Center for Marriage and Families

An Announcement About the FamilyScholars Blog

04.29.2013 11:07 AM

Dear FamilyScholars readers:

In the constantly changing digital age, the FamilyScholars blog has had a relatively long life. Launched in 2003, it hosted a lively discourse until a brief hiatus in 2008, then re-launched in 2010 and has been active ever since. Over the years, dozens of FamilyScholars bloggers have written powerful posts, engaged one another’s ideas, and made friendships or found worthy debating partners in the comments section—in fact, more than a few of our bloggers originally began as commenters at the site. As editor since 2010, I personally have enormously appreciated the variety and depth of relationships I have formed because of this blog.

So it is with some sadness, but also with bright confidence about new possibilities, that I share with you today that the FamilyScholars blog will again go on hiatus. We simply don’t have the staff right now to maintain the blog and the comments section at a high level of excellence. And, more importantly, we want to broaden our outreach on the full range of civil society topics that the Institute engages in the U.S. and the world. (See to learn a lot more.) The new publication, with a new editor, will launch soon. Please do sign up to be alerted about it and share the news with others.

For now, I want to offer gratitude: To all of our FamilyScholars bloggers for the extraordinary, volunteer contributions they have made over the years; to our wonderful Institute for American Values staff who have made this blog technically possible; and, most especially, to our readers who engaged our ideas, kept us sharp, and shared our posts with their friends around the world.

Thank you.


Elizabeth Marquardt

Two New Stories from Anonymous Us

04.29.2013 10:21 AM

Below are two recently submitted stories, one from a young woman conceived via egg donation, the second from a birthparent.

Feeling Betrayed:

Before she died when I was ten, I worshipped my mother. She was a beautiful, straightforward, loving human being and I was proud to be her blood and flesh, her real daughter. But growing up, I always felt something was wrong. I didn’t look like her, I looked Caucasian, too white and freckle to be completely Japanese. Even after she left, I took solace in knowing that I was hers, that someday I might look more like her, that I would attract the attention of many men like she did. She was mine and I was hers in both flesh and heart and I was immensely proud and happy to know that. It was my beacon of light throughout the lonely years of my childhood. I was the luckiest kid in the world to have such a beautiful mom. When I was fourteen though, my father told me that she had loved me very much and to never forget that she was my real mother who bore me, but genetically my REAL mother was an anonymous Korean/German woman. I pretended like it was no big deal, like all it was was explaining my strange eyes and my brown blonde hair. I was so heartbroken. The person I believed to be my own was in fact, not. This distanced me even more from my memories of her and I was so distraught and angry when no one was looking. I wish they hadn’t told me. I really wish they hadn’t. Thinking past that, I do want to meet my biological mother, but I feel like if I expressed these feelings to my father, he wouldn’t understand and tell me that it wasn’t important. But I WANT to know. There are so many questions within me.Do I have siblings? The sister I’d always hoped for? Did they look like me? What did my mother look like? Would she like me? Did she want to know me? Is she alive? I’d like to meet her someday. And if not, I’d like to at least know who she is. A name perhaps.

Single Mother in St.Louis, MO:

I am a birth mother to a beauitful baby girl who is now 5 yrs old. I have always wanted to be a mother and age was against me and the fact that I had never met a Mr.Right . I love my child with all my being and only want to give her the best of everything just as all parents do. When I had the bio clock ticking I asked an ex who I had remained really close to for many years and have known him since I was 15 to help me. He was not into it for a long time it took me the better part of 2 yrs to convince him . When I did he went along with it and charged me for his “DONATION”. At this point in my life I saw what a great father he was to his other 2 kids and I thought he would be the same with this baby. Boy oh boy was I wrong. He is from an all Italian family and he claims they would not accept how she came to be. What a cop out. At any rate I was adjusting to being a only parent to my daughter till she has been asking alot of questions and I dont know how to proceed. My child is very intelligent and will ask me where her daddy is and why he doesnt love her. I tell her he does love her and that he lives very far away and that mommy and daddy just dont get along. The sad thing is he lives a hour from us and he sees his son who is out of state more than he has ever seen his daughter. I want to protect my child and not hurt her in any way so I dont know how to answer her questions she only just turned 5. How do I proceed I want her to know how much I wanted her and would not change a thing. Another thing that bothers me is that we were trying to conceive naturally and it did not happen we had to use a fertility Dr. How can he just walk away and how do I proceed with my child moving forward. Please help if any ideas.

