A couple of weeks ago, The New York Times opinion section published a piece by Sara Shoener titled, “Two-Parent Households Can Be Lethal: Domestic Violence and Two-Parent Households.” Shoener discusses how she has been studying Domestic Violence since 2011, when the Center For Disease Control and Prevention reported that more than one-third of American women are assaulted by an intimate partner during their lives. After years of studying the services for domestic violence survivors, she came to the shocking realization that one of the most common barriers to a women’s safety was the high value our culture places on two-parent families. Of course, after making a bold statement such as this, she received many haters. In my opinion, however, those who hated on her realization didn’t really understand what she was trying to say. It would be easy to jump to the conclusion that Shoener was somehow making a statement against two-parent households, but this is not how I read her statement at all. I think the crux of her argument hits on how dangerous societal pressures can be when it comes to relationships. For example, many women internalize the idea that marriage should be equated with success. Women are often told by our culture that the right thing to do is to marry the father of your children, and support a relationship between them. On the flip side, our society also puts tremendous pressure on men to marry the mother of their child, regardless of the health of that relationship at the time when the child is born. I think supporting two-parent households is a good thing; however, it is dangerously naive to think that a two-parent household that features an unhealthy marriage is better than two parents co-parenting separately. Raising children in a two-parent households is not the only way possible to raise healthy children.
The Night I Should Have “Stayed Gone”: When I read Shoener’s article, I thought back to December 2010. I was a little over two months pregnant with Prince, and things started to get really strange in my relationship with Luc. One night in December, Luc started asking me for money. He expected me to pay for his bills, and seemed to have every reason under the sun as to why he couldn’t make ends meet. When I pushed back, questioning why he was unable to help pay the bills, he exploded into a psychopathic rage. It was one of the scariest things I had ever seen, and I distinctly remember thinking, ‘omg….he looks crazy’. The night Luc raged on me, I left. I drove for hours, and fully intended on never returning to the house. I was scared, but I didn’t know what I was more afraid of – Luc or the idea of being a single mother. As I drove that night, trying to clear my head and make a decision, I talked to many friends and family. Regardless of how many of them were already having doubts about Luc, the overwhelming response was that because he was the father of my unborn child, I had to try and make amends. As I sit here writing, I cannot express to you all how much I wish I had kept running that night.
The Dichotomy: I don’t blame society for what happened to me, or even for the fact that I stayed in a relationship with a psychopath for way longer than I should have. I do, however, recognize how my beliefs at the time were molded by what society has taught me. The sad dichotomy in our society is that we encourage people (both men and women) to stay in a relationship with the mother/father of their children often despite whether that relationship is toxically unhealthy. Almost at the same time, we admonish those who stay in abusive relationships and overwhelmingly “blame the victim.” I have often talked about how it is my belief that children have access to healthy people who love them. While I see healthy fathers, and mothers every single day who could be posters for positive parenting, I also see negative role models on both sides of the fence. There are fathers and mothers who stay in unhealthy relationships for fear of losing their children in a divorce, or because of the pressure they feel from society to stay married.
A New Perspective: If someone told me five years ago that I would one day choose to be a single mother, I would have laughed (nervous laughter) before starting to cry. The idea of being a single parent terrified me, because I had bought into society’s negative view on single parenthood. While I knew it was silly to believe that people raised by single parents are automatically destined to become criminals and prostitutes (yes, some people actually believe this to be true), the idea of actually being a single mother still worried me. Having had the experience of staying in an extremely dangerous relationship, simply because of the belief that a two-parent household was better than one, I recognize the need for our societal beliefs to change. We need to get to the point where we can encourage people to seek out positive and healthy relationships, and as a society we need to recognize that not every two-parent household is good for children. There is no doubt in my mind that there will be at least one man, and at least one woman, reading this post who is suffering through an unhealthy relationship. There are loads of reasons people stay in relationships, but I am going to guess that the man and woman I am talking about…they are in the relationship because they love their children. What they fail to realize is that their unhealthy relationship with the other parent is also likely an unhealthy situation for their children.