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More Women Choosing To Be Single Mothers

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DALLAS (CBS 11 NEWS) - Melissa Bentley always wanted to be a Mom.  But, when Mr. Right never materialized—the North Texas banking manager decided to go it alone.

“There are no baby books for Mom and donor,” says Bentley with a laugh.  “So I made her her own baby book, and have a section set aside for the donor.”

It’s not exactly the Walton’s… but, Bentley’s decision to parent alone reflects what is rapidly becoming the norm.

Although the overall birth rate is declining in the US, a greater percentage of those births are to unmarried women.  According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the percentage of births to unmarried women in the US has been increasing steadily since the 1940s and has increased even more markedly in recent years.  According to NCHS, the birth rate for unmarried women in 2007 was 80% higher than it was in 1980, and increased 20 percent between 2002 and 2007.

Experts say over the decades, no-fault divorce has made single parents more common, and that has helped reduce the stigma.

“One of the things we know is as things become more common, we tend to accept it more.  It’s much harder to demonize something or someone who you know,” says Beth Anne Shelton, PhD, a Sociology Professor at the University of Texas at Austin.  “Everyone knows someone who’s a single mother, for one reason or another.”

For Bentley, the decision to parent alone came after years spent researching and soul searching.  She says she never considered ‘not’ becoming a parent—the hard part was figuring out ‘how.’  She’s keeping a journal for her daughter, Claudia, to help her one day understand her thoughts and everything she considered before deciding to use a donor.  But, she says she is completely comfortable with her decision.

“A mother who makes this decision and thinks it’s a secret or it’s somehow not okay, or not the right choice and needs to be hidden, I think, isn’t prepared to really make the decision.  So, for me, it’s important that I’m 100% open with her and so as Claudia grows older, she’ll know how I got her and hopefully she’ll know that it was because I loved her so much that it happened this way.”

But, Bentley is not the typical single mom.  Although more unmarried women over 30 are becoming mothers, the demographic of the American single mother has not much changed over the years:  she is overwhelmingly young, poor, uneducated and often a minority.

A wealth of research suggests that children who grow up in single parent households are more likely to live in poverty and face poor outcomes.

“When those things occur together, it’s very easy for us to say ‘oh, it’s single motherhood’.  Poverty is a serious problem for families—whether you have one parent or you have two.”  Dr. Shelton says the negative outcomes associated with single parenting aren’t necessarily mitigated by marriage.

“If by marriage, you improve your standard of living significantly, that’s a good thing.  But, if not, it’s not a panacea.”

According to Shelton, many woman have come to view marriage as a “luxury item”, something that they want (if it improves their standard of living); but, not something that they must have absent that enticement.

In many regards, Bentley is your typical adoring mom— one who loves her one-year-old daughter deeply.  “It’s completely blown me away.  I thought it would be hard.  And it’s nothing like I expected, it turned out so much better.”  But, Bentley can also admit that the single parent journey can at times be hard, and lonely.

“Every day I look at her, and I think of how amazing she is and I wish someone else was there to see it.”  But, she has the support of family and friends—and absolutely has no regrets.

“When I look at her every day, it’s easy to know that I made the right decision.”

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