Sunday, February 7 , 2016, 6:54 am | Fair 43º

Mona Charen: Not Married, with Children Wrongly Has Become Socially Acceptable

Children raised by single parents has an ill effect on our society, our schools — even our happiness

By Mona Charen | @mcharen |

The advice columns of newspapers are good windows into the conscience of a culture. There you will find a field guide to what is considered socially acceptable and unacceptable. One of the advice columnists for the Washington Post, Carolyn Hax, is consistently sensible and solid in her suggestions. Straightening out busybodies, drug abusers, interfering in-laws and ungrateful children with equal aplomb, she’s usually a pleasant read with the morning coffee.

But not always. A recent response to a letter from “Grandmother-to-be” provides an example of the collapse of social wisdom on the subject of marriage and childbearing. “My 26-year-old son’s girlfriend — of four months — is pregnant,” grandma wrote. “I have very mixed emotions about this, mainly because he just met her, and I do not know her. They work and live across the country. I am disappointed in their behavior. How do I tell my friends the news? I am embarrassed.”

If I were an advice columnist, I would start with the reminder that telling one’s friends is a low priority at the moment, while acknowledging that feeling ashamed of her son (not the young woman, as she has no relationship with her and thus cannot justifiably feel disappointed in her) is understandable under the circumstances.

Next, I would have pointed out that since the couple will be parents, the very highest priority should be to encourage them to marry as soon as possible. A shotgun wedding? Obviously not. Those days are gone. But for all concerned — most particularly for the unborn child — a stable family is now essential.

Hax indeed began by dismissing the friend worry but with a very different emphasis. “There’s a child on the way, and this is your big concern? ... American adults overwhelmingly choose premarital sex. ... Plus, birth control isn’t perfect, so you have statistical permission not to single this couple out for shaming.”

Well, if shame were still attached to getting pregnant outside of marriage, it would be no bad thing. But fine, Hax seemed to be going in the right direction with the next sentence. “Any big concern belongs with the stability of the home that will welcome this baby ...” But then, instead of recommending an immediate and tasteful elopement, she wrote, “If they plan to raise the baby as a couple ...”

If? For so many 21st century Americans, that’s the way it’s done. A child on the way will not affect the couple’s decision about marriage. They may move in together. They may not. She may move into her mother’s house. He may visit every day — for a while. She may try to raise the child by herself. It may not be her first or his. The fate of the relationship is regarded as utterly separate from the fact of the child’s existence.

Many, many young adults who already have babies and toddlers will explain that they “aren’t ready” for the commitment of marriage, or that they haven’t found the right person. How have we managed to get so confused?

The collapse of marriage among the lower and lower-middle classes is rapidly tapping our national strength. Women from wealthier families get it. They basically wait until they’re married to have babies. They know that two parents create stability, financial security and the social structure to optimize the chances of rearing happy, healthy and productive new citizens. The illegitimacy rate among women with college educations, while it has tripled since 1960, is still only about 8 percent.

As Kay Hymowitz noted in Marriage and Caste in America, “Virtually all — 92 percent — of children whose families make over $75,000 per year are living with both parents. On the other end of the income scale, the situation is reversed: Only about 20 percent of kids in families earning under $15,000 live with both parents.”

The failure to marry on the part of the lower and lower-middle classes, not the tax code, Wall Street or competition from China, is what is aggravating inequality in America.

The toll is incalculable. In every way that social science can measure — school performance, drug abuse, unemployment, suicide, poverty, depression, dependence on government handouts, mental illness, violence and far more — children raised by single parents (especially when their parents never married) are at a severe disadvantage. The failure to form families is devastating our schools, exacerbating inequality and diminishing happiness on a grand scale.

So yes, “Grandmother-to-be” should be worried — not about what to tell her friends, but about what will become of her grandchild if his/her parents choose to join the ranks of the great unwed.

Mona Charen of National Review magazine writes for Creators Syndicate. Click here for more information or to contact her. Follow Mona Charen on Twitter: @mcharen.

» on 02.01.12 @ 11:20 AM

I want to add one element to her comments:  every day, it seems, yet another “celebrity” decides that they don’t want to be married even though they have 3 or 4 children.  Another “celebrity couple”,  Seal and his wife Heidi Klum, just “split” leaving their four young children to fend as best they can.  Oh, Seal and Heidi say they are still good friends, but they have just grown apart.  This is something we are seeing more and more:  couples just don’t want to be together anymore.  We, as a society, seem to always want something new and the idea of a lasting commitment to another person/family is no longer important enough to keep a couple/family together for the long haul.  Sad, isn’t it!  Everything is disposable now, even the family.

» on 02.01.12 @ 05:56 PM

People have sex who should not marry each other. Parents in a bad marriage can be far worse for the child than having one parent. I can name several monumental disasters of this type among only the couples I know. Unmitigated, miserable, traumatic, and damaging disasters.

Likewise, among only the people I know, I can name several who were raised by one parent and most had a very happy childhood. Just like “normal.”

