Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Single motherhood in Orthodox Judaism

I have 2 female friends who are Orthodox and single, one in her early 40’s and one in her late 30’s. The former recently had a baby and the latter is pregnant.

It’s a tough decision to become a single parent, but other than that, I see no reason why that decision should be stigmatized by Orthodox Judaism. These women are opting for artificial insemination. While there may be some halachic issues, they’re not an insurmountable barrier. These women felt their biological clocks ticking and decided to go for it. They're both successful professionals who can afford to do this financially and they have support systems of friends.

Instead of this being something that is talked about in hushed tones, the Orthodox community should relax its obsession with the supposed “singles crisis” and create an environment where such decisions are celebrated rather than looked down upon.

How about an organization to help older single Orthodox women with this decision? If bringing children into the world is such a Jewish ideal, why not assist women to do so rather than closing off all choices other than perhaps marrying the wrong men because they’re so panicked about their biological clocks? This organization can help them financially, create support systems so they don’t have do do this alone, and guide them through any halachic problems and the process of artificial insemination.

I know a number of Modern Orthodox women who have mentioned over the years that if they reached, say, age 37 or 40, they would take this route. But now that they have reached this age, they’re not taking that step. It’s one thing to talk about it when you're years away from making that decision, but another entirely to make a move that they know will be looked down upon by most of their communities and even many of their friends.

Why should irrational community pressure keep potential mothers from enjoying that aspect of existence and bringing Jewish children into the world? I think it’s time for the Orthodox Jewish community (or at least the Modern Orthodox community) to make a sea change in the way this issue is approached.

*Update @ 2/6/08 12:43 PM:
GoingGoingGone pointed out that there are many reasons aside from community pressure that a single woman would shy away from this path. I just wanted to clarify that I wasn’t advocating this for all single Orthodox women near 40, just saying that community pressure and stigmatization shouldn’t prevent those who are ready to become single mothers.

10 comments:

  1. I think it's more than just the communal issues at hand here. Yes, the Orthodox community does extremely little to support and probably even plenty to hinder women from deciding to be single mothers, which is a bit disheartening considering the pressure given to women in general to be mothers and have families. But, there is also the issue of how difficult it is to raise a child alone. Financial support, childcare, medical issues, etc. etc. It is extremely difficult to be a mother all alone and no matter how close your friends are, they cannot stand in for that other parent. Further, it is important for children, especially boys, to have a male role model in place, and a single woman does not really have a way of providing it. I'm not saying that no woman should become a mother on her own, but it is a huge challenge and personally, I would rather end up childless than become a single mother by choice. I don't think you can point all fingers towards the Orthodox community for the lack of women who are choosing this route.

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  2. GGG:

    I don't have any facts & figures to support this offhand, but I'm pretty sure that the problems with kids not having a father around are usually in broken families and all the issues that go along with that. The statistics for single parent families are strongly skewed by the large number of lower income young mothers in that situation. A woman with a good income and a stable life is a different story.

    I don't think that there's some magical need for a father specifically to be present, just for there to be a loving home. One of the things I suggested for the proposed organization was to help create extended communities for these single mothers. Family is important but family need not be 1 father, one mother. There can be extended "families" of friends and relatives that help out.

    Also, I wasn't advocating this for every woman. Note that I specifically said that my 2 friends have the financial means and the support systems available that allow them to raise a child. The changing of the attitudes of the community is to allow those women who want to go this route to have a socially acceptable option of doing so. However, I don't minimize the difficulties for those who are not ready for that step.

    > I don't think you can point all fingers towards the Orthodox community for the lack of women who are choosing this route.

    I wasn't doing so. I was suggesting that those who ARE ready to take that step, both emotionally & financially, are hesitating to do so because of the stigma.

    In short, I agree with most of what you wrote - sorry if I didn't make it clearer in the post. The only place where we differ significantly is for the specific need for a male presence.

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  3. 1. But if you have only one possible source income when many other households have two, the odds are you are going to be a low income single mother- even if you already have a job, the child care costs etc lower your income.

    2. It is arguably not true that the social problems caused by fatherlessness are solely a result of low income. Even holding income equal, children from single-parent families are more likely to become criminals. (Just google "single parents" and "crime" for lots of discussion on this subject).

    Given the problems created by fatherless families, I think the willful creation of same SHOULD be stigmatized- not just among Orthodox Jews, but everywhere (well, everywhere in the United States; I don't particularly care if Hamastan collapses into anarchy).


    The statistics for single parent families are strongly skewed by the large number of lower income young mothers in that situation. A woman with a good income and a stable life is a different story.

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  4. >financial means and the support systems available that allow them to raise a child

    Money, will not necassarily make raising a child alone any better.


    >There can be extended "families" of friends and relatives that help out.

    Friends and relatives can help. But they don't get up in the middle of the night helping out so you can get some good hours of sleeping or else loose all your sanity.

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  7. Woodrow & HH,

    You're both arguing the issue on a secular social level. You're entitled to your viewpoints on that. My only point was that we should remove the religious stigmatization. The rest is conservative vs liberal politics.

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  8. It has nothing to do with secular social level. It has to do with how people are.

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  9. i know a frum single women who did the artificial insemination thing. i also know someone who did the adoption route instead. its a really tough decision. its easy to say when you arent at that age, but when you are its even harder. you keep thinking maybe you will still meet someone and having a baby on one's own could feel like giving up. i do applaud those who have gone the single mother route . im not sure that i will do it though. i really dont have the funds. its also just hard to go through pregnancy and parenthood alone even in the best of situations.

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  10. What about frum single mothers who get pregnant by "traditional" routes rather than via IVF?

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