Wed­ding bells that never ring

The Washington Times Daily - - Life - RE­BECCA HAGELIN

My daugh­ter Kristin and I are laugh­ing, cry­ing and reminiscing our way through the prac­ti­cal prepa­ra­tions for her up­com­ing wed­ding. She is mar­ry­ing a won­der­ful young man, and my hus­band and I feel con­fi­dent that th­ese two young adults to­gether will cre­ate a strong fam­ily, rich in faith, love and com­mit­ment.

So it was par­tic­u­larly sad for me to read a Slate ar­ti­cle on Dutch women who scorn mar­riage as a relic of times gone by. The ar­ti­cle’s au­thor, New York Univer­sity pro­fes­sor Katie Roiphe, wrote that she re­al­ized dur­ing a re­cent visit to Am­s­ter­dam that “hav­ing chil­dren and not be­ing mar­ried was not a big deal. … The Dutch at­ti­tude … is that mar­riage is not for ev­ery­one; it is a per­sonal choice, an op­tion, a pleas­ant pos­si­bil­ity.”

Ms. Roiphe goes on to urge Amer­i­cans to stop “be­ing in thrall to the rigid, old-fash­ioned ideal of mar­riage.” She pre­dicts that if we move past rigid mar­riage ideals, we will leave be­hind our cul­tural fret­ting over low-mar­riage rates, high di­vorce rates and grow­ing num­bers of sin­gle moth­ers. We could fo­cus in­stead on what mat­ters, on “ac­tual re­la­tion­ships, on in­ti­ma­cies, on sub­stance over form.”

Ms. Roiphe misses the point. Mar­riage is not some ar­bi­trary box — form over sub­stance — that gen­er­ates sta­tis­ti­cal con­cerns over things that don’t mat­ter. Mar­riage mat­ters be­cause it cre­ates a sta­ble en­vi­ron­ment built on last­ing com­mit­ment; it al­lows cou­ples to flour­ish and grow and cre­ates the ideal en­vi­ron­ment for rais­ing chil­dren.

The cul­tural con­cerns over fall­ing mar­riage rates and ris­ing num­bers of sin­gle­par­ent house­holds won’t dis­ap­pear if we do away with mar­riage, be­cause the prob­lems that re­sult from fall­ing mar­riage rates and grow­ing rates of sin­gle par­ent­ing won’t dis­ap­pear.

Mar­riage makes things bet­ter for chil­dren. Chil­dren raised by their mom and dad within mar­riage do bet­ter on nearly ev­ery in­di­ca­tor of well-be­ing.

Ho­mo­sex­ual-rights ac­tivists like to ar­gue, based on small stud­ies of self­s­e­lected ho­mo­sex­u­als, that as long as a child has two lov­ing par­ents, it makes no dif­fer­ence if par­ents are same-sex or a mom and a dad. It’s not true. A large, long-term Cana­dian study re­leased this year shows that “chil­dren of gay and les­bian cou­ples are only about 65 per­cent as likely to have grad­u­ated from high school as the chil­dren of mar­ried, op­po­site-sex cou­ples,” de­spite the fact that same-sex mar­riage and gov­ern­ment ben­e­fits have been avail­able to ho­mo­sex­ual cou­ples for years. Cer­tainly in­di­vid­ual chil­dren raised in less-than-ideal cir­cum­stances can — and do — over­come the odds, but it’s a much tougher road.

Mar­riage makes things bet­ter for the cou­ple, too. An au­thor­i­ta­tive work, “The Case for Mar­riage,” parsed the re­search and found that mar­ried cou­ples tend to be healthier, hap­pier and wealth­ier than their di­vorced or sin­gle coun­ter­parts.

Co­hab­i­ta­tion, in con­trast, is un­sta­ble and un­com­mit­ted by de­sign. A re­cent Huff­in­g­ton Post ar­ti­cle high­lights re­search show­ing that “over 50 per­cent of cou­ples who co­hab­i­tate be­fore mar­riage are bro­ken up within five years,” and “over 75 per­cent of chil­dren born to cou­ples who are not mar­ried no longer live with both par­ents by the age of fif­teen.”

Mar­ried cou­ples are more likely to do well fi­nan­cially, phys­i­cally and emo­tion­ally, and also in the work­place. “Of the twenty-eight women who have served as CEOs of For­tune 500 com­pa­nies, twenty-six were mar­ried, one was di­vorced, and one had never mar­ried,” says Face­book Chief Op­er­at­ing Of­fi­cer Sh­eryl Sand­burg.

Ms. Roiphe protests mar­riage as the “Amer­i­can nor­mal,” fa­vor­ing in­stead the Dutch “lais­sez faire ap­proach,” which “ac­com­mo­dates the vi­cis­si­tudes of the heart, the chang­ing na­ture of love, the great va­ri­ety of forms at­tach­ments take in real life.” What Ms. Roiphe doesn’t un­der­stand is that love ceases to be love once it em­braces a “no strings at­tached” men­tal­ity. Real love seeks to tie the knot, to com­mit, to cre­ate and to con­sider oth­ers out­side it­self.

Per­haps the sad­dest part of Ms. Roiphe’s nar­ra­tive is her de­scrip­tion of Dutch sin­gle moth­ers with “rich ro­man­tic his­to­ries” and chil­dren with­out fa­thers. Th­ese women pur­sued “love” as a per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence, in all its “myr­iad, un­pre­dictable va­ri­eties.” But they found them­selves ul­ti­mately alone with­out a clue of what love re­ally means. And that’s truly sad. Make sure you take the time to dis­cuss all the ben­e­fits of mar­riage with your chil­dren. If you have a bro­ken home, be hon­est about what ev­ery­one is miss­ing — your chil­dren al­ready know it, but your be­ing hon­est with them lets them know that there re­ally is some­thing bet­ter. Give them hope that one day they can have a happy, in­tact mar­riage of their own.

If you are hap­pily mar­ried, take the time to dis­cuss what makes a good mar­riage work, and make sure you and your spouse work on your mar­riage when you hit rough spots.

For great re­sources on how to im­prove your own mar­riage and dis­cuss the sub­ject with your chil­dren, check out the web­site of the na­tion’s lead­ing au­thor­ity on mar­riage and fam­ily, James Dob­son at MyFam­i­lyTalk.com.

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