(Last leg of my journey. I’m now in the Phoenix Airport which, remarkably enough, has free Wifi. So I’ll take this chance to move along a bit with yesterday’s opener. I’m embarking on a consideration of marriage and parenthood, particularly in light of the controversy over access to marriage for same-sex couples, which has most recently been fed by the Iowa Supreme Court decision.)
I want to take this step-by-step in order to really examine the ways in which marriage and parenting are related, or are seen to be related. I’ll start with a critical underlying assumption I make: Children benefit from stability in their lives.
I think it is very important to explicitly identify this as an assumption at the outset. As is true with any argument, if you disagree with the initial assumptions, you won’t buy the argument. That’s true even if the logic is perfectly water-tight. Too often we don’t articulate the assumptions we make clearly and that makes it a good deal harder to assess the merits of an argument. So I do want to be clear about this.
I know I could muster a good deal of evidence in support of my initial assumption, which I could review here in an effort to persuade everyone that the assumption is true. There are many studies from disciplines like psychology and sociology that support the assumption. But I have no doubt that there are also studies that dispute the assumption I’m making. I’m not really in a position to assess the methodology of the studies–the fields they are in are not my field of expertise. And I know myself well enough to know that if you gave me a choice between all those studies, I’d accept the ones that support my assumption and reject the others. I suppose what I mean here is that I’m not exactly open-minded on this point. Which is why I think it more candid to simply say I’m making an assumption.
Perhaps I should note that while I am going to assume that children benefit from stability in their lives, this does not mean I assume that any instability automatically harms children. Children seem to me to be extraordinarily resilient. They flourish under remarkably difficult circumstances. I stand in awe of them for that capacity. At the same time, if all other things are equal, I do think that stability is better than instability.
Now, not only am I going to assume that children benefit from stability in their lives, I’m also going to assert that many if not most people in mondern America share this assumption. I don’t know if this is culturally specific to our time and place. Perhaps in other ages, in other cultures, this is not a shared assumption. I don’t know if it is some essential truth. But I think it is accepted here and now.
I’ve gone on at great (and likely tedious) length here because the assumption is so very critical. The next step in the argument, which I’ll discuss tomorrow, is that marriage enhances stability. I’m not so sure that I accept this proposition, but you can see how quickly this connects up marriage and parenting: If stability is important and if marriage somehow makes you stable, then marriage makes you a better parent. That will be tomorrow’s topic.