Monday, March 26, 2007

Family Planning

On a radio talk show the other day the subject was the presidential campaign, specifically whether or not it would hurt Rudy Guliani that he is now on wife number three, and whether or not that should make any difference. During the ensuing conversation a legislative initiative in Tennessee came up, and that topic garnered a good bit of comment. The proposed law would make it more difficult to get a divorce, and the host wanted to know what everyone thought about that law.

A particular case was discussed in which the couple wanting the divorce had been married for 18 years, and the law, if enacted, would cause the partners in troubled marriages to go to counseling and such and delay a divorce about a year. The wife had commented that they had been married for 18 years, and the idea of divorce was something that hadn’t just come up the week before at breakfast. They had been having trouble for a while and had finally realized that for the good of all concerned, kids and adults, they should split up.

Broken homes are indeed a big problem in our society, and if we have fewer of them that would be a good thing. Forcing people who hate each other to live together, however, isn’t a good way to prevent broken homes, and if we are concerned about “the children,” having parents at each other’s throats isn’t going to help them develop normally. Of course, having parents split up while they are still young isn’t good for their development, either, as study after study has shown. Children from broken homes, particularly single-parent homes, are at great risk for a host of serious problems.

The best thing for a stable society—our society—is to have it filled with good, solid families: one man, one woman, in a loving, committed, long-term relationship, with one or more children that they love and that love them.

The way to cultivate stable families, it seems to me, is to do a little work on the front end. After all, we have to go to school 12 years to get a high school diploma. We have to study a little and take a test to get a drivers license. If you just think about it a minute, there are all kinds of things that have requirements that must be met before you can do something. Yet, in most states once we are 18 years old all we need to get married is a blood test and a willing accomplice. Producing a child requires even less of the parents. What kind of sense does that make?

Back in the old days, things were very different. I am talking about the really old days when a date consisted of the boy and girl sitting in the parlor so the girl’s parents could get to know him, and then the two spending several more nights in the parlor getting to know each other before actually going out on a date. Dates were things like picnics and movies and such. The result of this process of courting was that people got to know each other more deeply early on. I wonder if young people, or even older ones, who are entering into a dating relationship understand that just because you like each other, you both like the outdoors, and hamburgers and adventure films, and the sex is good, that doesn’t mean that they know enough about each to know they can endure the pressures of marriage and parenting that inevitably arise in a relationship, and it doesn’t reflect the couple’s ability to form a substantive relationship that will last for decades.

Marriages evolving from that “old fashioned” dating lasted a long time and produced stable families. It didn’t hurt that society frowned on divorce.

These days it is too easy to get married, and it is too easy to get divorced. If there were some way to “train” prospective mates, perhaps by covering the subject of developing a meaningful and long-lasting relationship as a school subject that focused on the good and bad of interpersonal relationships, and stressing the long-term ideal for marriage, people might not make hasty judgments based on superficial criteria, but learn that what makes marriage work is far more complicated than they think it is.

As for divorce, it doesn’t make any sense to perpetuate a poisoned relationship, and forcing people to remain in them likely does more harm than good. But it shouldn’t be so easy to get a divorce that people rush out to the lawyer’s office at the first argument or on a whim.

Finding a way to build secure marriages ought to be a national priority, because as we have seen since the 60s and 70s, families have weakened, and weak families put a society at risk of collapse.

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