Bucking the Trend and Marrying Young

04.27.2013 10:31 PM

One married friend of mine, who just completed a master’s program and had her son two days before my son was born, told me that one of her grad school study buddies would often give her a hard time about being married with a baby at the age of 24.

“Your life must be so depressing,” she would suggest, before mentioning all of the pretty things at Banana Republic that a young married mom simply couldn’t afford (or have occasion to wear). Which did at times make my friend, who considered herself to be relatively happy, wonder if she should be depressed.

However, at another time, this same study buddy told my friend, “You are the only person I know who is not on mood enhancing drugs [by which she meant medication for depression].”

In the “Knot Yet” report, one trend emerges most clearly: young adults are delaying marriage, even as many of them are not delaying children.  Indeed, “The Great Crossover,” as the report terms it, is that “for women as a whole, the median age at first birth (25.7) now falls before the median age at first marriage (26.5).”

As a researcher in small-town, working-class Ohio, this is the world I’m in. Many of my new friends and acquaintances are unmarried with children. Take for instance, Stephanie, who my husband and I wrote about here.

But it’s not the world I came from. Like my friend above, many of my friends from high school and college are engaged or married. And many of the married ones are pregnant or have children. And most of them, like me, are around the age of 25. (My husband and I married right out of college at 22 and 21 and we went to a lot of similarly aged friends’ weddings that summer and the following summers. This summer my 22-year-old brother is marrying his high school sweetheart.)

My husband and I certainly didn’t feel pressure to marry. In fact, my dad had reservations, and living in New York City made us feel a bit crazy for marrying so young. And I don’t think that my friends felt pressure to marry either. Thankfully, there is the recognition today that the single life can be deeply meaningful, too.

So why did we? Read More

The M.Guy Tweet

04.27.2013 2:53 PM

Marriage Media
Week of April 21, 2013
Courtesy of Bill Coffin

1. The Affluent Are Fine; Focus on the Poor, The New York Times: Room for Debate

Yet, many of our transfer policies — like housing assistance and food stamps — unintentionally penalize marriage among lower-income couples.

2. The Impact of Divorce, “Maybe I Do”: Modern Marriage and the Pursuit of Happiness – Kevin Andrews

In 1990, Jane Mauldon of the University of California at Berkeley found that children of divorce run a 35 percent risk of developing health problems, compared with a 26 percent risk among all children.

3. An Economy That’s Tearing Our Society Apart, The Washington Post

It’s hard to overstate the breakdown of marriage and the rise of single-parent families. Consider out-of-wedlock births. In 1980, about 18 percent of births were to unmarried women; by 2009, the proportion was 41 percent.

4. More Young Couples Commit – To Homeownership Before Marriage, Time: Business & Money

Nearly one-quarter (24%) of polled married couples ages 18 to 34 said that they purchased a home before they were married.

5. Seven Things You Don’t Know About Interfaith Marriage, Fox News

A quarter of couples in same-faith marriages actually started off in different faith ones. This suggests not only that religion in America is remarkably fluid, but also that spouses can have a powerful influence over one’s spiritual choices.

6. Voting for National Fatherhood Initiative’s 2013 Military Fatherhood Award™ Opens on Facebook, PRWeb 

National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI) has selected the four finalists for the 2013 Military Fatherhood Award™, and now it is up to the public to choose the awardee on NFI’s Facebook page.

