Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Ross Douthat: challenges facing the modern family, and some pro-family policy ideas

This is from the Family Studies blog. It’s an interview with moderately conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat.

I just want to highlight the problem and a couple of his solutions. If you find it interesting, read the whole thing.

First, the problem:

IFS:  Why should we be so concerned about the state of the American family today?  Of all of the family issues on the nation’s agenda—marriage, divorce, cohabitation, single parenthood, the fatherhood crisis, or something else—which one has you most concerned?

Douthat:  We should be concerned because the family is the taproot of identity and community, the pre-political unit on which politics depend, the place where all the ladders of psychology and personality start. And right now, a familial experience (growing up in an intimate relationship with both your natural parents) that used to be average, boring, typical is increasingly a luxury good, an aspiration that’s rising out of reach for people whose talents and resources are limited or modest.

But in thinking about why this is happening, and what’s going wrong, I wouldn’t single out just  one issue, because they’re all too deeply intertwined. The biggest problem the American family faces right now is a problem of compounding: The way that many of the trends you cite have, since the 1960s but in certain ways especially in the last generation, effectively all been pushing in the same direction, with each problem making other problems worse. There’s a perverse cycle, in other words, that’s hard for people to escape: A higher divorce rate creates a cultural context in which young people don’t see lifelong monogamy as a plausible goal and don’t want to take the chance of being hurt in the way that one or both of their parents were . . . which, in turn, prompts them to delay marriage and cohabit for an extended period instead, to effectively test their partner . . . which makes it more likely that they’ll have a child during such a “test” period, without a marital bond with the other parent . . . which raises the odds, whether they marry or not, that the relationship will dissolve, creating more instability in the life of their child or children . . . who in turn will grow up with an even-more pessimistic view of marriage and family life than their own divorce-shy parents did. All of these effects are then amplified by the “social contagion” aspect of family breakdown, in which just having peers or neighbors whose marriages are failing or who have had kids out of wedlock creates a context in which that seems like the norm, and a stable or flourishing family life like an exceptional, nearly-unattainable ideal.

The first three solutions I think of when I read this are: 1) eliminate single mother welfare, 2) get the normalization of premarital sex out of the schools, and 3) repeal no-fault divorce. The trouble is that feminists oppose all three of these policies. They want money to be transferred from traditional families where one man works to single mother households. They want women to get away from “sexist” notions like chastity, courtship and chivalry. They want women to be able to get out of her obligations to her husband and children if she feels “unhappy”. So unless we roll back radical feminism, none of those ideas are going to happen.

But does Douthat have any other policy ideas?

This one for no-fault divorce:

IFS:  With one recent study indicating that divorce has actually been on the rise over the last generation or so, what do you make of the recent efforts of some states to tighten up their no-fault divorce laws?  Is there a way for the state to encourage couples to think twice about ending their marriages without returning to an era where spouses and their children could be stuck in violent relationships?

Douthat:  I’m basically supportive of the mix of proposals in (IFS Senior Fellow!) Brad Wilcox’s 2009 essay on divorce for National Affairs—waiting periods and counseling for divorcing couples (especially couples with children), preferential treatment in court for spouses who are being divorced against their will (in the absence of evidence of abuse)—and I know that some of those ideas have been taken up by the Coalition for Divorce Reform, which is trying to push state-level changes. My sense is that this kind of incremental tightening of divorce law is a better bet than the “covenant marriage” approach that some social conservatives pressed in the 1990s, where couples would be given the option of entering into a marriage without a no-fault escape hatch. The evidence we have from the three states that adopted the convenant option suggests that almost nobody actually opted into it, and I think it’s safe to assume that the people who did choose it were at pretty low risks for divorce already. Better, I think, to push for legal changes—however modest—that might apply across the board, and thus shape incentives for the marginal, most-at-risk couples.

And this one for welfare:

IFS:  If you could magically pass a set of policies aimed at strengthening marriage and families, what would those policies be? (Set aside, for now, budget constraints and the chances of getting the proposals through Congress.)

