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Self and the Single Parent: On Jessica Olien, Part II

child well-being, culture, family, Jessica Olien, marriage, religion, single parents No comments
By Julia Polese, Intern
 
The notion of singleness has been a hot topic lately. Articles discussing single motherhood, living alone, and remaining unmarried by choice reflect trending individualism in American culture. Jessica Olien’s article “I Want to Be My Kid’s Only Parent” sums up the surging solipsism well: “I can’t help but think that having a partner there with an equal stake in the matter would complicate the process.” Her dispassionate ode to single parenthood echoes Kate Bolick’s sentiments in “All the Single Ladies” from The Atlanticearlier this year, in which she discussed “the elevation of independence over coupling.” The individualism Alexis de Tocqueville prophesied as one of the most undesirable discontents of democracy in America is becoming manifest in not only in our local communities, but also in our families.
 
Andrew Delbanco, professor of American Studies at Columbia University, gave a series of lectures in 1998 entitled The Real American Dream: A Meditation on Hope. In these lectures, he discussed the American people’s diminution of hope: from worship of their God, to loyalty to a notion of the sacred nation-state, and, in the last fifty years, “to the vanishing point of self alone.” Despite this shrinking world, Delbanco claims contemporary culture is still haunted by an “unslacked craving for transcendence.” Even in the glorification of singleness and the “self alone,” the authors of these articles still betray a longing for devotion to something outside themselves. Olien ends her article by exalting her hypothetical progeny, saying she “could have men on the periphery, but [she] would place [her] child securely in the center.” Bolick extols the virtue of the community at Begijnhof, an apartment complex only for single women in the Netherlands. Both are enamored with their self-sufficiency, but betray a desire to devote themselves to something other.
 
MARRI’s 162 Reasons to Marry outlines some of the ways marriage can aid in answering this longing. Married women experience less psychological stress and enjoy more social support than their single or cohabiting peers, and their children report higher quality of life. These aspects of the intact married family present a way to ease the democratic citizen’s restlessness, connecting her to something transcendent and larger than herself when rightly ordered in relation to God and country. With this in mind, the home again becomes a “haven in a heartless world” and not a prison that only works to constrain one’s self-defined existence.

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