Because I’m so busy working and writing the blog, I almost never have time to read books any more. Right now I am reading Jay Richards’ “Money, Greed and God” and Jennifer Roback Morse’s “Smart Sex”. I read Smart Sex on Saturday when I go to lunch.
I found a wonderful series of passages on marriage and child development in Smart Sex, and I’m going to type the whole thing in for you, because I think it’s so important.
Excerpt from p. 41-43. Dr. J writes:
I believe the real issue driving the “marriage debate” is the question of what we owe to children. Do we owe them material resources, provided by society at large? Or do we owe them personal relationships, provided for them by the particular people who brought them into existence? If children truly need a two-parent, married-couple family, this would place obligations upon the adults to get married and stay married. Many adults are reluctant to accept these particular obligations. So they, along with their allies in high policy-making places, try to minimize the importance of the evidence or to reinterpret it to mean that children really need more material support from government and business.
From this perspective, the questions are: What is the minimal set of human relationships that a child can have and still turn out tolerably well? What is the least adults have to do in relationship terms for their kids to get by? How much money does society have to pump in from outisde the family to make up for the loss of relationship, so that I won’t have to give up my belief that parents are entitled to any lifestyle choices they want?
This minimalist mentality shows up in the conclusions people draw from these studies. For instance, people reinterpret the studies showing that a stepfather who spends enough time with this stepchildren can ward off some of the problems often seen in divorced families. A one level, this is undeniable. Of course children benefit from more time and attention from their fathers and stepfathers. But we are not justified in drawing the conclusion that there is no reason to be concerned about family structure as long as stepfathers spend enough time with their stepchildren. The very same study also shows that stepfathers, on average, spend much less time with their wives’ children than do biological fathers.
Many people seem to beleive it is unreasonable to expect or even encourage people to get married and stay married. But asking stepfathers to behave like biological fathers may be every bit as unreasonable . Stepfathers behave systematically differently from biological fathers. It is unrealistic to expect men to work as hard to on a relationship with another man’s child as he would with his own child. It is more straightforward, as well as more sensible, to expect men and women to work together to maintain their marriages in the first place.
Some people argue that the children of single and divorced parents would do fine if only society would increase the resources available to the children. The government should provide some combination of subsidized day care, housing allowances, and income supplements to increase the standard of living of the children of single-parent households. This postition is unpersuasive because most studies show that problems remain even after accounting for differences in economic resources. The resources that two parents can provide are not likely to ever be fully replaced by a single parent, no matter how heavily subsidized.
I bellieve that children are harmed by the loss of relationship itself, not simply by the loss of resources. The primary business of parenthood is relational. Parenthood is much more than a process transferring resources from Big People to Little People. If that were true, resources from outside the family could possibly make up the losses that children experience from the loss of a parent.
The primary responsibility of parents is to build relationships with their children and prepare their children to build relationships on their own when they mature. The whole attachment process, upon which conscience development depends, is a relationship-building process. Replacing a father with a paycheck is not a service either to the child, who misses out on the father’s love, or to the father, who becomes reduced to a combination sperm donor and wallet.
I propose that we confront these relationship issues with more generosity toward children. Instead of asking how little we have to do, we should ask what children need from their parents in order to thrive. Instead of asking how much money it takes to substitute for the presence of both parents, we could ask what parents can do to keep growing in love and regard for each other. We should not embrace a collective responsibility for financial support for children when we could embrace the personal obligation to nurture and cultivate loving relationships between spouses. We should be asking how we adults can support each other in maintaining our marriages.
The reason why I am chaste is because I need to court effectively so I can choose a wife who believes what Dr. Morse wrote – that parenting is an important purpose in marriage, that both parents matter and that the government is not a subsitute for mothers and fathers. I can test if a woman is qualified to parent annoying, aggressive, insolent little child monsters letting her try to nurture me during the courtship. If she can develop my Chrsitian worldview, then should be able to handle the children.
I think my single male readers should think the same way. Stop thinking with your hormones and start thinking about what women can do for God in relationships. We all need to realize that the time to address marital problems is during the courtship phase of the relationship. Therefore, choose wisely. And we should stop trying to grow a secular government to replace the parents. If a secular government is responsible for the children, then those children will never form relationships with God in Christ.
On the contrary, Christian parents must jealously guard their children from a secular government. And that means we should favor limited government and a free market, with unregulated, low-taxed small businesses creating plenty of jobs so that we have lots of pay left over after taxes to spend on stay-at-home moms, private schools, and apologetics training materials. We can spend our own money better than any secular government can to buy anything that our children may need. It’s our responsibility.
Jennifer Roback Morse’s blog is here.