The changing family structure in contemporary society reflects not only the evolution of post

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religious definitions about marriage, but also the increasing independence from the institution of
marriage for raising a family. Despite the statistical evidence of the decline of marriage, many
Americans have conflicting opinions about the best family structure to produce well-adjusted children.
One of the stereotypes that represents the reliance on past social practices is the overwhelming
disapproval of single women as heads of households. According to the Pew Center for Research data
from 2010, 69% of those polled regarded single females that raise children without a male partner as a
“bad thing for society.” (“The decline of,” 2010) Other negative labels affixed to single mothers include
the myth of the welfare queen, an unbreakable cycle of poverty and that the inherent disadvantages for
children. For assistance in dispelling these myths and to gain insight into the increasing trend for
children raised in non-traditional households, I shall examine the life story of one such single mother
named Cecilia. The following information was taken from an interview I conducted with Cecilia in 2014.
Cecilia is a 30 year old single Caucasian mother of a five year old son. She grew up in a small
rural community in Illinois near the Mississippi. At the time she became pregnant, Brenda was
employed and had an ongoing relationship with a man she had met at a 4
th
of July party. But soon she
was to discover information about this man that was somewhat alarming, he was a frequent user of
crystal meth. Cecilia described their early relationship in the following way. “I think I rebelled against
my rebellion in my 20’s. Hank and I started seeing each other, mostly due to our combined interests of
alcohol and marijuana.” A few short weeks after Cecilia met Hank, she caught him smoking crystal meth
in his car. She described her reaction as a “mild-freak out”, but was then reassured by Hank that he
would never repeat this behavior. Soon after this incident, Cecilia discovered she was pregnant with
Hank’s child and they moved in together. Six months after her son was born, Cecilia ended her
relationship with Hank out of concern for their child. She stated, “I didn’t trust Hank to be alone with
our son, he’s so reckless and impulsive.” Since their breakup, Hank’s behavior has validated Cecilia’s
concerns. He has been cited for possession of marijuana, assault, driving under the influence (DUI) of
alcohol, and disorderly conduct. Currently he is serving a 3 year jail sentence for driving on a revoked
driver’s license after his 3
rd
DUI conviction. Hank has never paid child support and neglected to sign the
birth certificate for his son. After their breakup, Cecilia quit her well-paying job and moved herself and
her son 200 miles away from Hank avoid contact with him. Cecilia was motivated by her desire to avoid
what she considered Hanks’ poor influence on their son.
Cecilia described life as a single mom as very difficult, and spoke at length of the demands of
raising her son on her own. “sometimes it’s terrifying for me when I consider that anything that goes
wrong with my son is my fault. It’s hard to make decisions about his welfare without experiencing a ton
of stress ‘cause I want the best for him.” She alternated between communicating the joys of parenting
with the anxiety and loneliness of going it alone. Cecilia gets food stamps, daycare assistance, and state
insurance due to her low income. Despite all of her disadvantages and the obligations of single
parenthood, Cecilia decided shortly after her move to go back to school and will finish her with her
Bachelor of Arts degree in two months. When asked about her motivation, Cecilia responded with, “My
son made me grow up. Likely, without him I would either be dead or an alcoholic failure. I was
determined to give him a better life, so I straightened up and started working on our future.”
Although Cecilia represents only one example, it is clear that her story testifies to a reality
different from the stereotypical welfare queen. Instead of using her child as a scheme to receive
benefits, the experience of having a child motivated Cecilia to eliminate negative influences and
complete her college degree to better support her son. Some political commentators rail against the
social safety net programs like food stamps and childcare assistance as a crutch for the lazy and self-
serving individuals who crave a “free-ride” from society. Yet Cecilia’s story clearly indicates how such
programs can be used to break the cycle of poverty, not perpetuate it. Finally, Cecilia’s situation
illustrates a key intuition about single parent families. Instead of raising children that are inherently
disadvantaged, perhaps single mothers have prevented damage to their children due to an inherently
unqualified partner they regret choosing due to a poor decision.