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Mama drama and daddy duping

A week before Thanksgiving I heard about this raid.

Seems the officers got a tip about a party involving underage drinkers and overage enablers. The result was a crazy cocktail of a mess that used to be called debauchery, but I’m not sure what folks call it these days.

And while the IDs were being checked and proper arrests were being made, one of those in the bad motioned to a young girl across the room. “That’s my baby mama over there,” he said, aware that he had the officer’s ear. “She never lets me see that boy of mine.” 

Those words — baby mama — grabbed my attention. I’ve been hearing the trendy label and its partner, baby daddy, tossed around for a while. For those of you who haven’t, let me provide you with an internet definition (since my 1828 Noah Webster dictionary cannot):

“A baby mama is a woman who has a child out of wedlock. She may or may not be in a relationship with the child’s father, but most of the time, she’s not. She may think she has some sort of position or leverage in the man’s life because she had a child with him, but all she is, is a baby mama, nothing else.”

The writer goes on to describe another cultural phenomenon, “baby mama drama.” That’s what happens when a baby mama uses the child as a pawn to get money or attention from the child’s father.

Sound complicated? I suppose that’s what happens when a society snubs its nose at the cultural contract of marriage.

To research their book, Doing the Best I Can: Fatherhood in the Inner City, authors Kathryn Edin and Timothy Nelson studied the lives of more than 100 “baby daddies.” They discovered the men enjoyed their children, but failed to fulfill other parenting responsibilities. One reviewer summarized the findings like this: “The man’s commitment is not to his girlfriend but to his child. This might sound benign, but it turns the traditional relationship on its head. Instead of the old ‘package deal’ in which the woman came first and the children second, this new ‘package deal’ puts the baby first and the girlfriend second. Fatherhood becomes less about fulfilling a set of responsibilities — breadwinning, protecting the kids from harm, serving as a moral guide, providing discipline — and more about subjective feeling. As the authors note, these men act more like kindly uncles than real fathers.”

The book also reported that the dads were most likely to shower attention on the child in his or her first five years and withdraw it afterward. Thus, the coined phrase “baby daddy” becomes a true moniker. Baby mama, not so much. Someone must parent beyond preschool.    

So who can we thank for the rise of the disposable dad? We could start with famous athletes and actors who have normalized and glamorized baby daddying. But the truth is, conjugal trysts and the resulting deadbeat dads are nothing new. There’s just a lot more of them now — more than 40 percent of births in the United States are to unwed mothers.     

And while the reasons for the baby mama/baby daddy dilemma are myriad, the solution is singular: marriage. One man, one woman, “no longer two but one flesh.”

That’s because children need more than turkey at Thanksgiving and toys at Christmas. They need mamas and daddies (minus the trendy adjectives) year-round, and they need communities (and tax codes and a welfare system) that reinforce the notion that marriage comes first, then all its privileges.

Unless something changes, we will reap the whirlwind. Family holidays like the one many of us hope to enjoy tomorrow will become an anomaly. 

Think about that the next time you hear someone flippantly use the term “baby mama.”

Kim Henderson is a freelance writer. Contact her at kimhenderson319@gmail.com.