7. I’m So in Love — Or Am I? 10 Experiences That Signal You Are in Love, Huffington Post

  • 1. You are operating as a loving adult, not as your ego-wounded self.
  • 6. You are committed to working through conflict in loving ways.
  • 9. You don’t expect to be on cloud nine all the time.

For more, see here.

Car Shopping

04.26.2013 12:25 AM

Today I drove Stephanie to the local gas station and garage to meet the man who would take her car to the junk yard. (Her car broke down yesterday, in case you missed it.) He got out of the cab of a large white truck and walked towards us, a US Marines ball cap covering wavy gray hair, chin length and tucked behind his ears.

He looked at the forlorn little thing in the corner of the parking lot and muttered, “Engine’s not working so she’s only good for parts. She’s worth about $250.”

“Okay,” Stephanie said.

He pulled a large wad of bills out of his back pocket and handed her two wrinkled hundreds and a fifty.

“That can’t be safe! Must have been at least $3000 in his pocket!” Stephanie commented after he was gone.

And then we were off for the afternoon to car shop. Her car budget is no more than $2000 out the door.

Stephanie has some help in the search. Her old friend, Toby, who is a mechanic, tentatively offered to spend his lunch break tomorrow checking out some cars for Stephanie (as long as his girlfriend doesn’t get too mad about him talking to her, that is).

And Stephanie’s dad texted to say that he’d keep his eyes open for something. “Just don’t go buy the first POS you see,” he cautioned.

“He wants me to buy a new car,” Stephanie told me. When she called him to ask if he knew of anything for sale, he said that she should just buy new and pay car payments.

“But I can’t afford the interest, Dad!” she said, exasperated.

“Try Craigslist,” he suggested.

Though Craigslist is cheaper than a dealer, that’s how Stephanie got ripped off on her last car, and so we thought it might be worth it to check with Jim, a Toyota salesman that my dad used to work with and that my family has used for the past fifteen plus years and trusts very much. (Fun fact: his wife also took my wedding photos.) We explained the situation, and Joe was eager to help, although he was at first unsure if there would be anything for $2000 that he would deem reliable enough to sell to Stephanie. He kept stressing that he doesn’t want her to end up at the same place that she has ended up so many times before—out a couple grand with a car that breaks down after mere months of use. But he understands the limited resources and said he’d do his best to find something.

Turns out, given his years in the business and his personal relationship to my family, he can pull strings to do things like knock a 1999 Toyota Camry sticker price of $3974 down to around $2500 out the door.

This is practically miraculous given our other experiences of the day.

When we had gone to the Honda dealership next door and told them the price range Stephanie was looking for, the guy looked us over and then without even looking it up, said, “No. Our cheapest car is around $4000—probably more like $4500 with fees and tax.”

The salesman at the Kia dealership down the road had us test drive a 1995 Buick Regal whose engine gasped and chugged like a train. Its sticker price was almost $3000, and so he suggested that Stephanie find a co-signer or that she take advantage of some alternate financing. He assured her that despite her bad credit she could probably get approved for a special kind of loan (the acronym of which is escaping me now), although he cautioned that the interest rate on that loan could be as high as 24 percent.

The whole experience amazed me. I didn’t realize how knowing Jim, my family’s long-term car salesman, could make such a big difference when car shopping. (Social capital, anyone?)

Stephanie is still looking for something that will work for her. Jim is keeping his eyes peeled for something good, and in the meantime, he’s offered to look at anything she finds through a private seller and give her his opinion, in case she needs to use that option instead of his dealership.

Wish her luck!


Breaking Down

04.24.2013 10:12 PM

Stephanie called this morning around 9 AM. On her way to work at a local country club kitchen, her car broke down, by the concrete plant just outside of town. It was 50 degrees and pouring rain.

I drove to meet her, jumper cables and toolkit in tow. When I pulled in, the rain fell even grayer, even harder. Stephanie was practically sitting in the hood of her car, tinkering around, pulling off hoses, checking for strange sounds.

