Expert: Unmarried Celebrity Parents — Art imitating Life?
Dr. Wendy Walsh: With the recent rash of celebrities like Natalie Portman, Marion Cotillard, Kate Hudson, Selma Blair, Owen Wilson’ girlfriend Jade Duell, and Jane Krakowski coming up preggers while still “out of wedlock,” it prompts the question, “Is this just a side effect of LaLa-Land or part of a real trend sweeping the nation?”
The answer is this: Currently about 40% of American babies are born to unmarried parents. Those parents may be single, gay, or cohabiting, but chances are they are older and financially solid. As rates of teenage pregnancy have been creeping down, rates of 30 and 40-something career women choosing to have a baby on their own have gone up. And gay and live-in heterosexual lovers are also opting to rock a cradle with a hand that wears no wedding ring.
So, what’s going on here? Are traditional families becoming extinct? Maybe so, but is that always a bad thing? Not necessarily.
If you are still captivated by the belief that a “traditional” nuclear family, that is, one with one father who is male and married to a mother who is female with children who are biologically related to those two, is the very best thing for humans to be raised in, you are not alone. I was convinced of that myself. And I still believe if a single parent does not have an elaborate support system of family and friends and a good economic base, children would be much better off living with two parents who hold a biological interest in their welfare.
But there’s something even better for kids and it has little to do with a family model that looks like an episode of “Leave It To Beaver.” It looks more like a co-operative village. The idea that a lone woman should be left alone in a tract house in the suburb for 50 hours a week with a screaming bunch of small, hungry children is insanity. No wonder the news is chock full of stories of mothers abusing or murdering their children, or why postpartum depression is the darling diagnosis of our generation.
To understand what is “natural” for our species, there are a few physiological and anthropological facts about homo sapiens (that’s us!) that you need to know. Think about these six facts and I’ll link them later:
1. Human Babies Take a LONG time to Mature. A sacrifice for walking upright is that homo sapiens give birth to extremely immature offspring. Most animals are up of all fours and running with the herd just hours after birth. Humans take 3-5 years on in arms and close protection to keep them safe. A huge burden to mothers.
2. Mothers Can’t Always Count on Fathers. Human’s have the widest range of paternal investment of any primate. A father’s investment in his own offspring ranges from a single deposit of sperm to a doting “Mrs. Doubtfire,” the Robin Williams film character who gets a job as his children’s nanny just to care for them.
3. Hunter/Gatherer Mothers Worked Outside the Home. Of course her workplace, the savannah, was a baby-friendly environment because she wore her baby to work. When that little bundle became ambulatory she would leave the toddler in the encampment with sisters, older siblings, cousins, uncles, and grannies. And she worked only about 20 hours a week.
4. The Grandmother Gene. We are the only species except Orca whales who has menopause, 40-50% of a woman’s lifespan where she is active, healthy, wise, and nurturing.
5. We Hand Our Babies to Others. We are the only primate that will hand our baby to a stranger minutes after birth. Try wrestling a baby chimp from his mother and you’ll lose an arm. She holds and baby clings for at least nine months with no one being allowed to touch. Humans are quick to share their burden.
6. One in five women do not bear children themselves. There are currently 20% of women in their 40’s in America who are not biological mothers.
So what’s best for babies is a village of caring adults. If Dad couldn’t always be counted on, Mom needed to earn a living, and neighbors, relatives and grandmothers were available, how do you think families looked? No way they consisted of two adults in a hut with their children. When I hear about the modern villages within urban settings that are cropping up with single parents, gay parents, concerned uncles and grandmothers nearby, I exhale. The apocalypse is not near. Babies are being loved. Far more important to a child’s development is consistency of attachments, emotional connection of caregivers and number of interested adults.
The biggest risk to babies of celebrities isn’t the lack of marriage contracts. It’s the exposure to wacky wealth, poor boundaries, and exposure to adult themes at a tender age.