Love, Marriage...And A Baby Carriage? genre: Hip-Gnosis & Six Degrees of Speculation & Uncivil Unions

And A Baby Carriage

James Dobson must be scratching his head. While opponents of gay unions tout the argument that marriage should be reserved for the joining of a man and a woman in order to procreate, the average American seems to see the priorities of marriage a little differently. In less than twenty years, having children has fallen significantly on the list of factors important to a successful marriage. In a wake up call to evangelicals, sex is viewed as more than the means to having children and couples seem to be focusing on building strong, healthy, and equitable relationships.

The Pew Research Center survey on marriage and parenting found that children had fallen to No. 8 on a list of nine factors that people associate with successful marriages — well behind "sharing household chores," "good housing," "adequate income," a "happy sexual relationship" and "faithfulness."

In a 1990 World Values Survey, children ranked third in importance among the same items, with 65% saying children were very important to a good marriage. Just 41% said so in the new Pew survey.

By a nearly 3-1 margin, those surveyed said the main purpose of marriage is the "mutual happiness and fulfillment" of adults rather than the "bearing and raising of children."

The survey's findings buttress concerns expressed by numerous scholars and family policy experts, among them Barbara Dafoe Whitehead of Rutgers University's National Marriage Project.

"The popular culture is increasingly oriented to fulfilling the X-rated fantasies and desires of adults…. " she wrote in a recent report. "Child-rearing values — sacrifice, stability, dependability, maturity — seem stale and musty by comparison."

From The Pew Research Center:

Pew Research Graphic

OK, perhaps I'm an idiot but if mutual happiness and fulfillment isn’t the essential ingredient in a marriage, just what will keep two adults together and what will they have to offer to their children? Frankly, I find the news encouraging...couples are finally realizing that getting married and bearing children isn't the equivalent of purchasing a new car. Bringing children into a bad relationship serves one misguided purpose...placing children in unhappy homes where they will learn the dynamics of unhealthy relationships and receive their indoctrination into the failed notion that having children will hold a marriage together.

I recently visited my parents in my hometown, a small city in southern Colorado. Each year the city has a parade celebrating the spring blossom season. While at the parade, the one thing that caught my attention was the number of young women who were tending to a brood of children...women who appeared far too young to have so many children in tow. Even more concerning, many of them appeared to be single parents.

My concern is that our preoccupation on abstaining from sex is simply facilitating pregnancies. Here's the equation. Parent’s often guilt children into promises of abstinence while failing to promote healthy relationships and providing essential sex education...education that seeks to inform children about contraception and the need to consider the consequences of casual and unprotected sex. As such, the degree to which religious doctrine drives this country's view of sex has made it nothing more than a topic of right and wrong, good versus evil. In our efforts to prevent pre-marital sex, little focus is placed upon cultivating loving relationships.

As children begin to date and have relationships, they find themselves torn between their guilt about having sex and their natural desires. When their desires win out, they frequently skip over the need to be mindful of the possibility of pregnancy. Further, I suspect that subconsciously, these children are also aware of their parent’s view of morality, abortion, and the sanctity of life...an awareness that tells these children that if a baby is the outcome of a sexual encounter, it will help offset the notion that sex outside of marriage is wrong. Essentially, the thought process suggests that so long as a child is the result of sex, the sex will have some plausible justification.

Therefore what happens is that sex and pregnancy become the means to marriage with little focus on the creation of meaningful relationships. Children become preoccupied with the need to justify sex such that they tell themselves that every relationship is the precursor to marriage. In the end, the desire to have sex facilitates the motivation that they must conclude they are in love. At that point, getting pregnant and having a baby affirms that love and provides some measure of justification for the sexual activity...and a marriage.

Many questions touched on America's high rate of out-of-wedlock births and of cohabitation outside of marriage. The survey noted that 37% of U.S. births in 2005 were to unmarried women, up from 5% in 1960, and found that nearly half of adults in their 30s and 40s had lived with a partner outside of marriage.

It seems to me that understanding the psychology behind these numbers is far more important than making moral judgments. I tend to view the changing numbers as part of a process of evolving views on relationships. There has always been a tendency to glamorize yesterday's relationships...but in truth...the historical numbers tell us little about the quality of those relationships...the only measure that I believe has relevance.

Clearly, many of the people married in the middle of the twentieth century stayed together because it was expected, because their religion required as much, and because divorce was unthinkable. Regardless, staying together wasn't a measure of the health of those relationships or the type of impact it may have had upon their children.

Having children under the umbrella of a marriage doesn't necessarily equate with happy and healthy childhoods just as rising births outside of marriage need not equate with unhappy and unhealthy childhoods. Our focus on the morality of the numbers obstructs an objective evaluation of what makes for happy and healthy relationships and children. Little emphasis is placed upon truly understanding those dynamics.

Let me be clear. I'm not stating that today's relationships and the high number of children born outside of marriage indicate a preferred situation. I am stating that until we focus on the ingredients to successful relationships absent all of the moral directives and the inordinate attention placed upon measuring the prurient vs. puritanical quotient, we will make little progress and we will simply perpetuate more of the same.

The good news is that this latest study may suggest that young people are beginning to reject some of the antiquated and ineffective equations and starting to focus upon other ingredients that are likely essential to building healthy and long lasting relationships...relationships that will be able to nurture children if and when they are chosen.

I find the self-examination implied by this data to be a positive development…one that may result in children being raised in families that can provide positive role models and that can begin to move away from the current reliance on the morality espoused in the doctrines of religious institutions...a morality that dictates a black and white, one size fits all mentality.

Perhaps if we shift our focus to understanding our innate human condition, we can begin to build relationships that sanctify rather than vilify the diverse traits that make us who we are. Isn't it time we make self-awareness the precursor to the selfless act of child rearing?

Daniel DiRito | July 1, 2007 | 8:33 AM
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