“I keep mooning everyone!” she exclaimed, pulling up her jeans, which had lost the button but were the only clean ones she could find this morning. “Just to warn you, I’m going to start cussing here in a couple minutes. I hate cars. I seriously want to go to school for mechanics so I know how to fix them. Mine always break down on me.”

Stephanie has been through many cars in her 25 years of life. She never has enough money to get a reliable one, and her credit is shot from unpaid credit card bills and about $10,000 of defaulted student loans. So when she goes to buy a new car, she goes to a “Buy Here, Pay Here” lot, with interest rates sometimes reaching up to 30 percent.

She bought the ’96 Ford Contour that now sat, very wet and very broken down, two months ago with $1400 of her income tax return.  It’s not uncommon for her cars to break down after a couple months of owning them.  Last time it happened was when she was eight months pregnant and the single mother of a four year old. She bought a van, which broke down less than two months later. She took it back to the dealer, who made the remark, “I’m surprised it lasted you that long!” When they sold her the car, they gave no indication that the vehicle was on its last legs. And ever short on cash, she didn’t spend the money to have an outside mechanic check it out.

“Why can’t I ever catch a break?” Stephanie sighed, her black zip up sweatshirt now wet and clingy, its hood hiding most of her short bleach blonde hair.

I stood there, largely unhelpful. I’d hand her a tool when she asked for it, wipe down the battery with a white rag, retrieve a flashlight, turn the ignition to see if anything had changed. But nothing did. Not even after we tried jumping the car.

“I tried calling my Dad,” Stephanie said. “He basically told me that I’m shit out of luck. I don’t talk to my dad.” Her dad owns a gas station not too far away, but she never sees him.

I thought about my dad—who had given me the tools and the jumper cables and the flashlight, along with a million other useful things, all packed with care into a red duffel bag, a kind of home-made emergency preparedness car kit.  If there is one thing I’ve learned from my dad, which he learned from his youth in Boy Scouts, it’s to be prepared. My brother and sister and I all kind of tease him about it, but in times like these, I’m thankful for his foresight.

“I really need your dad to make me one of those kits,” Stephanie said.

We stood for about an hour in the cold rain, until we were soaked through and our fingers were going numb. Cement trucks kept pulling in and out of the parking lot, but no one stopped to help. Cars flew by on the road, no one even slowed down.

“I know I look like a dude right now, but come on people! I bet if I were wearing a short skirt and heels someone would stop,” she joked seriously.

We decided that fixing the car ourselves was a lost cause. We found shelter for a moment inside the smoky cab of the ’96 Contour and decided what to do next. I suggested getting it towed, but Stephanie was resistant to that idea. “I’ve got $100 left in my bank account, and that is supposed to be for gas to get to work, and groceries,” she said. “Oh, and I have to write an $8 check for Colton’s field trip on Friday.

“Do you want me to go pick up Seth and David?” I asked, at a loss as to what to do.

“Nah. They’ve got the kids,” Stephanie said. My husband David was home working (while our eighteen month old watched Elmo—a special diversion reserved for times like these), and Seth is Stephanie’s boyfriend who is stay-at-home dad while Stephanie is at work.

Instead of getting the guys, our plan was to roll Stephanie’s car from the side of the road into the parking lot of the cement plant, and then to find a mechanic who would look at it.

“Go ahead and pull your car into the parking lot so it’s out of the way,” Stephanie directed.

After I parked and was walking back, I saw Stephanie pushing her car…by herself. It was in neutral and she was walking beside it, the driver’s door was open, her right hand reaching inside to steer, her left arm braced the windshield and she leaned her whole body into the frame to help her push the car. I got behind it and started pushing, but when we got to a slight hill, we had to stop.

“Stephanie sat in the driver’s seat, panting. “I’m so out of breath!” she said between gasps.

After getting help from four burly cement truck driver’s we got the car up the hill and into the parking lot.  I drove Stephanie to work, better late than never, and paid for a tow truck to take the car to the mechanic my parents’ have used for the past twenty-some years. Stephanie found out a couple hours later that the car is now junk. She’ll probably get a couple hundred bucks for it.

