Mother’s Day is upon us and some media outlets will no doubt continue their pattern of going out of their way to find offbeat maternity stories. Much of the cynical press finds faithful, monogamous and married parenting patently boring – and prefers to focus instead on the socially irresponsible, the technologically avant-garde , or the politically cheeky.
This is tragic, given the amount of very intriguing and important news about mothers and families, especially the trend that finds the United States now approaching current European levels of out-of-wedlock childbearing. In news that was grossly under-reported last month, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control released preliminary numbers for 2008 that showed a record number of U.S. babies – 1.72 million, or 40.6 percent – were born out of wedlock. The most significant increases came for unmarried women in their 20s and early 30s and not for teenagers, for whom the out-of-wedlock rate is stable or declining.
What does the future hold this Mother’s Day? Every nation is different, but if the United States is really on Europe’s marital curve, our rate could certainly go higher. France, for example, passed the 50% out-of-wedlock birth rate in 2008, just a decade after crossing the 40 percent threshold. Britain’s out-of-wedlock birth percentage has climbed roughly one point per year recently, and even Spain and Italy, Catholic countries that had lagged the European trend toward nonmarital births, find their rates climbing dramatically.
Many commentators agree that one of the factors driving the U.S. increase is the declining stigma attached to becoming a single parent. Mother’s Day is the last of all days of the year to suggest withholding any part of the honor due mothers, married or single, for all they sacrifice. The better course might be for the Married Mother Majority (while it still exists) to assert itself and remind the nation that the enterprise of parenting succeeds best and rewards most in a lifelong, wedded partnership.
We might also remember that the woman deemed the founder of Mother’s Day, Anna Marie Jarvis of Grafton, West Virginia, conceived her campaign during a class prayer at her parish church, when she heard her own mother pray “that someone, sometime will found a memorial mothers day commemorating” mothers “for the matchless service” they render “to humanity in every field of life.” Jarvis saw her celebration of mothers as ultimately a spiritual quest — a story that might even be “offbeat” enough to attract some fresh media attention.