any ongoing proximity to each other whatsoever. But no, children are commonly tangential in such accounts, if mentioned or considered at all.
For a popular example, it has been years since I looked even semi-regularly at People magazine. But one thing I recall were frequent stories, often cover stories, featuring single moms: some of whom were famous and some of whom were not; some of whom were young and some of whom were even younger. What I don’t remember, however, in any of those articles was nearly as much attention devoted to how the children were faring as opposed to how their mothers were doing. Actually, I hardly recall any attention paid to the many babies and young children, no matter how fleeting. Variations on this theme are countless in the media and elsewhere.
As for how fathers fit in all those features, don’t even ask, as I don’t recall any People correspondent ever inquiring.