Wednesday, July 4, 2007
Children Not as Important to Today's Marriages
In the beginning children were integral to the meaning of marriage. God told the first man and woman to "be fruitful and multiply." Of course it has always helped to have a relationship that was supportive and caring and emotionally fulfilling. But that wasn't the primary purpose way back then.
Times have changed over the centuries and millenia, though. According to David Crary of the Associated Press, "the percentage of Americans who consider children 'very important' to a successful marriage has dropped sharply since 1990, and more now cite the sharing of household chores as pivotal, according to a sweeping survey."
How far have children fallen in importance to a 'successful' (I really don't like that word!) marriage? In the Pew Research Center survey on marriage and parenting they have plummeted to 8 out of 9. They are behind other criteria such as "adequate income" and "happy sexual relationship."
And the main purpose of marriage according to people now? The survey reveals that it is "mutual happiness and fulfillment."
All this has not occurred without some concern being expressed by experts. "The popular culture is increasingly oriented to fulfilling the X-rated fantasies and desires of adults," said Barbara Dafoe Whitehead of Rutgers University's National Marriage Project. "Child rearing values - sacrifice, stability, dependability, maturity - seem stale and musty by comparison."
Dafoe has identified the root of the problem. Modern society is by definition inward-looking and basically self-centered. And this nature of our society is obvious in the many examples of couples who are childless by choice (not by physical necessity as in those who have conception problems), teen-pregnancies brought about by kids putting pleasure before responsibility, and parents who neglect their children by abuse of alcohol and drugs.
Postponement of marriage in favor of cohabitation also seems related to these findings. Instead of providing a stable environment where children feel secure and safe, couples selfishly try out relationships until they think they will work (meaning they are sure they are emotionally fulfilled and satisfied), or wait until they can afford some fantasy wedding experience while enjoying the benefits of a physical relationship in the meantime.
The findings of the Pew Research poll are not surprising. However, they are disconcerting for our future, especially in the church. The family unit, complete with parents and children, is a basic component of the church upon which all other relationships are built. Modeled after the love of Christ for the church, families live out this mystery of the faith in their daily life. But if children are now low on the list, where does this leave us? The church has a calling to teach now more than ever. If society's warped value system predominates we will pay a huge price. It will not be easy, but we should take such findings as helpful warnings of what is facing us, and work now to set a different pace within the church. We must not be "conformed" to the world, as Paul tells us, but "transformed" by the Good News of God's Grace.