Douthat:  My economic program would expand on some of the ideas being kicked around already. There would be an even larger child tax credit than the one Republicans like Mike Lee and Marco Rubio have endorsed, and the existing earned-income tax credit would be expanded and converted to a direct wage subsidy. I would impose—I’m the enlightened despot here, right, so federalism no longer applies?—various regulatory reforms on states and municipalities aimed at eliminating a lot of zoning and licensing rules that impose particularly steep costs on working class families. I’d cut and cap tax subsidies that disproportionately benefit upper middle class rentiers. I’d pursue some version of the Paul Ryan vision for welfare reform, with much more state-based experimentation in the provision of non-cash benefits. More broadly, I’d combine relatively loose monetary policy with relatively tight immigration rules, seeking a lower unemployment rate and higher wages at the bottom rungs of the economic ladder. And then I’d spend less on prisons and put more money into hiring and training (but not heavily-arming!) cops, and I’d put UCLA’s Mark Kleiman in charge of reviewing sentencing policies at both the state and federal level, with an eye toward achieving significant reductions in incarceration rates wherever possible.

So maybe my ideas are not realistic, because I am too conservative, but I’d certainly like his to be enacted if mine can’t be. How about you? Do you have any ideas to save marriage? We can’t keep going life this – eventually we are going to run out of money for the social programs that prop up the people who bought into the sexual revolution. The spending on social programs for broken homes has got to stop somehow, one way or the other.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , ,

Being a member of a large family is associated with marital stability

An article from the Sacramento Bee explains why some marriages last longer than others.

Excerpt:

A key reason, said University of Virginia sociologist Brad Wilcox, is that a greater proportion of older adults come from large families, born into an era when big families were the norm in American life – and research shows that having lots of siblings correlates with a lower statistical likelihood of divorce.

“In terms of some social outcomes, kids from large families are more likely to flourish,” said Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project. “They’re less likely to get divorced. It might be the experience early in life of learning to share so much and live with the exceptional stress of having all those different personalities to deal with.”

Ohio State University research suggests that only children are the least likely to marry and most at risk of divorcing, while people with four to seven siblings have markedly lower rates of divorce.

Maybe people from big families grow up knowing that they’re not going to win every battle. Maybe they understand from birth that they’re not alone in life. Or maybe they learn early on to play well with others.

“All those life experiences may have prepared them better for marriage,” Wilcox said.

These long unions stand out in the shifting landscape of marriage. While 78 percent of American adults were married in 1950, according to census data, only about half are married today, and they’re waiting longer to do so. The age of first marriage for men has risen to almost 30, compared to 23 in 1960. Fewer people marry each year, and confidence in marriage is at such a low point that a recent Pew Research Center survey showed that 40 percent of unmarried Americans think the concept of marriage is outdated.

Even for older Californians, the chances of staying married are decreasing. The number of adults ages 60 and older who are divorced has risen steadily in Sacramento County and across the state during the last decade, census figures show. About 19.2 percent of Sacramento County residents past 60 are currently divorced, compared to 14.1 percent in 2005. Statewide, about 15.2 percent of residents 60 and older are divorced, compared to 13.1 percent nine years ago.

Todd Migliaccio, a California State University, Sacramento, sociology professor, has researched marriages that have lasted 30 years or longer to figure out what keeps couples together. The traditional reasons for marriage – financial support, child-rearing, family stability and longstanding gender roles – aren’t necessarily factors that speak to 21st-century couples. So what makes marriage last?

Friendship, his research shows: Marriages that endure no matter what tend to involve couples who genuinely like each other and enjoy each other’s company.

“We’re seeing more and more couples that have lasted where friendship is one of the big factors,” he said. “And if they’re from a close family, that provides a huge social network that contributes to marital longevity.

“Couples have more to draw on and more commitment to the greater good of the family.”

And what about couples who attend church regularly? Does that help?

