A nation that despises its children?

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The report from the Pew Research Center is titled “The
Decline of Marriage and Rise of New Families,” but the bit that most people
noted was that 40 percent of respondents think marriage is becoming obsolete.
That’s a catchy headline. The full report is over 120 pages, including
appendixes, and contains interesting clues regarding the psyche of our society.
Questions addressed within the survey include broad subjects related to
marriage, family, and children. Even more than the changing attitudes toward
marriage, our cultural ambivalence toward children, indicated in this survey
report, should trouble and mobilize pro-family people in America.

Perhaps we don’t know what we think, only what we feel.
About two-thirds of those surveyed believed that the growth in the variety of
family types (same-sex, single parent, cohabiting heterosexuals, etc.) was
positive or at least harmless. Most, 60 percent, also said that premarital sex
is not wrong. But, and it’s fair to see this as a related issue, 69 percent
disapprove of the rising trend of single motherhood. Single women often become
mothers because of premarital sex, and they are an example of expanding variety
in family types.

Nothing new here; we often answer “yes” when asked if a
thing is right or wrong. All through the survey, respondents were more likely
to be relativistic when addressing subjects personal to themselves. Divorced
parents were less likely to see divorce as a handicap to their own children,
for example.

Here are some responses that seem important to me. In
keeping with our nation’s increasing lack of discernment, respondents affirmed
the increasing number of same-sex couples raising kids, increasing numbers of
unmarried couples raising kids, and even a rise in the number of unmarried
single parents. These trends were judged neutral or good by a little more than
half of our representative spokesmen. At the same time, a larger number (61
percent) said that it is best for children to grow up in a home led by both a
mother and a father. So the message must be, other types of families are OK but
a traditional family structure is best for the kids. That’s not really a
contradiction.

Here’s a contradiction, unless we really are ambivalent
about kids; respondents broadly agreed that the very things they affirmed were
harmful to kids. A whopping 78 percent said the children of same-sex couples
would face more difficulty, more than half believed that these kids would face
“a lot more” difficulty. A larger percentage still say that the children of
divorce face more difficulty. The same 78 percent also say that children raised
in single-parent homes will face more difficulty. This is not a Baptist
preacher moralizing against the opinions of his neighbors. This is those very
neighbors saying, “Yes, I believe that these trends are fine, even good; and
yes, I believe that they make lives of children harder.” They would likely be
offended if I cut the corner and asked them if they considered making the lives
of children more difficult a positive thing.

So what are we to think when people beat their breasts about
the need to raise money for schools or social programs aimed at improving the
lives of children? What do we make of initiatives to ban fast-food deemed
unhealthful? The most ardent of these pro-child advocates are often the most
tolerant Americans when it comes to the definition of “family” or of the bad
choices people find self-nurturing. Is our work on behalf of children
insincere? I don’t think we are insincere but we do work at cross purposes with
ourselves. Our society is sometimes a forlorn collection of people who spend
half our time throwing grounded starfishes back into the water one by one, and
the other half pushing hundreds up onto the dry sand with bulldozers. We lose a
lot of starfishes and employ thousands of people to study why.

Our progressive culture shuns traditional mores with little
regard for the strengths that made some practices and opinions “traditional.”
Granted, we sometimes also embrace tradition without considering why, but a
mistake in this direction is not as likely to be immediately as harmful as a
mistake in the other direction. Because we love novel ideas, our thoughtless
response is to say that the proliferation of new definitions of “family” are
good although the consequences of such proliferation are bad. Intuitively, we
have warm feelings regarding anything with “new” attached to it. Rationally, we
recognize the downside of impulsive decisions. Between our embrace of
politicians and ideas that promise us something new and our realization that
the change is not without a price, helpless people become victims of our little
experiments.

Our desire to be sympathetic toward the circumstances of a
person’s life often affirms the elements behind those negative circumstances.
Thus, we embrace sex without marriage while regretting its predictable
consequences. We see a pregnant teenager and we’re sorry for the newly
difficult life she is living, but we’d never suggest that she should mend her
ways. A committed same-sex couple really wants to provide a home for a child
languishing in a bad situation, so we affirm this new kind of “family” because
we wish them happier than they’ll ever actually be.

Then there’s divorce. This is the most socially affirmed
evil we bring upon children. At this point, our nation has an industry with
thousands of employees that depends on the continuation of no-fault divorce. We
approve of it many times each day by actually divorcing and facilitating easy
divorce. And 80 percent of us think it harms our children. Our friend or
neighbor or brother tearfully says he’s miserable in his marriage and we just
don’t have the character to tell him to stay with his wife even if he

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