Mary Kenny: 'It is a different context to choose to adopt a child and then, just as the child is placed, to dissolve the marriage'
I would never wish to be unkind about the situation of single mothers. One of my oldest and dearest friends -- now, very sadly, dead -- became a single mother in unexpected circumstances and she was one of the best mothers I have ever known. Although I was married and she was single, she was infinitely better at parenting, and her son grew up to be one of the nicest, cleverest, sanest and most responsible young people that I know.
Her circumstances were this: She was 40, divorced and involved in an on-off relationship with an interesting but emphatically uncommitted man. She was astonished when she she found that she was pregnant. (I don't care for this expression 'fell pregnant', as though the event represents the Sin of Eve.)
During two decades of marriage no pregnancy had occurred, so she assumed that she wasn't fertile. But she accepted the pregnancy as a happy stroke of luck which she would face alone. (Her own mother actually contacted me and asked me to press my friend into an abortion -- as if I would. "Imagine having a baby with an uncommitted man!" said the mother disapprovingly.)
I could certainly appreciate that being a single mother wasn't always easy, but then I don't think raising a child successfully is ever easy.
Money can help very considerably, because it can buy excellent back-up services in the form of professional nannies, and the help and support which cushion the stress of trying to rush around doing everything yourself. And as the brilliant and hilarious comic actress Sandra Bullock embarks on being a single parent to her newly adopted son Louis, she will certainly have the comforts of Hollywood affluence to back her up.
She is obviously greatly smitten with little Louis, an Afro-American baby adopted at three-and-a-half months. "He's handsome, but it's his spirit that's beautiful," Sandra Bullock has said. "There's a wisdom to him."
Ms Bullock is 45, and she began the adoption process about four years ago. At that time she was married to her husband, who rejoices in the name of Jesse James. Although Mr James had children by a previous marriage, he and Sandra had none together, and it was the experience of seeing the devastation after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005 that prompted their common desire to help a child. And eventually, baby Louis -- born in New Orleans -- came their way.
Except that, just about the time that the adoption process was becoming final, Sandra Bullock and her husband split up. This was because Sandra had learned that her husband had had an affair -- what the Americans call "cheating", a verbal application which European culture would never have coined, being both more tolerant and more hypocritical in these matters.
So, goodbye Jesse. And Sandra continued with the adoption process alone. She is in contact with Jesse, and is supporting his "recovery", as she puts it. But she is Louis's sole parent now: he is "the perfect little man" in her life.
As I have said, a single mother can be an excellent parent. Except that in these circumstances, perhaps Sandra could have possibly tried to patch up the marriage with Jesse James? They had initially gone forward to adopt as a couple, so why not try to keep the show on the road?
It is one thing discovering you are pregnant unexpectedly and then facing the responsibility of raising your child alone. It is a different context to choose to adopt a child and then, just as the child is placed, to dissolve the marriage.
Sandra Bullock will have the advantages of her Hollywood lifestyle: the money, professional help and acclaim that is part of the package. But her son will also be faced with some of the disadvantages, too.
It is not an infrequent occurrence for Hollywood offspring to go badly off the rails, struggling with issues of achievement and identity. Paul Newman's son could never come to terms with being the child of a famous father and died of a drug overdose; Michael Douglas's son is in trouble with the law for similar reasons. The singer Cher has found it anguishing to cope with her daughter's chosen rebellion against her values -- changing sex, into a somewhat obese male.
Maybe Sandra Bullock will prove, as a single mother, an excellent parent to Louis. But she shouldn't be surprised if Louis one day reproaches her for marking his arrival with a divorce.