Family Structure and Societal Stability

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From 1850 to 1960, the number of families where children were being raised by two parents held relatively steady between 80-90%. Since 1960, however, there began a precipitous decline in those families. From 1960 to 2014, the percentage of families where children were being raised by two parents dropped from 87% to 62%. Since 2014, though, the decline has leveled off. This, of course, varies considerably by race. Asian children are those most likely to be living with two parents, while Native American children are considerably less likely, and Black children least likely.

Another trend, especially among younger parents, is raising children without religion. Of parents 65 and older, 61% report they regularly took their child to religious service when raising them, and 65% sent their children to some kind of religious education program. For parents of children currently under 18, those figures are 42% and 38% respectively.

Naturally, secularists are not in the least concerned about these trends. Convinced that family structure has little to do with outcomes for children, and that it is possible to raise children with good morals without religion, these trends are simply interesting sociological phenomena, and nothing that ought to raise any red flags regarding prospects for future generations.

I’m not so sure. As for family structure, there’s ample research demonstrating that the best environment for children is to be raised in a family with their two biological parents. A 2014 study published in the Linacre Quarterly concluded, “Nearly three decades of research evaluating the impact of family structure on the health and well-being of children demonstrates that children living with their married, biological parents consistently have better physical, emotional, and academic well-being.” There’s nothing to suggest that the panoply of family structures popular today can compete with Mom and Dad living together and raising their own kids, at least in terms of what is most likely to result in good outcomes for the children. So, why does our culture so strongly support a variety of family structures, as well as easy divorce as the solution to almost any marital struggle, rather than support that particular family structure that has proven best for children? Because, I think, our culture is no longer focused on what is best for children, but on what is wanted by adults. We have convinced ourselves that, if someone wants something, he or she (or “they”!) have a right to it, regardless of what is best for others, even our own children, never mind society as a whole.

No, this doesn’t mean that children raised by adoptive parents (such as my wife), or children raised by single parents (such as myself after the age of ten) are doomed to suffer hopeless futures. Neither does it mean that being raised by your two biological parents is a guarantee of a happy future or good grounding, especially if one or both of those parents are abusive or neglectful (of course, you don’t have to be a biological parent to be abusive or neglectful). It does mean that children raised by their biological parents who are living together have the best chance of succeeding in reaching adulthood with a sound physical, emotional, and academic grounding. Children not raised in these families can succeed if other factors are in place that provide them with consistency and a strong foundation, such as my mother arranging for me to have a Big Brother who actually cared about me and committed himself to my future. But the natural advantages that come with being raised by your own two parents who are living together cannot be overstated and shouldn’t be dismissed.

But we are dismissing those natural advantages. Because adults want what they want and insist they have a right to what they want, we are told by our cultural elites that we must oblige them and support them, and pretend that their life choices, including their choice of family structure, doesn’t matter. If the adults get what they want, then they’ll be happy, and if the adults are happy, the kids we be alright. Right? Well, no, not necessarily. The point of being a parent is to create an environment that is conducive to your child’s happy and healthy growth and development. This might sometimes mean sacrificing what you, as the parent, want in favor of what your child’s needs. That’s not a very popular notion these days, it seems to me. But it used to be that parents found happiness in providing a happy and healthy family home for their children. It still is true, but I wonder how many realize that.

Of course, there are all kinds of reasons parents choose or find themselves in a particular family structure other than selfishly wanting what they want without regard for the best interest of their children. Most parents want to do well by their children, and no one recommends entering into an unstable, precarious committed relationship for the sake of children. What is recommended, at least by the research if not by our culture, is that adults try harder to consider children in the choices they make, and that society, that is culture and government, tries harder to support families to remain stable.

For individual adults, or instance, it means remembering that sexual activity means the possibility of having a child. Oh, yes, a couple can use birth control, but no method is 100% successful, and the person with whom you’re about to engage in intimacies may not be entirely forthright in their assurances. You can take all the precautions available, but the bottom line is, having sex means the possibility of having a child. Given that, it’s worth asking yourself: is this a person I want a relationship with for the rest of my life (or at least for the next eighteen years)? Is this a person I can count on? Is this a person who will come through for me, who will be there for me and for my child? If there’s any doubt about the answer to any of those questions, best to reserve such intimacies for a time when those doubts are resolved, or forego them entirely if the answer is “no.” Do I want to be a parent with this person? If not, what am I doing here? If so, why aren’t we married? Marriage is a public commitment that the one with whom you may eventually share responsibility for a child is committed to you. Is marriage a guarantee? No, certainly not in this day. But it is more of a guarantee than a promise spoken in the heat of sexual passion. “I started swearing to my God and on my mother’s grave that I would love you till the end of time,” is not a commitment. It’s a willingness to say what needs to be said to get what is wanted at that moment. Love has little to do with how you feel at any particular moment. Love means your committed to being there, regardless of how you feel at any particular moment.

Being an adult means making choices based on what’s in one’s best interest, and in the best interest of those to whom one is responsible. That not only means the children you now have, but any children you may have. It means putting yourself in a position to manage your responsibilities well, and that means not creating lifelong ties with those who are unwilling to make the necessary commitments to make a happy and healthy family home. It also means making commitments with those who are willing and able to create happy and healthy family homes and standing by commitments made. This isn’t easy, especially in a culture and with a government that too often fails to support, or even works to undermine, marriage and family commitments. Family stability is the bedrock of societal stability, and marriage is the bedrock of family stability. We’ve no reason to be surprised at what we perceive to be an unstable and uncivil social network when our commitment to marriage and family is so tenuous.

I’ll discuss raising children without religion in an upcoming post.

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

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