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July 21, 2011 / Karen Hill Anton

Motherhood responsibility, not a trend

Eldest daughter Nanao with son Isaiah, and ‘Grandpa’

December 11, 1997

I wouldn’t know about the person Namie Murayama nee Amuro if it weren’t for my youngest daughter Lila.

Whether the pop idol Namie has long hair, blonde hair, high boots or short skirts, was not only the subject of Lila’s dinner-time conversation, but seemed to determine her worldview. Of course, Lila is just 14, she can still afford to to see the world through the glassy eyes of glossy magazines.

I heard from Lila that because Namie was admired for having a “small face”, small faces are in. If you weren’t born with a face deemed small, there were exercises in the teen magazines you could do to shrink your face size to ideal measurements. (Lila ran through the exercise routine for my benefit. Bizarre.)

When Namie cut her hair, I thought it would be a matter of hours before Lila decided to cut her long braids that she has vowed since kindergarten to “never” cut.

When Namie announced she was having a baby, I thought “Uh oh …”

I wasn’t concerned about Lila wanting a baby since her reaction to the whole affair was “yuck — how could Namie marry such an old man” — a guy who’s thirty-something.

But I bet many of the same young girls who were willing to risk their health to have fake suntans and pencil-thin bodies, will now decide that it’s fine to have a baby. Sure it’s fine. I just hope these girls are paying attention.

Namie is wealthy. The man she married is wealthy. She announced her pregnancy and marriage in the same breath. I suspect Mr. and Mrs. Maruyama will not have any financial concerns for many long years. I imagine they have a comfortable place to live. I suppose that between them they can afford childcare. One could surmise that once she has had her child, Namie will be able to resume her lucrative career without missing a beat. No doubt she and her husband will meet admirably all the real-world responsibilities entailed in having a child. Those planning to have a child will want to note these responsibilities last a lifetime — that is, even when it’s no longer fashionable to be pregnant and have a baby.

In America today, it’s common for women to have their first child before marrying. Many of these women are mature, adult professionals, who have made a conscious choice to have and raise a child alone.

For many teenagers, however, a choice is not what they think they’ve made once they find themselves with an infant. While some people argue whether the title “woman” should automatically be conferred on girls who have babies, these young women have more pressing concerns. Having their first child when their friends are having first dates helps put their priorities in perspective.

Remember the ludicrous controversy a few years ago about whether or not it was good or wise for a U.S. TV character to become a single mother? I think it had to be the most ridiculous moment in modern women’s history. People were up in arms supporting a fictional character. The actual woman (playing the single mother character) was in fact a wealthy, married mother of a child whose equally wealthy father she lived with!

Real single mothers — whether never married, separated, divorced or widowed — get precious little support, and face daily difficulties. They’re generally racked with financial worries and concern about substandard or no childcare.

Single parenting is most often (though certainly not always) a necessity, not a choice. Sociological, demographic and economic factors play a big part. In America, for example, the desperate condition of many unemployed and underemployed men contributes to the problem. No mature woman is going to think a man with a part-time job in a fast-food joint will be a good provider or suitable for marriage.

Of course there will always be women who raise children alone, and in some societies they are treated with consideration, not censure.

In Denmark, when I lived there in the 60s, a single mother could receive aid without any stigma attached. Childcare services, employment guidance and training, government subsidized housing and health care were the basic assistance provided. Single mothers did not live with their children at standards below what the rest of society found acceptable.

My best friend Kate was a single mother. She had a job, and a lovely apartment in a nice Copenhagen neighborhood. She could afford to eat and dress well. Her daughter, with cream-colored skin, rosy cheeks, white-blonde hair and blue eyes, was a classic Scandinavian beauty — and the very picture of health.

Although her life was not a series of hardships, Kate found nothing particularly desirable about being a single mother — it was not her choice. Happily, she later married and had another daughter.

Of course it’s possible for one person to raise a child. My elder brother, younger sister and I were raised by our father — out of necessity. He would have preferred a partner to share the world’s hardest job. It can be no mystery it takes two people to make a child since one would want at least that number to raise one.

As a mature inhabitant of the real world, it’s my hope young women will not thoughtlessly try to imitate their idols.

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© Karen Hill Anton and “Crossing Cultures” 1990-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Karen Hill Anton and “Crossing Cultures” with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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