Thursday, November 12, 2009

Insightful Reading, Brave Writing

Caitlin Flanagan wrote a lead article for the Times this past summer. I stumbled across it as I sat in a waiting room yesterday. I was pretty amazed. The topic addressed was the condition of marriage in these here United States. She lobbied in favor of old fashioned commitment with no holds barred.

As I read it, I wondered at the audacity, the willingness of the editors to publish such writing. Sure enough, when I Googled the article I found plenty of heat and flack in response to their bold choice. Apparently Caitlin is known for her anti-feminist writings. Maybe mainstream media keeps her around just to stir the waters occasionally. But maybe some people will listen. Here are some of the things she wrote in black and white in a mainstream news source in 2009!

This, in reference to confessed infidelities of Mark Sanford and John Ensign:
And so two more American families discover a truth as old as marriage: a lasting covenant between a man and a woman can be a vehicle for the nurture and protection of each other, the one reliable shelter in an uncaring world — or it can be a matchless tool for the infliction of suffering on the people you supposedly love above all others, most of all on your children.

She cites, unfortunately, something unique to American culture:
As sociologist Andrew J. Cherlin observes in a landmark new book called The Marriage-Go-Round: The State of Marriage and the Family in America Today, what is significant about contemporary American families, compared with those of other nations, is their combination of "frequent marriage, frequent divorce" and the high number of "short-term co-habiting relationships." Taken together, these forces "create a great turbulence in American family life, a family flux, a coming and going of partners on a scale seen nowhere else. There are more partners in the personal lives of Americans than in the lives of people of any other Western country."
Some troubling (and for some reason, surprising) findings from our social scientists' studies:
...on every single significant outcome related to short-term well-being and long-term success, children from intact, two-parent families outperform those from single-parent households.
(This was a reference to drug use, promiscuity, poor performances in school, incarceration, etc.)

Few things hamper a child as much as not having a father at home. "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."

"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."
Something in us longs for lasting unions. (I wonder why that would be...)
America's obsession with high-profile marriage flameouts — the Gosselins and the Sanfords and the Edwardses — reflects a collective ambivalence toward the institution: our wish that we could land ourselves in a lasting union, mixed with our feeling of vindication, or even relief, when a standard bearer for the "traditional family" fails to pull it off. This is ultimately self-defeating. It is time instead to come to terms with both our unrealistic expectations for a happy marriage and our equally unrealistic beliefs about the consequences of walking away from the families we build.
Getting down to the brass tacks of it all:
The fundamental question we must ask ourselves at the beginning of the century is this: What is the purpose of marriage? Is it — given the game-changing realities of birth control, female equality and the fact that motherhood outside of marriage is no longer stigmatized — simply an institution that has the capacity to increase the pleasure of the adults who enter into it? If so, we might as well hold the wake now: there probably aren't many people whose idea of 24-hour-a-day good times consists of being yoked to the same romantic partner, through bouts of stomach flu and depression, financial setbacks and emotional upsets, until after many a long decade, one or the other eventually dies in harness.
Or is marriage an institution that still hews to its old intention and function — 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? Think of it this way: the current generation of children, the one watching commitments between adults snap like dry twigs and observing parents who simply can't be bothered to marry each other and who hence drift in and out of their children's lives — that's the generation who will be taking care of us when we are old.

So we have discovered, once again, that God knew what He was talking about. He, for some strange reason, hates divorce. Perhaps we have tasted why.

We could have spared ourselves the heartbreak and devastation of this costly experimentation with divorce culture, but we didn't. So what now? Maybe, just maybe, we'll return to Him, we will "reason together". Then He, as He alone can do, will heal us and put our families back together.

We can only hope.


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