When she told me, she had almost-tears in her eyes. Just almost. She’s strong. She’s got to be.

For those of us who have social capital, it’s easy to miss how hard life can really be when you don’t have it. Stephanie’s dad is out of the picture. Her mom and stepdad help sometimes, but are struggling financially themselves and get annoyed by Stephanie’s requests. Her sister, who is also a single mom, had her car break down this week, too. (Stephanie was supposed to be her new ride.) She stopped hanging out with most of her friends when they got too involved with drugs and the like. She’s mentioned to me before that she’s not sure who she would call if she didn’t have me when she is broken down on the side of the road.

For as much as individual willpower matters (and it does), there is so much to be said for social support, for neighborliness, for a stronger civil society.

Andrew Root on FamilyScholars Conversations

04.23.2013 4:22 PM

I had the pleasure of conversing with Andrew Root, Professor of Youth and Family Ministry at Luther Seminary, author of The Children of Divorce among many other books, and contributor to the Does the Shape of Faith Shape Families? project.  Click here to access the podcast through our FamilyScholars Conversations podcast channel on ITunes or click here to access our feed directly.  You can subscribe in either place and as always, click 5 stars!

Andy and I discuss the Does the Shape of Families Shape Faith? project, his theological work in general, Bonhoeffer’s laundry letters and even Back to the Future.  It’s a an adventure in philosophy, faith and pop culture.  Enjoy!

Booknotes: Does Jesus Really Love Me?

04.23.2013 7:20 AM

Chu_DoesJesus_coverOn Friday, while stuck at home due to the “shelter in place” orders here in Boston, I read Jeff Chu’s recent book Does Jesus Really Love Me?: A Gay Christian’s Pilgrimage in Search of God in America (Harper, 2013).

Part memoir, part ethnography, part journalistic endeavor, Does Jesus…? is more impressionistic than it is polemical or scholarly. Chu offers a series of portraits, featuring both people (pastors, congregants, ex-Christians, agnostics) and institutions (from the Metropolitan Community Church, overwhelmingly queer in membership, to the Westboro Baptist Church). Across sections titled “Doubting,” “Struggling,” “Reconciling,” and “Hoping,” Chu offers us a tour around America and the religious and sexual-identity spectrum  as well, introducing us to individuals and congregations wrestling with the relationship between faith and queer sexuality.

Chu himself has settled into a life of being gay and Christian, he nevertheless draws empathic (if at times slightly baffled) portraits of LGBT individuals who have forged other paths: queer folks who have been driven from the church or simply drifted away, a gay man who has chosen to remain celibate, a straight woman and gay man in a “mixed orientation” marriage. While he features a few high-profile individuals (Ted Haggard, Fred Phelps, Mary Glasspool), more of the voices in Does Jesus…? are unknowns: the Bible teacher fired from his job for a same-sex affair, the closeted young adult wrestling with if, when, and how to come out to his parents and community, the Christian musician who describes with charming self-deprecation her first gig at a lesbian bar.

I found myself thinking, as I read, a very librarian question: to whom might I recommend this book? Read More

Could Pregnancy be a Reason NOT to Get Married?

04.22.2013 1:49 PM

In “Promises I Can Keep,”  Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas find that among the poor single mothers they interviewed,  “Nearly everyone has a morality tale to tell of two fools who rushed into marriage only to divorce.”

And, “The harshest condemnation is reserved for those who marry because of pregnancy. Such marriages, they believe, are almost certain to end in divorce, and thus benefit neither the couple nor the child.”

My wife, Amber, and I are finding the same thing in our research with white, high-school-educated young adults in one small Ohio town. The young adults we interviewed are generally very reluctant to give advice to others about relationships. But on this point they are not shy.

For instance, one mother, Erica, says she felt pressure from her grandma to get married to her high school sweetheart when she got pregnant with her second child, only to separate soon after getting married. She now advises people, “Don’t get married because you have a kid with somebody. I have a new thing: if you have a kid with somebody, don’t just keep trying to make the relationship work out…. Because it’s not healthy for the kid, it’s not healthy for anything.”

