Family in the iWorld

The late 1980’s gave us a television sitcom called “My Two Dads.”  The premise centered on two single men who had been tasked with raising a 12-year-old girl.  Her mother had passed away, and she had awarded custody to Michael and Joey—two of her former boyfriends.  As you might expect, the humor arose from watching two single guys try and be parents.  After all, in the late 80’s, no one would expect two men to be effective parents.  And while each episode had a happy resolution, the whole concept was farfetched enough to remain confined to the airwaves.

Times have changed.  Even before 2015’s court ruling on same-sex marriage, same-sex parenting has become increasingly common.  Coupled with the changing face of marriage in general, we’ve re-defined family entirely.

“So what?” we might ask.  “If family stability is so critical, does it matter if there are two loving mothers or two loving fathers instead of a ‘traditional’ mom and dad?”  In other words, isn’t the stability of families more important than the composition of families?

SAME-SEX MARRIAGE AND FAMILY STABILITY

The research on this is highly controversial—so much so that at the university level, sociologist Mark Regenerus has been sharply criticized for some of his recent research in this area.  He summarizes his findings in an interview with Slate:

“One notable theme among the adult children of same-sex parents, however, is household instability, and plenty of it. … While we know that good things tend to happen—both in the short-term and over the long run—when people provide households that last, parents in the [study] who had same-sex relationships were the least likely to exhibit such stability.”[1]

Mark Regenerus has barely hung onto his career after publishing his findings.  In most circles, his name has become tarnished.  Some question his data based on his research methods, but still others label his research as “intentionally misleading.”[2]  The problem, of course, is that there’s simply not enough data on the opposing side to fully counter Regenerus’ argument. Still, more research is ultimately needed to settle this issue.  We can, however, listen to the voices of those raised in same-sex households.  Brandi Walton is one such voice, recently publishing her story in an article entitled “The Kids are Not Alright:”

“Growing up without the presence of a man in my home damaged me personally. All I wanted from the time I was a little girl was a normal family. …I had a desire unlike any other to create my own family and have stability, and this led to two extremely unhealthy relationships…. Shortly afterwards, I met my husband, and everything clicked. For the first time, I felt alive and complete. Having children and seeing a man parent a child for the first time was beautiful and awe-inspiring. It only reinforced my belief that a child needs a mother and a father, and that same-sex parenting and single parenting are far inferior to heterosexual parenting when done correctly….The effects of growing up the way I did still plays a part in my life today. I was beyond self-conscious as a child, and constantly worried about what others thought of me. I was always terrified of someone finding out my mom was a lesbian and then wanting nothing to do with me. For most of my life, the perceived opinions of others have dominated, and only recently have I been able to let that go.”[3]

THE NEED FOR MOMS AND DADS

Walton highlights something quite basic: Children need mothers and fathers.  Ryan T. Anderson suggests that this is rooted in our complementary design as men and women.  Therefore, he says, “there is no such thing as ‘parenting.’  There is mothering, and there is fathering, and children do best with both.”[4]

This isn’t merely a product of moral alarmism or religious bias. Anderson cites a report published by the (left-leaning) research group Child Trends.  The report concludes:

“[I]t is not simply the presence of two parents…but the presence of two biological parents that seems to support children’s development.

[R]esearch clearly demonstrates that family structure matters for children, and the family structure that helps children the most is a family headed by two biological parents in a low-conflict marriage. Children in single-parent families, children born to unmarried mothers, and children in stepfamilies or cohabiting relationships face higher risks of poor outcomes.… There is thus value for children in promoting strong, stable marriages between biological parents.”[5]

Anderson suggests that the parenting styles of fathers help their sons develop into mature men—and the absence of strong fathers leads to what he calls “compensatory masculinity” in the form of violence, abuse, and crime.  Fathers also assist their daughters’ maturity.  Daughters raised by caring and affectionate fathers are less likely to pursue sexual relationships at early ages.  Anderson even cites President Barack Obama, who at one time said:

“We know the statistics—that children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime; nine times more likely to drop out of schools and twenty times more likely to end up in prison. They are more likely to have behavioral problems, or run away from home, or become teenage parents themselves. And the foundations of our community are weaker because of it.”

Anderson points out that President Obama is “a tremendous example” of someone who grows up in a non-nuclear family only to “defy the odds.”  But exceptions do not prove the rule—and Mr. Obama is right: our communities become weaker in the absence of strong family ties.

THE SOCIAL NEED FOR FAMILY STABILITY

Recently I’ve seen a number of articles, videos, speeches all devoted to a singular topic: teaching men not to rape.  In the United Kingdom, Thames Valley Police have begun using a video comparing sexual consent to offering someone tea.[6]  Though clever, the video left me wondering: why do we need to “teach” men not to rape?  Why are we also not teaching men not to murder, or commit acts of arson?

If we understand the research compiled by Anderson and others, then we are left to conclude that a fatherless generation will ultimately wreak havoc on social stability.  The “compensatory masculinity” that Anderson observes in fatherless sons can lead to such crimes as abuse and even rape.  It’s ironic, then, that a culture would simultaneously endorse the seeming meaninglessness of the nuclear family while at the same time struggling to “teach men not to rape.”  While I would hope that ad campaigns are successful, the better solution is not education, but family solidarity.  Families matter for society?

Christianity would see this as another reflection of God’s “common grace:” that families are a gift for all people (not just Christians) and that these families have a vital role in the preservation of God’s creation.  But the erosion of traditional families also offers Christ’s followers a unique—and ironic—opportunity: to be counter-cultural by being traditional.  We may show the value of traditional, nuclear family systems in the way we raise children and conduct our lives.  And ultimately these examples display God’s love to a fatherless world.

 

[1] Quoted from William Saletan, “A Liberal War on Science?  Don’t Bury Mark Regenerus’ Study of Gay Parents.  Learn What It Can Teach the Left and the Right.”  Appearing online at http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/human_nature/2012/06/don_t_let_criticism_of_the_new_gay_parents_study_become_a_war_on_science.1.html

[2] See the joint statement of “GLAAD:” “Flawed Paper Claims to Overturn 30 Years of Credible Research that Shows Gay and Lesbian Parents are Good Parents,” appearing online at http://www.glaad.org/releases/flawed-paper-claims-overturn-30-years-credible-research-shows-gay-and-lesbian-parents

[3] Brandi Walton, “The Kids are Not Alright: A Lesbian’s Daughter Speaks Out,” The Federalist, April 21, 2015, http://thefederalist.com/2015/04/21/the-kids-are-not-alright-a-lesbians-daughter-speaks-out/

[4] Ryan T. Anderson, Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom, Kindle edition, loc. 496.

[5] Quoted in Anderson, loc. 496-553.

[6] “Police launch Youtube ad campaign comparing sexual consent to fixing tea,” The Guardian, October 27, 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/media/2015/oct/27/police-youtube-ad-campaign-sexual-consent-tea

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