Yes:

“The important thing is that people are integrating into a religious community as a couple,” said the National Marriage Project’s Wilcox. “People who regularly attend religious services together are more likely to stay together.

“But people who don’t go to church together are more likely to get divorced than the average American.”

So, if you want to help your own children have a better chance at making their marriages work, have more kids, not less.

Filed under: News, , , , , ,

New study: amicable divorce just as damaging for children as hostile divorce

The UK Daily Mail reports on a new study on the effects of divorce.

Excerpt:

Divorcing parents who try to maintain an amicable relationship for the sake of their children are doing nothing to help them, a major study suggests.

The impact of the split on youngsters is the same whether or not the mother and father keep cordial links, it found.

[...]The new study, the first in 20 years to examine how the behaviour of separated parents affects their children, was carried out by US academics.

It covered 270 parents who were divorced or separated between 1998 and 2004 in an unnamed US state that compels divorcees to take part in an education programme on ‘co-operative co-parenting’.

Of these, 31 per cent considered their relationship with their ex-spouse as ‘co-operative and involved’; 45 per cent were ‘moderately engaged’ with their divorced partner, with some conflict between them; and 24 per cent said their co-operation was ‘infrequent but conflictual’.

They were asked to say how their break-up had affected the youngest child in their family. The average age of children involved was eight years.

The study, published in the academic journal Family Relations, said that children of divorced parents are more likely than others to suffer ‘external’ symptoms such as behaviour problems or drug abuse, more likely to have ‘internal’ difficulties like anxiety or depression, and more likely to do badly at school.

But the researchers, headed by Dr Jonathon Beckmeyer of Indiana University, found that these children’s problems were no worse if their parents continued to row and bicker with each other after the divorce.

The study said ‘despite the expectation that children fare better’ if their divorced parents develop a co-operative relationship, the behaviour of children as assessed by their parents ‘did not significantly differ’ between the friendly and the fighting groups of divorcees.

So the take-home lesson is this: there is no such thing as a divorce that doesn’t hurt the children. If you’re thinking of divorce and you have children, just don’t do it. And if you are thinking of marriage, then be careful who you marry. Don’t cloud the judgment with premarital sex before you get to know the person and get the commitment.

Filed under: News, , , , ,

Christian philosopher William Lane Craig offers marriage advice

This post is a 3 in one: one lecture, one question and answer, and another lecture – all on different topics.

First, I’ve got a lecture from the Reasonable Faith web site.

Dr. William Lane Craig is the top living Christian apologist and debater in the world today, and has 2 Masters degrees and 2 Ph.Ds. He also has scores of academic publications including books from Oxford University Press, etc.

The MP3 file is here. (14.5 Mb, about 41 minutes)

Topics:

  • the stresses of ministry on marriages
  • the Christian position on divorce
  • balancing marriage with academic pursuits
  • the importance of marrying the right person
  • Dr. Craig’s politically incorrect advice for choosing a spouse
  • Advice for men: Marry someone who believes in you and who supports you in your calling
  • Advice for women: Be the kind of person who can commit to being a helper and supporter
  • Advice for men: Beware of the career woman who will put their career over supporting you in your calling
  • Advice for women: Be careful about marrying if you think that your goals are more important than your husband’s goals
  • Advice: Don’t try to find the right person for you but instead focus on learning about marriage and preparing for marriage
  • Advice: Flee youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, love and peace
  • Advice: God intends for sex to be within the bounds of marriage, so you need to guard yourself against unchastity
  • Advice for men: be careful what images and movies you see with the goal of keeping your chastity
  • Advice: your highest responsibility after your relationship with God is your spouse, and your studies are third
  • Advice: it’s better to drop classes or give up your graduate studies entirely rather than destroy your marriage
  • Advice for women: understand that you have to work at the marriage in order to help your man finish his studies
  • Advice: set aside a period of the day for communicating and bonding with your spouse
  • Advice: cultivate the ability to talk with your spouse on a personal level, and maintain eye contact
  • Advice for men: do not break eye contact with your wife, and also hold her hand when communicating
  • Advice: do not be embarrassed to seek out a marriage counselor, but make it a good counselor
  • Advice:  don’t just be doing stuff for your mate, but also be vulnerable and transparent with your mate
  • How your relationship with your wife helps you with your relationship with God
  • How do you handle the rebellion of children without being overbearing and authoritarian?