After hearing this sentiment repeatedly, Amber and I are beginning to wonder: For an unmarried couple, could the news of pregnancy act as a reason not to get married—even if the couple might be otherwise thinking about marriage?

Even if there is still a social expectation among one’s grandparents and great-aunts that an unmarried couple who gets pregnant should “do the right thing” and get married, might there be a social stigma among young adults—among one’s peers—about getting married because of the kids?

From our interviews, we have reasons to think that this may be true.

For instance, Myron, 23 (whom I wrote about previously at, did get married to his high school sweetheart when he found that she was pregnant. Even though he says he had every intention of breaking off their engagement because of what he describes as her “mean” treatment of him, the news that she was pregnant with his child changed his mind.

“I was like, ‘Well, I’m gonna marry her, and it’s my kid. That’s awesome. That’s my kid.’” However, a few months into marriage, she admitted that she was cheating on him, and he filed for divorce.

Looking back, he describes his first journey into marriage as “not the right way to do this.” Instead of marrying her because he loved her, he listened to people like his grandpa, who warned him that “you’ve gotta marry her or she’s gonna get you for child support the rest of your life.”

When I interviewed Myron, he was engaged to Christa, who was pregnant with their child. This time around, Myron was explicit that he was not getting married because they were having a child.

“We don’t wanna rush into anything,” he says. “I don’t want Christa to feel like we’re getting married because we’re having a baby.”

He then took pains to note that although he proposed after they found out they were having a baby, “I had already picked out the ring, had already taken her ring shopping. I already planned on getting married.” In fact, he says that his plan was to wait until after the baby was born to propose. But eventually, “I couldn’t hold it no longer.”

But, he is careful to say, “I want to be married to her, but I want her to have her wedding. I want her to have what she wants on her terms, not because of anything else.”

As the “Knot Yet” report points out, “Marriage has shifted from being the cornerstone to the capstone of adult life.” And the capstone model does not think about marriage and children as a package deal. Marriage is primarily about love between two adults. To the extent that it is about children, it’s the “glue” (as one working class woman whom we interviewed described it) that brings all the children from different parents together into one family.

This shift in the meaning of marriage may help to explain why some young adults are putting off marriage even as they are starting a family—traditionally one of the reasons to get married. If there are more stories like that of Myron, it would mean that some young adults may be delaying marriage—at least for a time—precisely because they want to avoid the appearance of getting married “just because” they are having a child.

Of course, the first time Myron got married, he did not delay marriage precisely because he was having a child. And just as his first failed marriage was a morality tale for him about how not to do things, now that we have had at least a couple generations of “shotgun-wedding-then-quick-divorce,” I wonder if we have reached a turning point where young adults coming of age today are adapting to the failed shotgun marriages they have seen and heard about: marriage is not about children; marriage and children are two completely separate things. And the “right” thing to do, they think, is to get married because you love the person—and for that reason only.

Although the dichotomy that many young adults erect in their minds about marriage between children and love is understandable—particularly because of the loveless shotgun marriages they have witnessed—I think it is unfortunate. Because it is true that one of the most important purposes of marriage is to unite a child to his mother and father. However, young adults are not entirely wrong, I think, in their moral intuition that a marriage must come into being for the sake of love. Without love, a marriage is just a prosaic institution, not a personal relationship. And who wants to live in a prosaic institution?

Building a thriving marriage culture that breaks through class lines will mean inviting young adults to appreciate that marriage is both/and: both about love and children. In fact, because marriage is about love, marriage is also about children: as a couple’s love and trust matures, so does their desire to share themselves completely with each other, to the point that they wish to have a mutual share in a new person, and to found a new family.

Now, there’s a good reason to get married!