True, marriage binds the father financially, but it does not make happy children. In this day and age, there should be a simple DNA-based financial paternity obligation, without having to get married. Likewise, if the father takes over the raising of the child, mommy should have an obligation to help pay expenses.

Mona is a good writer, but she extraordinarily unworldly. And wholly self-righteous and self-indulgent. People should get married for only one reason: because they want to be married to each other for life. This BS about “shotgun” marriage just supports the divorce industry and keeps lawyers busy.

» on 02.01.12 @ 08:33 PM

Yes, BUT, don’t any of these people understand how they get pregnant?  Perhaps now is the time to “holler” for birth control, so that these people who shouldn’t get married don’t get pregnant.  Just a thought, but perhaps this is far to simplistic for people at this time in our history.

» on 02.02.12 @ 12:13 AM

The real solution would be reversible sterilization. Tie the tubes until the person passes a viability test that shows that they are old enough, married, and have the knowledge, the will, and the minimal wherewithal to be a parent.

Isn’t it time that we stopped letting the sex drive lead everyone around by the nose? Kids and ignorant poor people are not going to stop doing it. Hell, even the threat of getting HIV won’t slow some people down.

» on 02.03.12 @ 12:37 AM

Rambler, don’t you think your solution is a bit draconian.

» on 02.03.12 @ 03:30 AM

I have not read the entire article but I seriously believe Hax was right in her opinion.

The Bible says over and over, “Thou shalt not judge” I say let he or she who is without sin cast the first stone. The bible also preaches that if man claims he is without sin .“He or She is a liar.” As a Christian I have enough facts to accept the situation and I wish to add. The grandmother appears to be concerned more for herself than that of the baby.

» on 02.03.12 @ 08:27 PM

We fail way too often in these cases to look at the root causes of behavior or why social organs develop mores and customs to deal with them. Rambler has actually touched on a real root here to his credit. We have turned sex into a drug, mislabeled sex as love and then unleashed a torrent of laws and social changes to deal with the consequences. The purpose of sex is to make a baby. Everything else is for self gratification or personal pleasure. Biology alone makes what we do now in the name of sex a sin.

That said societies developed institutions to deal with the powerful chemical drive to fornicate without purpose by instituting unions to guaranty some stability, not for fornicators but for the result, children. Imagine how much less pain and suffering our culture and society would have to endure if we only had sex to make a wanted child? Imagine if that child’s security and future then became the highest priority of those who brought them into the world? No divorce, no adultery, no abused or neglected children. No abortion clinics, no chemical contraceptives, no screwing around and being unproductive. We behave badly then look for any excuse possible to rationalize that behavior. Soon we seek out others behaving badly so we have comfort in numbers and then all hell breaks loose.

Marriage was institutionalized in cultures to bring about some stabilization and make for a safer more productive environment to raise our offspring. Hollywood has chosen to cheapen this institution along with many activist groups without ever considering the long term damage. The decay of the nuclear family and those values and traditions that ensured quality in child rearing has been going on for decades now and really there is little hope of getting what we have unleashed back into Pandora’s box and closing it. Historically, this is the stage in a culture that indicates its decline and ruin. We can pretend it isn’t so or continue to be blinded by our own intellectual narcissism and think we know better when we are in fact demonstrating the exact opposite or we can realize we have erred and badly and start to make amends. Those old traditions, customs and mores that were developed over millennia through much pain trial and error have a good purpose and we are not smart enough by a long shot to start chucking them because it “feels good”.

» on 02.04.12 @ 02:18 AM

AN50, I understand your concerns, particularly when we see so many children without fathers in the inner city suffering from poverty and a host of other maladies. However, your warning about having sex for other purposes than procreation is just not realistic these days. In theory, I know what you’re saying, but, in reality I just don’t think this a practical solution for most people.

We do need to encourage people to be responsible and not to have children unless married and prepared for the critical responsibilities. I wish there was an easy answer to this, but it has bedeviled us for many years. I do think as a society we need to have a continuing dialogue about this and let kids know the consequences of having children before they’re ready. The bottom line is this is most effectively done by parents, but as you point out, there are fewer intact families where these values can inculcated.

» on 02.07.12 @ 01:04 PM

All I’m saying Lou, is we need desperately to stop making excuses for doing things we know deep down in our souls, is wrong. There is a reason cultures developed sexual taboos. They did not have the science and biology to understand human chemistry but they saw the disaster succumbing to it, wrought on societies. Now we know that sexual activity releases a fusillade of hormones to reinforce the behavior that got you there, encourage pair bonding and make you feel good. Other narcotics have similar effects and we discourage their use. However we create an entire industry to vacuum a woman’s womb of the nuance our reproductive organs produce when we want to drug ourselves with our own body chemistry. Shame on humanity.

» on 06.08.12 @ 01:22 AM

Someone should share with grandma that what others think about her is none of her business. I have found that you can do little to offend friends and absolutely nothing to please those that don’t care about you. Just enjoy life and screw all the conventions. They too shall change.

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