There is a period of Q&A at the end. There is another piece of advice that comes out in the Q&A for women: take an interest in your spouse’s work even if you don’t care about it, and ask him about it every day and try to understand it. Go to the man’s workplace and see what he does. Go to his presentations. Get involved in the man’s ministry and help him in practical ways. Another piece of advice is to not paper over the differences – it’s good to argue, because it means that problems are being confronted and worked through. Husbands should have a good male friend to talk to, and wives should have a good female friend to talk to.

I like how Dr. Craig has thought about how to have a successful marriage, how to choose the right woman, and how to love his wife. I like how he calls out men on the chastity thing. I think that chastity is more important for men than for women, because it’s the men who take the lead in choosing and pursuing the right woman for their plan.

Secondly, here is my previous post on Dr. Craig’s advice for married couples, where he gives 5 points of advice for married couples.

Here are the main pieces of advice Dr. Craig gives:

  1. Resolve that there will be no divorce
  2. Delay having children
  3. Confront problems honestly
  4. Seek marital counseling
  5. Take steps to build intimacy in your relationship

And here’s the controversial one (#2):

2. Delay having children. The first years of marriage are difficult enough on their own without introducing the complication of children. Once children come, the wife’s attention is necessarily diverted, and huge stresses come upon you both. Spend the first several years of marriage getting to know each other, working through your issues, having fun together, and enjoying that intimate love relationship between just the two of you. Jan and I waited ten years before having our first child Charity, which allowed me the finish graduate school, get our feet on the ground financially, establish some roots, and enjoy and build our love relationship until we were really ready to take on the responsibilities of parenthood. The qualifier here is that if the wife desperately wants children now, then the husband should accede to her wish to become a mother, rather than withhold that from her. Her verdict should be decisive. But if you both can agree to wait, things will probably be much easier.

Third and finally, here is a previous post on Dr. Craig’s advice for choosing a good spouse, with illustrations from his own marriage.

For example, Bill’s first story about Jan occurs early after their marriage while he is working on his first Masters degree at Trinity:

And it was also at that time that I began to see what an invaluable asset the Lord had given me in Jan. I remember I came home from classes one day, and found her at the kitchen table with all the catalogs and schedules and papers spread out in front of her and she said, “look! I’ve figured out how you can get two Masters degrees at the same time that it would normally take to get one! All you have to do is take overloads every semester, go to all full-time summer school and do all these other things, and you can do two MAs in the time it takes to do one!”

And I thought, whoa! Are you sure you really want to make the commitment it takes to do this kind of thing? And she said, “Yeah! Go for it!” And it was then I began to see that God had given me a very special woman who was my supporter – my cheerleader – and who really believed in me. And as long as she believed in me, that gave me the confidence to dream bigger dreams, and to take on challenges that I had never thought of before.

If you want to hear another Christian husband talk about how his wife supports him, listen to this lecture called “Giants in the Land” with Dr. Walter Bradley. It’s actually my favorite lecture. I also really like his testimony lecture. If you’re looking for guidance, these are some of the people I would recommend.

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Can a Christian woman divorce her husband if she is really, really unhappy?

So, the topic for this post is whether it’s OK to get divorced.

I noticed a lot of people getting divorced these days in the church, and trying to justify why they are allowed to divorce and why they should be allowed to pursue remarriage. So I’m first going to quote from an article from Focus on the Family by Amy Tracy.

