My reading of romance novels is too erratic and sporadic to identify trends, but I have noticed a disturbing pattern in many books. Last summer I read several books featuring women who were single, but either pregnant or with a new baby. More recently I have read several books featuring single women with a child between five and eight. In every book, the father is completely absent. Child support is neither paid nor expected, and the biological father plays absolutely no role in the child’s life.
I’m separated myself, so I have no illusions that there are often problems with support and visitation. Among my friends are several women who decided not to bother pursuing support for their children, and a woman who raised her child without any communication or support from the father. However, I also have separated friends where support is paid and both parents continue to remain in the child’s life – as they should.
I suspect the absent father is lazy plotting and characterization. The single mothers are invariably struggling financially, leading them to accept unusual jobs, rent out rooms, and otherwise end up in the company of eligible and financially secure men. The mothers are also dealing with abandonment issues, which makes a handy relationship obstacle, but they are seeking a father for their child, which makes a noble relationship goal.
The end of the previous relationship is always completely the fault of the man who abandoned her. These guys are drunks or immature, while our heroine is never at fault. The father turned out to be the wrong man, and the story is about finding the right man. It turns out that finding the right man is very easy: he’s good with the child. It helps that the children in these romances tend to be one of the cute ages, as opposed to the terrible twos or the surly teen years. Let’s make it easy for the men to like them.
In choosing this path, the authors miss a huge opportunity for character development. In many older romances, the virginal heroine had to overcome shyness, class preconceptions, social expectations, or fear of a marriage or intimacy. Her transition into happy ever after came after she grew, learned, broke the rules, or took a leap of faith. These modern single mother heroines are more realistic and worldly, but they won’t stand up for their legal rights and don’t have to do anything more challenging than identify that man B is better husband material than man A was.
In my more cynical moments, I wonder if men are somehow behind this romance novel pattern of men getting out of relationships free of entanglements.
I have a new romance novel wish, which would make the stories better life examples and more interesting, with opportunity for character growth: Single mother stories where the mother is not financially struggling, because the father is paying support, and the child is not in need of a father figure, because he’s still involved. She could even still be friends with the father. None of this lessens her need for a new partner. It just means the romance needs to be based on more than needing money and finding a daddy.