A Blog is an opinion rather than an article. While CSM teaches through its articles and books, the CSM Blogs are efforts by CSM consultants to struggle with difficult ideas in Christian education and move to some kind of clarity. Please read any CSM Blog in that light.
Do We Believe in Family? Prove It!
I recently tweeted some information about the demographic changes that have been happening in the US, but also reflected around the world and particularly in Europe. The Fordham Institute reported that “according to the 2017 National Vital Statistics Report, the out-of-wedlock birth rate in the black community is now 71 percent, a tripling of this woeful trend. The white community has seen its own out-of-wedlock birth rate climb from 5 percent in 1965 to nearly 30 percent today, exceeding the 23 percent crisis levels Moynihan thought were catastrophic five decades ago. Hispanics have seen their out-of-wedlock rate balloon to 53 percent.”
I found the reaction of readers to be interesting. One thought that the family was indeed a key part of how societies stuck together but the rest were less impressed by my horror. Here are some excerpts:
“That’s a pretty old-fashioned view of what a family is. Although research suggests that children in single parent households fare less well than those in two parent families, most of the evidence is for children of divorced parents and the lower socio economic status of divorced, single mothers, plus the inevitable trauma of the breakdown of family life is generally felt to be the largest influence in this – particularly given that research into the life outcomes of children who are born to a single parent are very similar to those who are not. Many people who are single parents – myself included – are not single parents by choice, and the judgement of others about this does not help my children or me. Having said that, my children have been raised in an entirely secular, single parent household and are good, successful people. I don’t subscribe in any way to the idea that a high proportion of single mothers is a disaster for society.”
“I also particularly dislike the breakdown into white, Hispanic and black. What relevance does this have?”
“Quietly disagree with the tone of the breakdown and the assumption that it is a disaster – the old construct of what constitutes a ‘family’ was doomed to failure for a number of reasons – mostly because it was institutionalized through the construct of men and their control of their women and children. The assumptions made were power based in church and state. As this changes, with the inevitable collapse of old state and old church, so does the human relationship structure.”
That 3:1 breakdown of new thinking vs. traditional thinking about the usual family structure seems to really reflect the realities of current society. But I am going to go out on a limb and say that those who are ok with the breakdown of the traditional family (whatever that means – were Joseph, Mary, Jesus, and his siblings a traditional family?) are well-off economically. The data is indisputable that children of one parent families are economically poorer and have fewer educational opportunities than children from two parent families. This doesn’t mean that they are loved less – that’s a whole different topic and ‘love’ is color blind and money blind. It means that if you only have one parent, you are at a disadvantage.
A recent Brookings report penned by both Democrats and Republicans (Opportunity Responsibility and Security) agreed that it was critical “To strengthen families in ways that will prepare children for success in education and work: 1) Promote a new cultural norm surrounding parenthood and marriage. 2) Promote delayed, responsible childbearing. 3) Increase access to effective parenting education. 4) Help young, less-educated men and women prosper in work and family.”
The norm around marriage is that it is rapidly becoming normal to be NOT married.
It is equally becoming more normal to either not have children at all or not to have them through marriage. Sex seems to be a constant.
The conclusion the Brookings Institute comes to? “Marriage doesn’t automatically deliver what children most need—a stable and secure environment with two engaged, committed, and nurturing parents—but it certainly offers the most reliable means to achieve those ends.”
I commented recently on another topic that we should have alumni/ae on our school walls who have been married for 25 years. That was not a frivolous remark then and it has even more poignance in this context. In what ways are our Christian schools supporting, reverencing, and teaching the importance of marriage as they go about sex and health education. It’s obvious that our kids need to know about safe sex since statistically they’re going to be having ex (41% of high schoolers in 2015 and, interestingly, in decline). It’s not as obvious but equally important that they learn about the implications of safe relationships i.e. the relatively poor prognosis of single parenthood and the importance of family. This can’t be taken for granted. Barna reported in 2008 that “Born again Christians who are not evangelical were indistinguishable from the national average on the matter of divorce: 33% have been married and divorced.” We cannot assume that Christians think any differently in practice about marriage than their secular neighbors. Indeed, the group with the 2nd lowest chance of divorce are families that are well-off! Staying married is an economic correlate!
Caveat: In Christian schools, we need to have a deep conversation about how to support marriage, how to talk about marriage, and how to defend marriage. The idea that it is between a man and a woman, while defensible and, for me, personally appealing both theologically and in my own practice, is not necessarily the world that our children are living in. Since we are schools and not seminaries or churches or cultural backwaters, we have to work with our children in real life. Beth Moore’s recent Letter to My Brothers included the statement: “Many women have experienced horrific abuses within the power structures of our Christian world. Families can be both a reflection of the relationship that Christ has with the church as well as a place of deep fear and abuse. Again, marriage is a difficult topic and it would be understandable if schools stayed away from it. But, like sexual activity, it is a part of real life and we must find a way through.
So I believe that God ordained family and that family is the best place for children to grow up – there’s a lot of secular research to support that. I think that schools are places where families come for support – maybe it was different in the 20th century but it is true today. We have to find ways to support families (even odd families like Jesus’ family!) so that our children / students know that this is a healthy way to develop relationships and bring up the next generation themselves. It’s not just about “love” – it’s also about commitment and grit and courage and self-sacrifice and grief, and joy and fulfillment and promise and future. If we believe in family, we’re going to have to prove it.