There’s a really good reason young men used to be forced to marry their pregnant girlfriends, and it has nothing to do with preserving their good name.
Picture this: you’re a pretty young thing, fooling around with your manly man. In the weeks that follow you realise you’re pregnant. Uh oh. Mr Perfect is long gone, moved on to wherever gorgeous, unreliable young men move on to.
You tell your parents. They vow to speak to Mr Perfect’s family and make him ‘put a ring on it’. You tell them you don’t want to marry Mr Perfect, that he’s not ‘right’ for you and you want to raise this baby alone. They’re so shocked they kick you out of home.
You rock up to your local social security office, fill out 50 billion forms, get your single parent pension, and a few other miscellaneous benefits. Struggle through (just) until your child is old enough that you can pop them in daycare, get a job, claim the child care rebates so that the daycare is affordable (sort of) and if you’re lucky you’ll wind up making ends meet. With a little help from your friends.
Oh, hang on, we forgot to check the calendar.
What’s that you say, it’s before 1973? Oh, bad luck. You get nothing. Yup, that’s right. Na da, zip, a big fat zero. Out on the streets with a baby, no money and no family support.
Bet you wish your parents had frog-marched Mr-Not-So-Perfect down to the Registry Office now, dontcha?
Before the introduction of the Supporting Mother’s Benefit in 1973, single mothers only got a pension if they had been deserted, divorced or if their husband was in a prison or mental hospital.
The common theme here? They were all married at some point.
Before 1942 you were screwed even if you had been married. There was no help from the government – if your husband died you’d better remarry pretty quick smart or hope your family or your husband’s family were feeling wealthy and generous enough to take you (and the kids) in.
But that’s back when my grandma was a baby… who can remember that far back? Pfft.
As Bettina Cass of the University of Sydney pointed out:
the increase in sole parent family formation in Australia, as in other similar Western industrial countries, is a reflection of significant social and legal changes occurring in the institution of marriage and in family law enabling legal release from unsatisfactory marriages. These changes are a reflection of women’s increasingly strong aspirations to improve their social and economic status and to construct an independent identity (1992).
Translation into plain English? Women are choosing to leave bad relationships, even if they have kids, because our laws and social support make it possible.
Daycare has changed as well in the past few decades. Which helps if you want to actually work so you can support your kids without a man on the scene.
My Mum managed to go back to work as a teacher in the late 1980s after about 10 years out of the workforce to have three kids.
Flexible part time work? Ha ha. Quality formal childcare? Forget it.
I was at school by then but my sister, at 3 years old, stayed with other mums who either hadn’t returned to work or weren’t working on that particular day. They paid each other cash to feed the kids for the day. Mum talks about $20 notes doing the rounds from one house to another depending on which mother was working that day and which mother was minding everyone else’s kids.
I tell this story not to illustrate life as a single mother – these were all married mothers – but because even 20 years ago, there was no good formal childcare widely available, even in suburban Melbourne (affordable or otherwise).
So if you were a single parent? Good luck getting work (which would probably have to be full time) and getting childcare (which was unregulated and unreliable).
So, ladies, don’t take anything for granted. It’s not set in stone. Keep complaining about the unavailability of affordable quality childcare. Shout out from the rooftops how much it costs to raise kids, how important they are and why we should all help each other to give them a great start in life.
The alternative? Go home and be REALLY NICE to your husband. And if you don’t have one, go and get one really quickly and start learning how to cook tasty dinners and starch shirt collars.