Do Children Need Married Parents to Thrive?

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The NY Times has a great online section called “Room for Debate” in which they enlist writers from a spectrum of views to give their opinion on a particular issue.

The August 30, 2011 issue is: Should Parents Marry for the Kids?

The rules are predetermined. It is a given that a happy, healthy marriage is great for raising kids. The question is if cohabitation is just as good as a marriage for the purposes of raising kids.

The contributors all make good points. Some make bad points too.

One thread that seems to run throughout it is that we are a marriage-centric society. This automatically tips the scales in favor of marriage. But why is marriage better? What is it about saying “I do” that could make the relationship a better environment for raising kids?

The simple answer is commitment. Marriage connotes a greater commitment than cohabitation. Divorces are painful, expensive and difficult. Couples that are married think twice (or more) before a divorce. The assumption is that if the couple is not getting a divorce they will work on the relationship to the point that it is a stable environment for raising children. However, cohabitation is much easier to sever. Just take your things and leave and it is over. Since it is easier to end the relationship, it is more likely that a child of cohabiting parents will end up living with one parent.

Worse than living with one parent is the shuffling of parent figures. Single parents are people too. They have a need for relationships and those needs can turn into several different partners over the course of a childhood. This can be traumatic.

Since cohabitation ends up being shorter than a marriage, more often than not, many of the contributors favor marriage for raising children.

This is a reasonable argument.

But I wonder, as do some of the contributors, what will happen if more and more people opt for cohabitation and our society becomes less marriage-centric? If it turns out that cohabitation is not an indicator of stability is there still an advantage that marriage can claim over cohabitation?

I believe the answer is yes.

A marriage is celebrated with a wedding. A wedding is a ceremony full of old rituals and traditions. A wedding takes something greater than the union and binds the couple. A religious marriage ceremony includes a member of the clergy and God Almighty. Even a secular marriage includes a judge and “The Law”.

It seems to me that invoking a greater power when forming a union of marriage gives the relationship a greater sense of purpose; something that makes the union holy or consecrated. I believe that is good for a relationship and even better for rearing a family.

Life is full of challenges. Placing a greater purpose than one’s personal needs into a relationship and a family can be a wonderful glue during difficult times. Anytime one begins to feel lost, knowing that there is a greater purpose to the most important things in one’s life, a spouse, children, family can be the greatest comfort in the darkest of times.

Marriage indicates that the relationship has something “more”. A wedding symbolizes this “more”. This “more” is priceless. It is also built into a marriage. Cohabitation can have it too. But getting married guarantees it.

Link: NY Times

  • Great post rabbi. I find this issue to be another indicator of a generation that less and less believes in the concept of obligation and responsibility. It’s all about the “me”

  • Anonymous

    Dear Rabbi: I cannot personally agree that marriage adds something “more” to a relationship, because I never cohabitated sans marriage prior to my marriage 42 years ago nor since being married, and I certainly would feel uncomfortable if my children ever lived with someone outside of marriage.  That said, your thoughts are grounded in your Orthodox belief system, and are not based on studies.  That’s why you can conclude that marriage adds more–more what?  The blog would have been just fine excluding the last paragraph in which it sounds like you are then trying to prove something to someone–can’t be done.
    Dr. Harold Goldmeier, writer, consultant on social and public policy, father of six  Chicago 

    • Dear Dr.

      Thank you for commenting.

      It is true, I come from a perspective of an orthodox Jew. I have an opinion. It is not fact nor is it stated as fact. It is a belief. But I believe it is a reasonable belief. I am not trying to “prove” anything. I am trying to offer an opinion that I think others might appreciate or enjoy thinking about.

    • >That said, your thoughts are grounded in your Orthodox belief system, and are not based on studies.
      I sometimes feel a constant need for studies is simply a mark of too much hyper-intellectualism. Do we really need a study to show us a society is better off with certain social norms, such as marriage? A little wisdom can take one much father than a study.