November 24, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
This article is good enough you might believe the author, economist Stephen Moore, has been reading the National Parents Organization blog (Washington Times, 10/31/14). But, come to think of it, it’s not that good. Still, it makes a lot of points that by now should be obvious to everyone. Indeed, the only people not to grasp them seem to be policy-makers.
Being an economist, Moore’s naturally concerned with the doldrums in which the economy remains mired, six years after the Obama administration’s massive stimulus package went into effect. He’s also concerned about poverty in the wealthiest country in the world. And to his credit, Moore steps out of his economist’s box and deals with ideas other than tax laws, federal spending and the like.
This may be a surprising statement from a bleary-eyed, number-crunching economist, but the best anti-poverty program in America may not be tax cuts, debt reduction or regulatory relief, but rather that old-fashioned institution called marriage. It turns out that poverty rates are very low among intact families and prevalent among homes without a father. Children who grow up in single-parent households are much more likely to face economic trouble as adults.
Those who cheer divorce as a form of women’s liberation, or who say that stigmatizing out-of-wedlock births is just right-wing sermonizing, just don’t get this intertwined connection between two-parent households and economic success. Sociocultural factors like the decline of marriage are leading causes of the wealth gap and the stubborn poverty trap in many low-income neighborhoods.
Ah yes, there’s nothing quite as liberating as poverty. The truth is that married, intact families are better for mothers, fathers and kids than any other family structure yet devised. But still we pretend that marriage, or at least committed intact relationships are optional, that, in some way, they’re not the foundation of every stable civilization we know them to be.
Radical feminists have been preaching this sermon for well over 40 years now. Simone de Beauvoir was doing so long before that and the likes of Katherine MacKinnon still do. The odd thing though is that their well-heeled and well-educated sisters have always noticed the wink with which those feminists deliver their anti-family message. The out-of-wedlock childbearing rate in the U.S. is now a bit over 40% for all women, but for those with a college education it’s about 8%. The anti-family feminist message seems to have only one audience — the very one that can least afford to accept it.
Moore understands, like Daniel Patrick Moynihan did back in the 60s, that there’s no government program that can do what an intact family can.
Still, what is irrefutable is that marriage with a devoted husband and wife in the home is a far better social program than food stamps, Medicaid, public housing or even all of them combined. This conclusion is made clear by a new eye-opening and sometimes depressing report called the Index of Culture and Opportunity by my colleagues at the Heritage Foundation. Its conclusion: We must reshape our culture before we can ever hope to make a big dent in the number of poor households.
Truer words were never spoken. Indeed, take away single-parent households and the need for those various anti-poverty programs would drop sharply. But there’s more. The improvement in the lives of children and the reduction in stress levels of adults who live in poverty would go a long way toward ameliorating all the vast array of mental, emotional, psychological, social and physical deficits that are associated with poverty and single parenthood. How much do governments at every level spend on programs to combat poverty, crime, drug and alcohol addiction, domestic violence, unemployment, declining educational outcomes, etc.? Huge amounts of those expenditures could be saved by a single cultural change — marriage (or at least committed unmarried relationships). Somehow we’ve convinced ourselves that destroying families is a good idea and, when it turns out not to be, instead of trying to mend the institution on which all sound civilizations have always depended, we pour money into programs to fix the ills caused by broken families. That those programs almost uniformly don’t do the job should be no surprise; they’re treating symptoms, not causes.
Of course there’s no way to require anyone to get or remain married. Laws that seek to do so are doomed to failure and shouldn’t even be passed. But what governments can do is take the lead in stating and restating the truth — that everyone’s better off in intact families. That means that no one should have a child unless two parents commit to caring for it until it reaches adulthood. Is that a guarantee that everyone would do so? No, but governments can teach the true message to children and adults alike.
Governments can encourage producers of pop culture to deliver the message as well. After all, among its many virtues, perhaps the best aspect of that message is that it’s true. As a rule, everyone’s better off in an intact family and having been raised in one. Drum that message into people for 10 years or so and I’d wager we’d see some changes in rates of marriage and ultimately in all those many deficits we currently face. In the process, government spending could come down. As John Lennon once sang, “Imagine.”
Now, I’ve praised Stephen Moore’s piece, and rightly so. His points are well worth making time and again. But what he overlooks is the role family courts play in family breakdown. It’s understandable to look at a divorcing couple and conclude that there is a broken family. That’s true enough. But as many people have pointed out, families don’t end with divorce. At least when there are kids involved, that family goes on, just in different form. And it is that different form that is shaped almost entirely by family courts. Will little Andy or Jenny have a real relationship with both parents after they’ve split up or not? The judge decides. And what the judge decides affects little Andy or Jenny for years to come, possibly for life.
But it’s not just the child who’s affected; it’s the parents as well. Will Mom live in poverty? Almost 40% of single mothers do. Will Dad become depressed, suicidal, unable to work due to mourning the loss of his children? It happens all the time and suicide rates for fathers spike post-divorce. And then, as little Andy or Jenny grows up, the loss of a parent begins to play out in all those grown-up ways I detailed earlier.
Part of the cultural fix Moore rightly calls for must also be a legal fix. Family courts and family laws need fixing. For everyone’s sake they need to set aside the outdated and destructive notions they’ve rested on for far too long. They need to start ensuring as their first priority the full, meaningful, ongoing relationships between both parents and their children. That too will ameliorate poverty among single mothers by freeing them of enough of the childcare obligation to allow them to work and earn a living wage. And it will benefit kids, dads and society generally.
Moore’s correct as far as he goes. But whenever we talk about the virtues of intact families, we need to remember the virtues of equal parenting when those marital relationships break down.
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