Are Married Parents Better? I

(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.

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2 responses to “Are Married Parents Better? I

  1. I am not sure if it is a question of better but instead I think it is different. Married parents come with a different set of ideals than unmarried therefore they are different. This is not to say one is better than the other as I have seen good and bad with both but there is something different in their view of the world and relationships.

    • If every couple has the option of getting married then you might well find interesting differences between those couples that choose marriage and those that do not. Indeed, I think there is research about different-sex couples that bears this out.

      But I feel a need to include a caution here. The category of different sex couples who choose not to marry is doubtless a very complicated one and so general statistics might be misleading. Even if you are only looking at different sex couples who choose not to marry, you have an incredibly wide range of people and circumstances. And in some instances, it isn’t a choice about values but about eligibility for benefits or pensions or such like.

      However, if there are couples who cannot marry (and here I am thinking of same-sex couples in most jurisdictions) then it’s that much harder to generalize about unmarried couples. That category presently includes some who would marry if they could as well as those that would not choose to marry.

      All that said, I am personally inclined to agree with a general approach that says sometimes it’s more accurate to say that things are different without saying one is better or worse. What I really mean to say here is that some people (and they happen to be on both sides of the marriage debate) do insist that married parents are better. I want to examine that argument.

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