The writer, Caitlin Flanagan, begins by tweaking conservatives, pointing to the affairs of conservative politicans Sanford and Ensign. But then goes on to highlight the problem.
In the past 40 years, the face of the American family has changed profoundly. As sociologist Andrew J. Cherlin observes in a landmark new book called The Marriage-Go-Round: The State of Marriage and the Family in America Today, what is significant about contemporary American families, compared with those of other nations, is their combination of "frequent marriage, frequent divorce" and the high number of "short-term co-habiting relationships." Taken together, these forces "create a great turbulence in American family life, a family flux, a coming and going of partners on a scale seen nowhere else. There are more partners in the personal lives of Americans than in the lives of people of any other Western country."Then she goes on to point out the shifting idea of marriagel from sacrifice and raising children to romance and self satisfaction.
An increasingly fragile construct depending less and less on notions of sacrifice and obligation than on the ephemera of romance and happiness as defined by and for its adult principals, the intact, two-parent family remains our cultural ideal, but it exists under constant assault. It is buffeted by affairs and ennui, subject to the eternal American hope for greater happiness, for changing the hand you dealt yourself. Getting married for life, having children and raising them with your partner — this is still the way most Americans are conducting adult life, but the numbers who are moving in a different direction continue to rise. Most notably, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in May that births to unmarried women have reached an astonishing 39.7%.Does this shift matter? Absolutely.
How much does this matter? More than words can say. There is no other single force causing as much measurable hardship and human misery in this country as the collapse of marriage. It hurts children, it reduces mothers' financial security, and it has landed with particular devastation on those who can bear it least: the nation's underclass.She then goes on to point out the importance marriage regarding poverty.
The poor and the middle class are very different in the ways they have forsaken marriage. The poor are doing it by uncoupling parenthood from marriage, and the financially secure are doing it by blasting apart their unions if the principals aren't having fun anymore.
The growing tendency of the poor to have children before marriage — the vast majority of unmarried women having babies are undereducated and have low incomes — is a catastrophic approach to life, as three Presidents in a row have tried to convince them. Bill Clinton's welfare-to-work program encouraged marriage, George W. Bush spent millions to promote marriage, and Barack Obama has spoken powerfully on the need for men to stay with their children: "We need fathers to step up, to realize that their job does not end at conception; that what makes you a man is not the ability to have a child but the courage to raise one."
Are dads important and should they be married?
That prompts the question, Does the father have to actually be married to the mother of his children to have a positive effect on them?
"Not if he behaves exactly like a married man," says Robert Rector, a senior research fellow of domestic policy at the Heritage Foundation. If a man is willing to contribute 70% of his income to the child's upbringing, dedicate himself around the clock to the child's well-being and create a stable home life — a home life that includes his actually living there with mother and child — he might be able to give his child the boon of fatherhood without having to tie the knot. But that rarely happens. When children are born into a co-habiting, unmarried relationship, says Rector, "they arrive in a family in which the principals haven't resolved their most basic issues," including those of sexual fidelity and how to share responsibilities. Let a little stress enter the picture — and what is more stressful than a baby? — and things start to fall apart. The new mother starts to make wifelike demands on the man, and without the commitment of marriage, he is soon out the door.
Few things hamper a child as much as not having a father at home. "As a feminist, I didn't want to believe it," says Maria Kefalas, a sociologist who studies marriage and family issues and co-authored a seminal book on low-income mothers called Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage. "Women always tell me, 'I can be a mother and a father to a child,' but it's not true." Growing up without a father has a deep psychological effect on a child. "The mom may not need that man," Kefalas says, "but her children still do."
Does family break up affect children? Absolutely.
The reason for these appeals to lasting unions is simple: on every single significant outcome related to short-term well-being and long-term success, children from intact, two-parent families outperform those from single-parent households. Longevity, drug abuse, school performance and dropout rates, teen pregnancy, criminal behavior and incarceration — if you can measure it, a sociologist has; and in all cases, the kids living with both parents drastically outperform the others.
Does divorce harm children? You bet.
This turns out to be true across the economic spectrum. The groundbreaking research on the effects of divorce on children from middle- and upper-income households comes from a surprising source: a Princeton sociologist and single mother named Sara McLanahan, who decided to study the fates of these children with the tacit assumption that once you control for income, being part of a single-parent household does not adversely affect kids. The results — which she published in the 1994 book Growing Up with a Single Parent: What Hurts, What Helps — were surprising. "Children who grow up in a household with only one biological parent," she found, "are worse off, on average, than children who grow up in a household with both of their biological parents, regardless of the parents' race or educational background."The most significant part of the article was Flanagan got it right on the fundamental purpose of marriage -- the next generation not adult pleasure.
Flanagan lays out the purpose of marriage and the damage to society and individuals when it breaks down. She also, without even mentioning it, totally under cut the basis for homosexual marriage. How? By pointing out how indispensable a mom and a dad are in the lives of their kids and pointing to the purpose of marriage being fundamentally about the next generation, procreation and doing what's best for children. Something same sex marriage inherently can not do. It's not about a self fulfillment and personal happiness -- the guiding principles of homosexual marriage. It's not about me but the next generation.
The fundamental question we must ask ourselves at the beginning of the century is this: What is the purpose of marriage? Is it — given the game-changing realities of birth control, female equality and the fact that motherhood outside of marriage is no longer stigmatized — simply an institution that has the capacity to increase the pleasure of the adults who enter into it? If so, we might as well hold the wake now: there probably aren't many people whose idea of 24-hour-a-day good times consists of being yoked to the same romantic partner, through bouts of stomach flu and depression, financial setbacks and emotional upsets, until after many a long decade, one or the other eventually dies in harness.
Or is marriage an institution that still hews to its old intention and function — to raise the next generation, to protect and teach it, to instill in it the habits of conduct and character that will ensure the generation's own safe passage into adulthood? Think of it this way: the current generation of children, the one watching commitments between adults snap like dry twigs and observing parents who simply can't be bothered to marry each other and who hence drift in and out of their children's lives — that's the generation who will be taking care of us when we are old.