I realize it’s now 2013 and standards are much different than they once were, but is it too much to expect a first baby of the new year to be the product of an actual marriage?
Such births are always surrounded by a degree of fanfare, not only locally but elsewhere in the country. While huge numbers of babies are brought in by the stork throughout the year, representing special occasions in their own right, the spotlight seems to be on those born on Jan. 1 or shortly after.
Maybe it’s just the luck of the draw, or it could be reflective of all births in general. But I have noted a trend in which these first babies are born to either a single mom or to a couple with different last names, sometimes accompanied by the child taking on that of his or her mother.
In fact, I know of only one case since 2008 in Mount Airy in which the first baby of the year at Northern Hospital of Surry County actually came from a traditional family with a father and mother who were married.
And this is just not the case locally. I read a number of newspapers each day, and noticed the same thing in other communities celebrating the first baby of the year. Of those that featured the usual photo of the new arrival resting in his mother’s arms, none involved a married couple.
My how times have changed!
It wasn’t that long ago when a now-former editor of The Mount Airy News had an unwavering policy of refusing to print a birth announcement if the baby’s parents were not married. Whether that was bad or good or simply old-fashioned, she had a genuine concern for the welfare of the child.
I hail from a small town (Stuart, Va.), where there always was a certain stigma attached to persons born under those circumstances while I was in school. Often a bad word was used to describe such children that would follow them throughout life, which I always considered grossly unfair because they weren’t responsible for the manner in which they came into the world.
Now, births by unwed couples or single mothers with no mention of the dad are commonplace and no one seems to pay any attention to, or even care. Though some observers might attribute this to people being more tolerant than in the past, I don’t subscribe to that point of view at all.
The argument could be made that rather than reflecting some great sense of enlightenment among the human race (which would be unusual since it usually “devolves” more than “evolves”), today’s acceptance of such births is due to something a lot less lofty.
It seems to be more a product of an “anything goes” mentality nowadays, which includes the erosion of traditional institutions — including marriage.
I personally don’t care whether a couple who lives together is married or not, and do not want to appear judgmental regarding any of the reasons why such people don’t choose to tie the knot. I certainly also do not want today’s column to appear as any kind of condemnation toward the parents of the 2013 new year baby crop.
However, this trend is disturbing in a general sense, given the need for children to have a stable environment. I don’t think there is any substitute for the family unit in making sure that a young person has a solid start in life.
While some might say this can be accomplished by an unmarried couple just as much as a married one, wedlock provides a degree of cohesion that doesn’t exist otherwise. It might be easy for a dad, for example, to skip out on the mother and baby if no marriage is involved, but if they are wed that is harder to accomplish — at least from a legal standpoint.
Being unmarried also can have implications for society if the mother and children must rely on welfare assistance because there is no breadwinner in the household. Mothers giving birth outside marriage tend to be younger and less likely to have even a high school diploma, which means they might face a life of poverty or be low earners during their working years.
Meanwhile, studies show that children born or raised outside of marriage are more likely to suffer from a range of social and emotional problems.
And there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight.
Figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that 40.8 percent of all births in 2010 were to unmarried women. For minority groups, the numbers are much higher.
The major issues that can result from this disturbing pattern beg for a change in society’s way of thinking — which if not becoming more pro-marriage in general should at least favor that institution if kids are involved.
Tom Joyce is a staff reporter for The Mount Airy News. He can be reached at 719-1924 or email@example.com.