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Saving Our Children from the Experimental Family

Jennifer Roback Morse

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The essential rights claims is that modern individuals have the right to form families of their own choosing and bear children in the way that they wish, without restriction or interference from society, and with the full support of available medical and scientific technologies.
David Blankenhorn.

Children need their own mother and father. Mountains of social science research now support this common sense observation. After thirty years of experimenting with different family forms, the results are definitely in. Those diverse families that were supposed to usher in a new era of freedom and equality do not serve the interests of children. Children have the best chances in life when they live with their own biological mother and father who are married to each other.

The children of unmarried parents have greater problems in virtually every area of life. Children of unmarried parents have poorer health, starting with lower birth weights. These children are also more likely to have accidents. Children of unmarried parents are more likely to have mental health problems, including depression, substance abuse and suicidal tendencies. Children of unmarried parents have lower educational achievement, are more likely to repeat a grade of school and to drop out of high school. Children of unmarried parents have greater difficulty forming life-long attachments themselves as they grow older. Fatherless boys are particularly more likely to have trouble with the law, and end up in jail.

These kinds of problems show up in families in which the parents were never married, or the parents lived together without being married, or the parents were married and divorced, or married, divorced and remarried. Each of these "diverse family forms" has significant problems for kids, and some have distinct problems all their own.

Many of these problems are the result of adults who subjugate the rights of children to their own, as my colleague David Blankenhorn has persuasively argued in his recent address, The Rights of Children and the Redefinition of Parenthood.

"Now, as we know, a basic problem when we use the language of human rights is the tendency and the temptation to treat each specific right as if it stands alone, in splendid isolation and reigning in absolute mastery, conveniently disconnected from other rights that may conflict with it -- and also disconnected from any overarching anthropology or system of values that alone permit us to adjudicate rights in conflict and also to understand rights in relationship to duties, obligations, and other human goods that cannot easily be expressed in terms of rights. The obvious danger in this take-your-pick, cafeteria-style, essentially de-contextualized approach to human rights is that each right, in its isolated supremacy, tends to get expressed in absolutist, totalizing terms. I fear that we in the United States, trained as we are in what we call our "bill" of rights, are particularly prone to this temptation, and that as a result, we Americans have much to learn from the typically more holistic, integrated human rights frameworks that are evident in a number of other countries, including Denmark."

The social revolution in family structure was supposed to bring about greater freedom and equality. As a society, we have become less judgmental, more accepting of differences. We even demand that the government take steps to level the playing field among the different types of families. Neutrality. Fairness. Impartiality. The state should not "privilege" marriage over other types of families. Society is racing toward this goal of government impartiality, particularly with the movement to treat same sex unions on par with opposite sex married couples.

The irony is that more freedom and equality for adults results in less freedom and equality for children. The children of unmarried parents are certainly not equal to the children of married parents in terms of their prospects for a happy and prosperous life. The only way they can be made equal is for the state to intervene on behalf of the children of the unmarried. By spending tax dollars for educational, medical, psychological and social programs, the state can attempt to level the highly skewed playing field that naturally emerges between the children of the married and the children of the unmarried. But trying to create equality for the children creates gross fiscal inequalities: the state must tax the married to pay for the children of the unmarried.

Likewise, the promise of greater freedom for adults to choose their own style of living, sexual coupling and child-rearing brings about a decrease in freedom for their very own children, and in some respects, for themselves as well. When spousal or parental cooperation breaks down, the government becomes intimately involved in rearing children. It isn't unusual for unmarried parents to be unable to work together to make and keep a plan for visitation and support of children. When this happens, the family courts become involved. Divorced parents face the prospect of court supervision of the minutiae of family life. So too, do the single mothers when their child's father decides he wants to be involved with his child.

Family courts regularly rule upon how much time and money the non-custodial parent spends on children. The courts may get involved in who gets to see the children on Thanksgiving, which parent gets the child's report card first, whether a parent gets to move out of state, and whether the non-custodial parent can drop in at a Little League game. These invasions of privacy would be considered outrageous in any other context. Yet America considers this routine, business as usual, for the children of divorced or separated parents.

The far-reaching fiddling with family forms has been destructive for children. That much is blindingly obvious from the social science research. But this social tinkering has not attained its stated objectives of equality and freedom, even for adults. It is time to exercise some judgment, declare the experiment a failure and restore the two-parent married couple family as a social norm.

Read the entire article on the To The Source website (new window will open). Reprinted with permission.

Posted: 18-Aug-05



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