Lesson 4 of 7 - optimize your relationships

An Alarming American Trend...

Marriage is Becoming Less
About Rearing Kids


By Brooke Adams
The Salt Lake Tribune  6-29-03

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      This report indirectly suggests that American kids are at increasing risk of inheriting psychological wounds from early-childhood neglect and abandonment. From 36 years' clinical research, this brief YouTube video outlines this risk. The video mentions eight lessons in this self-improvement Web site - I've reduced that to seven.

      See my comments after the article.' The highlights and links below are mine. - P. K. Gerlach, MSW

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RENO, Nev. -- The old schoolyard jingle about marriage -- first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in a baby carriage -- may need a rewrite.

The National Marriage Project's latest report finds a growing disconnect between children and marriage, with fewer adults holding the view that the main purpose of marriage is to rear children. Instead, marriage is prized for meeting emotional and sexual needs of the couple.

This fading notion of marriage as society's chief child-rearing institution is reflected in a Gallup Poll that found nearly 70 percent of Americans disagree with the statement that "the main purpose of marriage is having children." The percentage is even higher (79 percent) for people ages 20 to 29. "If there is a story to be told about marriage in recent decades, it is not that it is withering away for adults, but that it is withering away as a family experience for children," said Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, who co-wrote the study with David Popenoe at The National Marriage Project at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

Today, the number of U.S. children living in families with two married parents stands at 69 percent, far off the 85 percent of children reared in such families in 1970 -- contributing to what the report calls a " poverty of connectedness" for children. Children are being "pushed to the margins of society and, except when they cause mayhem or are victims of sensational crimes, to the sidelines of our social consciousness," Popenoe told The Salt Lake Tribune.

The two researchers shared their findings Saturday in Reno, Nev., at the Seventh Annual Smart Marriages/Happy Families Conference, which attracted 1,700 people from around the world. The conference is sponsored by the Washington, D.C.-based Coalition for Marriage, Couples and Family Education. In hundreds of workshops, participants received tips on how to promote, support, strengthen and defend marriage as an institution in large measure to ensure more children grow up in happy, loving families with both parents.

Popenoe and Whitehead said that while there are positive signs lately in social trends for families -- a dip in the divorce rate, a 1 percent rise in children in two-parent families and a decrease in teen sex and pregnancy -- it is too soon to celebrate any real "family turnaround." They point to other measures that may be signaling more difficulties for marriage and children: The marriage rate continues to decline, more couples choose to live together rather than marry, and many of those who do marry are older and either delay having children or opt to have none at all.

And yet, there is an infatuation with marriage in pop culture, reflected in TV dating reality shows like "The Bachelor," movies such as "My Big, Fat Greek Wedding" and books that emphasize romantic, soul-mate aspects of unions creating what the researchers call "the cult of the wedding."

In a view shared by many of his colleagues, family therapist and author Frank Pittman on Saturday called the idea of a soul mate a cruel joke. "I can't believe anybody who buys that has been married for longer than 15 minutes," Pittman said during a separate talk on the importance of fathers. "We have all married the wrong person. We are the wrong person. And that is the starting point."

Yet, 94 percent of twenty-somethings in a recent Gallup Poll said they were looking for a soul mate. "Why shouldn't they want a marriage that is 'for me?' " asks Randy Chatelain, a marriage therapist and associate professor at Weber State University in Ogden. That, he said, is what consumer culture and its focus on instant gratification have taught young adults, he said.

But children and their well-being are left out of these popularized notions of marriage, even as profound legal, social and cultural changes are at work to reshape the institution, Whitehead said. The goal of marriage is, instead, more often seen as a "spiritualized union of souls" -- which may actually weaken marriage as an institution for rearing children since qualities of a good lover can vary drastically from those of a good parent.

"The downside is these marriages are much more fragile and subject to divorce when you have to meet the exacting, emotional demands of a soul-mate standard," Whitehead said. The separation of parenthood from marriage is reflected in the fact that more than a third of children today are born outside of marriage. "Young people seem to think of marriage and parenthood as two separate tracks," Whitehead said. That is, have a baby and then find your soul mate.

By 2010, the Census Bureau projects families with children will make up only 20 percent of all U.S. households -- down from just under half of all households in 1960. "It's a tremendous shift," Popenoe said. "It means many adults in the course of their daily lives aren't in contact with children."

Despite its family-oriented culture, Utah parallels that trend. Just 35 percent of the state's households are composed of a married-couple family with children under age 18, down from 38 percent in 1990, according to the census. The findings matter, researchers say, because of nearly five decades of studies that show children do better when they grow up with two biological parents who are in a committed, low-conflict marriage -- the goal of the national marriage movement.

"I am constantly reinforced in my views in my daily life about the importance of having two parents in a healthy marriage," Popenoe said. "We certainly should be concerned about it in a society where it is less possible than ever. It is not a minor thing that we are messing around with."

Copyright 2003, The Salt Lake Tribune.

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Comment

      This article indirectly supports this non-profit Web site's main premise: that the low- nurturance-level of average U.S. homes with minor children is significant and growing, A sobering implication is that an increasing number of American kids are not getting their developmental needs met well enough.

      My clinical study since 1979 suggests that such a nurturance-deficit promotes significant psychological wounding in minor kids. This amplifies the silent  [wounds + unawareness] cycle that is silently weakening our families and culture.

      Lesson 1 in this self-improvement course is about reducing inherited psychological wounds. Lesson 4 is about optimizing relationships - including  marriage. Lesson 5 is about co-creating a high-nurturance family, and Lesson 6 is about effective parenting.

      To lend perspective to the article above, note these...

U.S. Marriage Statistics

       The 11/7/07 online newsletter of Life Innovations, Inc., a nonprofit marital enrichment program, published these statistics. No sources were given...

  • Of the 2.3 million marriages in 2006, about half (53%) took place in a religious setting.

  • The average cost of a wedding is $27,500.

  • Married households are barely above 50%. Of the U.S. 111 million households, 52% are now made up of married couples with and without children.

  • 25th Wedding Anniversary becoming more rare. There is less than a 50% chance that couples currently married will reach their 25th anniversary.

  • The U.S. divorce rate continues about 50%. While the average divorce rate is 50%, it is 40% for first marriage, 60% for second marriages and 73% for third marriages.

  • The seven year itch continues. Couples separate on the average seven years after marriage and divorce after eight.

  • Over 90% of people get married once. But those marrying are waiting until they are older and they are less likely to remarry following a divorce.

  • Rate of Cohabitation Escalates. Over 6 million couples now cohabit, a dramatic increase from only 500,000 cohabiting couples in 1970.

Peter K. Gerlach MSW

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