Earlier this week I discovered that I have been completely oblivious to a huge risk facing my kids: The increased likelihood that my bundles of joy will become AK-47-wielding criminals because I am divorced.
I learned about this from Mitt Romney's response to a question in the last presidential debate about how to keep AK-47s out of the hands of criminals and limit the availability of assault weapons.
Romney's response? "Two parents in the home whenever possible."
He's not in favor of new legislation on guns or making certain guns illegal, in case you're wondering. Apparently, the fact that these types of weapons are legal and easy to get a hold of isn't the real problem. The real problem is single parent households.
I hope it's not too late to prevent my own kids from becoming killing machines. I'm going to do my best to warn them. I'll email my son at work. He's a corporate lawyer and has so far managed to resist the powerful allure of assault weapons that was apparently hard-wired into him while growing up with divorced parents. And clueless me -- busy with trivial things like cooking, encouraging him with his studies, going to his sporting events and making sure he practiced his cello. I never even realized he struggled with this. If only Romney had told me sooner.
And what about my eleven-year-old daughter? I'll be sure to warn her after I pick her up from ballet class but before I read her some more of the Melville short story we've been chipping away at a few pages at a time. After all, forewarned about the siren song of semi-automatic weapons is forearmed.
Then I'll tip off my friends and loved ones who are also single parents. I hope they're not too distracted with things like going to their kids' theater performances, helping them with homework or making sure they get to bed on time to dodge this bullet.
In all seriousness, Mitt Romney giving advice to single parents is a lot like the Pope offering marriage counseling to couples. No offense, but more browbeating from an out-of-touch, patriarchal white guy is the last thing I need. After all, I didn't go through the trouble of getting a divorce for nothing. (Zing!)
What Romney doesn't get is this: What largely determines the quality of a kid's childhood isn't whether the kid's parents are married or not; it's how the kid's mom and dad actually parent. Perpetuating the notion that married parents are by definition better than single ones is as crazy as the continuing to suggest that gay parents are somehow inferior to straight ones, or that rich white guys are more qualified to be president.
Your marital status is just that -- it's a status. It's not inherently good or bad. There are no magic powers that are bestowed on you just by virtue of being married. What determines whether a marriage is good or bad is how both spouses behave while they are in that state.
Parenthood is at once similar and different. It's similar in that, like marriage, parenthood is simply a state of being. Anyone can become a parent. But what kind of parent you are depends on how much you put into that role. If you want to be a good parent you have the power to accomplish that. You can prioritize your parenting and provide a stable and loving home.
I'm not saying you can guarantee that your child has a happy childhood -- there are myriad of factors that together characterize a childhood, many of which are outside of the control of any one person. But you can control whether you are a good parent.
When it comes to marriage, however, it takes two to tango. A good marriage requires the dedication of both members of the couple. Accordingly, if you find yourself in a bad marriage that cannot be fixed because your spouse either cannot or will not commit to the cause, getting a divorce may be the best decision possible from a parenting standpoint.
Then, instead of having a two-parent household that is poisoned by a toxic marriage, the kids can have at least one healthy home headed by a dedicated single parent. And if they're lucky, they'll get two such homes.
In further fleshing out his plan to reduce gun violence, Romney said that we should, "tell our kids before they have kids they ought to think about getting married to someone."
I couldn't disagree more.
Marriage and parenting are both hard work. But these are two separate endeavors. You don't get a break on the work that it takes to have a good marriage simply by also having kids with your spouse; nor do you have an easier go of things when it comes to parenting simply by getting married. In fact, not only can the combination of the two projects result in more work rather than less, the combination can end up negatively impacting your performance in each of these roles.
Before my kids get married, I want them to think through all that is involved with being a good spouse in order to make sure they feel up to the challenge. And before my kids have children, I want them to carefully consider whether they're ready to do the hard work that being a good parent involves. These are two separate analyses and both are important.
Romney's nonsensical plan for combating gun violence by taking aim at single parent households shouldn't come as a surprise. After all, this is the same guy who wants to give Big Bird the ax and defund Planned Parenthood. Taken together, these ideas paint a picture of a man who doesn't have a clue what it's like to be an average American raising a family in today's America.
When it comes to practical policies and pointers that will help this single mom navigate everyday life, Romney can keep his advice to himself. He doesn't have anything helpful to offer me because he has never walked a single step in my sensible-yet-stylish DSW flats.
But Romney isn't without his own areas of expertise. The next time I need advice on how to lay off workers to increase profitability, shelter millions of dollars in overseas accounts, or get a dancing horse into the Olympics, Romney will be the first person I'll call.