Robert Doyel is worried about the babies born to single mothers – so worried, in fact, that he's written a book about the problem. His perspective is an unusual one: He spent 16 years as a Florida judge, mostly in family court, where he was involved in more than 15,000 restraining order cases, as well as thousands of dependency, custody, and paternity cases.
What worries him so much, he says, is that "there is no concerted effort anywhere even to report on the issue, let alone try to do something about it." His concerns about "the prevalence of unwed births and identifying the problems they cause" led him to write The Baby Mama Syndrome (Lake Cannon Press).
This book is an eye-opener, exploring the problem of these "fragile families" from multiple angles, including the problems of abuse, neglect, and violence. Social workers, teachers, physicians, nurses, and other professionals who deal with these children and their parents will be interested in the sheer size of the problem (1.6 million babies each year) and the demographic data in this book.
Doyel notes that the birthrate for teenagers has been creeping down for several years, but the numbers are still daunting: In 2014, just over a quarter of a million babies were born to girls 19 and under. There were 2771 births to girls under 15, and most of these young mothers were unmarried.
Despite the widespread assumption that most of these single mothers are black, statistics show that unmarried white mothers have the most babies, followed by Hispanics and then blacks.
His thoughtful and well-researched book makes an important contribution to the national discussion about these babies, their mothers, and what happens as the children grow up and – all too-often – repeat the syndrome. Three features of the book are especially impressive.
This book offers many cases studies grouped in patterns: female rivals, fathers married to another woman, mothers married to another man, lesbian couples, and more – to name a few. There are also triangles, rectangles, and serial troublemakers. One chapter deals with a complex pattern that Doyel calls "Baby Mama and Boyfriend vs. Baby Daddy and Husband."
Reading through the permutations and complications creates a picture of the problem that mere data cannot provide – and also opens a window into the causes. "Baby mamas" threaten and attack rival women who have had multiple babies by the same "baby daddy." Married women and "baby mamas" battle over a "baby daddy" who has fathered their children.
Readers gradually become familiar with the reasons why these women keep having babies by men who won't marry or support them: Jealousy, poor impulse control, unrestrained sexuality, and an inability to get a grip on their lives and their futures. The real victims, of course, are their children.
Doyel's second contribution to the "baby mama" discussion is his perspective as a judge. Laymen often think it's easy to make a judgment in cases of violence and abuse: Issue a restraining order. Put him (or her, or everyone involved) in jail.
Writing from years of experience on the bench, he exposes some of the legal complexities a judge must deal with. "As far as the law is concerned," he writes, "violence between two baby mamas or between two baby daddies is no different from violence between two strangers in a barroom brawl. That needs to change."
Restraining orders have complexities of their own. According to Doyel, "Too many times when there is mutual aggression, one of the aggressors seeks an injunction and then uses it as a sword, not a shield."
Mutual restraining orders seem to be called for, but they're prohibited in Florida (where he served as a judge) because of another potential problem: Judges might be tempted to employ them as a way to avoid having to making a judgment in a complicated domestic violence case. Result: A conundrum for a judge dealing with rival "baby mamas" fighting over the man who fathered their children.
One feature of these "baby mama" hearings is especially poignant: In his experience, Doyel says, the fathers rarely show up for hearings. Staying away from court, he says, keeps the women focused on each other rather than on their baby daddy's betrayal of both of them.
And then there are petitions, ex parte temporary injunctions, and other legal complexities – and the thinking processes judges use to hand down decisions in these "baby mama" cases. Doyel's jargon-free explanations of various legal issues make this book especially valuable for professionals who intervene in crises involving "baby mamas" and their children.
The subtitle to Doyel's book makes it clear that the baby mama syndrome affects everyone : "Unwed Parents, Intimate Partners, Romantic Rivals, and the Rest of Us." Taxpayers pay medical bills, court costs, and other expenses for baby mamas and their children.
The most important victims, of course, are the children, who may be subjected to neglect, abuse, and violence. Even when there are no physical dangers, many of these children witness violent behavior between the adults who are supposed to serve as their role models.
"Cut off the money" is the battle cry of taxpayers who want single parents to take responsibility for the choices they have made. But two chapters in Doyel's book argue that the problem is not solved so easily.
In "Generations," he discusses what happens when children in "fragile families" grow up. "It is well documented," he says, "that sons of fathers who commit acts of domestic violence are likely to be batterers too." But the syndrome does not stop there. Studies show that child abuse, neglect, and baby mama rivalries also pass from generation to generation.
In his final chapter, "The Baby Mama Syndrome and the Rest of Us," Doyel discusses remedies, including prevention, sex education, and contraception. He has promised two more books that will expand upon these topics. Book two will focus on violence, and book three will discuss the fate of the children who grow up in these "fragile families."
The Baby Mama Syndrome is a readable and thought-provoking book. It will be particularly useful to professionals who deal with these "fragile families."