She writes:

God is very clear, however, that He hates divorce (Malachi 2:16). He also says, “So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate” (Matthew 19:6). According to the New Testament, there are two justifications for divorce: infidelity (Matthew 5:32) and desertion (1 Corinthians 7:15).

Now, I had always taken the rule of Dr. Laura for this. She says that you can get divorced for adultery and abandonment (as above), but she allows allows for physical abuse and drug addiction. But it looks like the Bible is more strict than Dr. Laura, even.

Now with that Biblical standard in mind, take a look at this post about a woman who professes to be a Christian who is divorcing her husband for unhappiness, which I found on Sunshine Mary’s blog.

Look:

So how are we to understand women like Jenny Erickson, and the many other Christian women like her, who claim that despite thousands of years of Christian and Jewish tradition, despite the clear commands in Scripture not to separate from one’s husband, despite the commandments against adultery, nevertheless the Lord God Himself has made a special exemption just for her?  Because He wants her to be happy, so if she needs to be a faithless woman who breaks her vows and becomes an adulteress, then hey it’s all good?

[...]After secretly filing for divorce from her husband, Mrs. Erickson’s pastor caught wind of the situation and attempted to discuss it with her.  When she refused, the pastor went to her husband about the situation.  Mrs. Erickson has since railed against her soon-to-be ex-husband and her now ex-Pastor because they actually had the nerve to call what she was doing a sin – which, according to the Bible, is is.  Let’s read through a few quotes from Mrs. Erickson:

Thankfully, my faith in God is stronger than my fear of men, and I feel like I’m finally getting right with Him again after years of wandering in the wilderness.

[...]Here are a few more things that Mrs. Erickson claims:

It’s odd and strangely freeing to not know exactly where I’m going to be a year from now. I’ve always been the girl with The Plan. The Plan has changed every now and then, because hey, life requires adaptation, but right now there is No Plan other than love my girls like crazy, work hard enough to pay the bills, and rely totally and fully on God.  I’m sure His Plan is better than My Plan anyway.

and

I needed a time-out for my marriage — possibly a permanent one. But every person that tells me I’m going against God’s will by separating from my husband drives me further away from wanting to reconcile with him.

Details aren’t needed. Leif is the father of my amazing children, and I want nothing more than to be his friend again someday, regardless of what happens in our marriage. But things have been very broken between us for a very long time, and it took every ounce of courage I had to take the step that went against everything my religious culture told me but somehow I knew God was telling me was right.

and

To be told that this beautiful, wonderful thing I have learned exists in my soul, this thing that gives me the strength to flip my life over when nothing else has worked, this thing that has made me braver than I thought possible, and made me rely on God more than I ever have in my entire life … to be told that this is a perversion of His plan for me?

These points must confuse a lot of women because I have heard these rationalizations used by many Christian women who are leaving or have left their husbands.  Therefore, allow me to clear up the confusion that seems to be rampant (but it really isn’t confusion, it is willful disobedience), lest any of my sisters in Christ are considering following Mrs. Erickson’s example.

God’s plan for you will never include violating anything written in the Bible.

If you hear a voice whispering in your ear, Here’s the plan; what I want you to do is... and the plan includes going against clear commandments in God’s Word, then it is not God who is speaking to you.  God’s plan for your life, sister, never includes you filing for divorce.  Not ever, not under any circumstances, no matter what your husband has or has not done, no matter what you want, no matter what would make you happy.

So, I think we (men) need to be really careful with spousal candidates (women) who claim to be Christian – we need to make sure that they really are comfortable with being led and with the authority of the Bible to overrule their feelings. In fact, you can check to see if a person takes their faith seriously just by trying to lead them to take the Bible seriously. You just have to read the Bible and think about how to live it out in a marriage, and then talk to your spousal candidate about what you’ve discovered. You want to present to them your plans and your reasons for those plans, and explain what you need them to do in order to make the plan work. This is a great way to see if they know what marriage is really about and how they feel about what’s expected of them if they marry YOU.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , ,

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