Which Family?

It is no secret that I love families. I love family dynamics, how people interact with each other in different settings and different times. I love the potential that lies within a family to shape and mold the mundane as well as the important. I even love family vacations!

This love has been the guiding force behind my career field. I am a social researcher who is passionately interested in family outcomes; in how children function in different settings and how the adults who created those settings act and react. But I don’t research in a vacuum. I am embedded in place, in community. I don’t get to decide the statistics, nor do I get to decide the outcomes. I observe the world, and report on it.

A series of recent articles have been published which reference the CDC’s recent publication about changing patterns of nonmarital childbearing. The numbers that the CDC finds are not shocking to me. Four out of ten children born in 2007 were born to an unmarried mother. Nearly 2 million children – all born in 2007 – have parents that are not married. I know that many of these children will still live with both biological parents, even though their parents have chosen not to wed. Yet these births are just as troubling to me as the more “traditional” nonmarital births. 

Take, for example, these recent articles published about this trend: All But the Ring: Why Some Couples Don’t Wed; Number of Unwed Mothers Has Risen Sharply in U.S.; A New Trend in Motherhood.

In all these articles, they are quick to point out the impact of cohabitation on this rising number. To be sure, it is a valid point. But the direction that these commentators take it is discouraging.

We shouldn’t present single motherhood as a problem in itself…Instead, we need to take this opportunity to call for greater economic support, health care access and education for all women, so that those wishing to be mothers can raise healthy and happy children with or without the support of a spouse.” – Silvia Henriquez

“Those wishing to be mothers”? This is a new phenomenon that those who want children can simply go and have them, without the need for a supportive, intact family system to already be in place. Research has shown that children born to unmarried mothers are more likely to be poor, to grow up with only one parent and to experience significant living transitions while they are a child, all of which are associated with lower educational attainment, and higher likelihood of following in a cyclical pattern. (see CT’s website for more information)

Why should be try and encourage these outcomes? Don’t parents always want the best for their children? In the face of the evidence, should we enable more of this behavior?

It used to be that the family created one or more children; today it is the child who creates the family.” – Corinne Maier

This is also a fundamental shift in family forms. Families of all types are becoming more child-centered, allowing the children to dictate the activities and structure of the family. This is only creating a larger sense of entitlement among younger generations.

Not only is this trend hurting children, but it is further confusing this generation of which I am a part. Social norms have virtually disappeared, wreaking havoc on all of our relationships. Without marriage as the logical end, how do we even have meaningful relationships? Where are the boundaries? Are there any? And what can we do about it?

I’ll close with this quote from Mark Regnerus.

Indeed, young Americans don’t really know what to make of marriage: they idealize it, expect a great deal from it, and are refusing to settle. So we’re choosing to live alone now. We’re cohabiting. We have joint custody. indeed there’s an almost palpable antagonism and mistrust between the sexes today. We’re content to bed each other, and even make babies, but expecting and delivering mutual emotional and financial support – and institutionalizing it by marriage – is more than many young American men and women feel like offering today…So while this news is not surprising, it is sad…all of it reveals how little our communities actually expect from us anymore.”

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