Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Is There Hope for the American Marriage?

I picked up a July 2 copy of Time Magazine in the hair salon today, and was surprised to find an excellent—no actually quite remarkable—article on the state of marriage titled, "Is There Hope for the American Marriage?" Exceedingly well-written by Caitlin Flanagan, who doesn’t mince words, the article can be found here: http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1908243-1,00.html

Here is a reporter who is more concerned, finally, with the facts regarding the state of marriage than with the wishful thinking that is often promulgated. In short, marriage, whose reason for being, in Flanagan’s words, is “to raise the next generation, to protect and teach it, to instill in it the habits of conduct and character that will ensure the generation's own safe passage into adulthood” is, for many, morphing out of that intended state. Instead, it is at risk of becoming nothing more than a self-serving institution that implodes when mommy or daddy simply are no longer happy. So the parents split up and think, since they themselves are now happy, their kids must be too. How many of us have heard people talk themselves into the lie that “the kids are happier now that we’re separated.” Right. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the research and facts do not bear that out. On the whole, kids of divorced parents are not happy and do not function as well as they would in a non-divorced home. (I am not talking about cases of physical and emotional abuse: nobody need stay in a relationship that is dangerous to themselves or the children.)

“There is no other single force causing as much measurable hardship and human misery in this country as the collapse of marriage. It hurts children, it reduces mothers' financial security, and it has landed with particular devastation on those who can bear it least: the nation's underclass,” writes Flanagan.

She goes on to say how “few things hamper a child as much as not having a father at home.” This is something Barack Obama concurs with when he says, "We need fathers to step up, to realize that their job does not end at conception; that what makes you a man is not the ability to have a child but the courage to raise one."

But this is the winning quote from the article: ‘"As a feminist, I didn't want to believe it," says Maria Kefalas, a sociologist who studies marriage and family issues and co-authored a seminal book on low-income mothers called Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage. "Women always tell me, 'I can be a mother and a father to a child,' but it's not true." Growing up without a father has a deep psychological effect on a child. "The mom may not need that man," Kefalas says, "but her children still do."’

Of course they do, and this backs up and supports God’s design: families begin with marriage and then stay that way. But many people think they can ignore God’s design, go their own way and actually make it work. But they are often living in denial.

‘"There's a 'sleeper effect' to divorce that we are just beginning to understand," says David Blankenhorn, president of the Institute for American Values. It is an effect that pioneering scholars like McLanahan and Judith Wallerstein have devoted their careers to studying, revealing truths that many of us may find uncomfortable. It's dismissive of the human experience, says Blankenhorn, to suggest that kids don't suffer, extraordinarily, from divorce: "Children have a primal need to know who they are, to love and be loved by the two people whose physical union brought them here. To lose that connection, that sense of identity, is to experience a wound that no child-support check or fancy school can ever heal."

Of course, there is only one way to heal from anything, and that is through Jesus Christ. Although the article doesn’t get into faith, I can unequivocally say here that kids of divorce can always find a connection--the most important connection ever-- along with a sense of identity, through a relationship with Jesus Christ.

So why the mess in so many marriages and why so much divorce?

Flanagan, in very few words, pretty much hits the nail on the head.

“We recognize that it (marriage) is something of great worth, but we are increasingly less willing to put in the hard work and personal sacrifice to get there.” Yes indeed. Self-centeredness rules the day. And until that pride is dealt with, families that could thrive will wilt, and children that could themselves be learning about other-centeredness are at risk of repeating the “me” patterns of mom and dad.

As Flanagan says, “What we teach about the true meaning of marriage will determine a great deal about our fate.”

"Has not the Lord made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth. 'I hate divorce,' says the Lord God of Israel,...so guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith." Malachi 2:15-16

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