Monday, August 10, 2009

An Outdated Institution?

This afternoon, following the flight from Atlanta, I took the M60 bus - W train - 6 train public transport combo from LaGuardia Airport back to the pad in Little Italy.

En route, I had the chance to read some of the latest print edition of The Atlantic, which includes a provocative article by Sandra Tsing Loh entitled "Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off." Subtitle: "The author is ending her marriage. Isn’t it time you did the same?"

It goes without saying that I don't agree with the conclusions reached by Tsing Loh in the piece. (It certainly was a departure from what I saw and heard over the weekend in Wichita!) But, the article is a good read and provides ample food for thought about relationships and life-long human development.

One passage:

... In World Values Surveys taken at the turn of the millennium, fewer Americans agreed with the statement “Marriage is an outdated institution” than citizens of any other Western country surveyed (compare the U.S.’s tiny 10 percent with France’s 36 percent). We are also more religious—more Americans (60 percent) say they attend religious services once a month than do the Vatican-centric Italians (54 percent) or, no surprise, the laissez-faire French (12 percent). At the same time, Americans endure the highest divorce rate in the Western world. In short, although we say we love religion and marriage, Cherlin notes, “religious Americans are more likely to divorce than secular Swedes.”

Cherlin believes the reason for this paradox is that Americans hold two values at once: a culture of marriage and a culture of individualism. Or is it an American spirit of optimism wedded, if you will, to a Tocquevillian spirit of restlessness that inspires three out of four Americans to say they believe marriage is for life, while only one in four agreed with the notion that even if a marriage is unhappy, one should stay put for the sake of the children. If America is a “divorce culture,” it may be partly because we are a “marriage culture,” since we both divorce and marry (a projected 90 percent of us) at some of the highest rates anywhere on the globe. Hence Cherlin’s cautionary advice consists of two words—“Slow down”—his chief worry about our frenetic marriage-go-round being its negative impact on our children. In fact, while having two biological parents at home is, the statistics tell us, best for children, a single-parent household is almost as good. The harm comes, Cherlin argues, from parents continually coupling with new partners, so that the children are forced to bond, or compete for attention, with ever-new actors. These are the youngsters who are likely to suffer, according to a measurable matrix of factors such as truancy, disobedience in school, and teen pregnancy. Instead of preaching marriage, Cherlin says, we should preach domestic stability for children. Is marriage the best way to ensure this? Apparently not, at least not the way we do it in America.

The bolding is mine. As someone who has had four step-parents (two step-mothers and two step-fathers) in his 33 years, I have to say this line rang true.

The image above, which accompanied the magazine article, is credited to Kim Rosen.


St Edwards Blog said...

What an interesting sounding article, thanks for your insights about it.

This post was captivating and compelling at many levels - thank you.

We are marriage crazed in this country and bizarrely so! In the mid-90's I took a break from my corporate life to go work at a housewares retailer and worked with many brides on their registries. It was often, at least at that moment, so much about the event and less so, it often seemed, than the union.

To whole culture of individualism is important and something I think about frequently. I believe that it is what is killing us.

Anyway, my thoughts are all over the place here, so I should shut up.

I will add this - it was important to see the impact of this on your own development. I think about this as my husband was married before and he has a daughter.

It never fails to escape me that the great grace of God has created a most amicable situation for our families. We are not hanging out but we are very fluid and very warm towards one another. We live very close by also. All this results in my 13 yo stepdaughter feeling greatly loved and held by 4 people.

That said, and I think we may have one of the best situations, the divorce (she was 6) took its toll on her and always will.


Thank you Paul. Sorry for the rambling comment here. You have really hit a nerve.

God bless.

Anonymous said...

It rings true in an intuitive way, as well.

St Edwards Blog said...

I just linked to this post.