Cross-posted at

Consider Best Practice Instead of Stigma…

04.20.2013 10:22 AM

I watched and live-tweeted our recent Conversation with Professor Lawrence Mead, and like many of you, I really enjoyed it.  I have been mentally chewing on much that was shared including loosely following the discussion concerning society’s use of stigma here.  I too was interested to hear what Mead had to say on revitalizing the use of stigma to decrease the rate of unwed pregnancy since he first mentioned this strategy in our Family Scholars Valentine’s Day Symposium.

I tend to shy away from using the word “stigma” for many of the reasons that have arisen in the conversation here—I find that stigma slips into extreme shunning and shaming too easily.  My thoughts on the use of discipline to maximize the attainment of a perfect state began many years ago as I critiqued the ballet profession from which I came in its use of shunning and shaming for the sake of aesthetic perfection.  Public weekly weigh-ins, receiving production notes of critique publicly, and a profession where your body is both your asset and your liability that is hired and invested in, can lead both to thick-skinned individuals with a strong work ethic and to eating disorders, depression, and acid being thrown in your face as we saw earlier this year with the Bolshoi Ballet drama.  I asked and continue to ask, “Is there a better way?”  For art forms or sports that demand a relinquishing of self to the demands of a coach, does shunning and shaming always play a role?

My Mennonite colleagues helped me greatly in asking these questions (we’ve talked about the book Amish Grace and forgiveness here previously) from the perspective of a faith community.  And they helped me see that stigma historically, and I see shaming and shunning as one method we use to enforce stigma, has been important for groups who must maintain group identity when surrounded by groups with conflicting values that could infiltrate, contaminate, or jeopardize the “chosen” community.  So, for ballet, an art form that is passed down orally and visually through masters to students, maintaining the integrity of the exacting vocabulary of the art form becomes necessary.  Is shaming and shunning worth it?  Where do we draw the line?  I continue to ask these questions.  Because “being married” is not a “chosen community” whose character, lifestyle, religious beliefs, etc. need to be preserved, I wrestle with the use of stigma.

Instead of stigma, I think about the term “best practice” as a better concept to consider than stigma as a motivator for human behavior. (I first played with using this term in the conversation with me and Peter Steinfels) I learned of this term in hospice management and it’s of course a commonly used term in business practice as a way of talking about those companies or organizations that maximize return on investment (ROI) with close cost analysis of their assets and liabilities including market environment, people capital, and organization mission and values.  Now, our CFO would often roll his eyes at me when I would wax philosophical about these terms, but we can!  When we talk about the goods of marriage or the goods of well-paying jobs, etc., we are wrestling with ways of saying that individuals, family systems, and society as a whole is trying to define best practice for all—to find ways to maximize our personal and communal investment in people (financial, educational, medicinal, etc.) in ways that takes into consideration their current level of assets (character, mental ability, emotional maturity, drive, etc.) and liabilities (character, mental ability, emotional maturity, drive, etc.), their market environment (location matters!), their life personnel (family, spouse, ex-spouse, boy/girlfriends, friends…), and their general life mission and values.

Now, I realize that I am being my liberal self in thinking that we need to redefine terms, but I do wonder how the concept of best practice relates to how Mead is thinking of stigma’s role in motivating the attainment of a societal good.

“What to Expect When No One’s Expecting”

04.19.2013 1:52 PM

Anyone in the New York area might want to check out this event next Wednesday with Jonathan Last, author of ”What to Expect When No One’s Expecting: Babies, Economics, and Why the Only Thing Worse Than Having Kids Is Not Having Them.”

Rights, Obligations, “Honoring the Struggle,” “Remembering the Reward”

04.19.2013 10:26 AM

I found the conversation with Larry Mead and David Blankenhorn last night at the Center for Public Conversation extremely helpful in terms of how to talk about strengthening marriage. (The video should be up in the next few days.) Larry talked about how for so long, academics and politicians emphasized the rights of poor people, and social barriers to their thriving. However, while completely acknowledging that these are important, he also emphasizes that poor people, like everyone else, have obligations as citizens to fulfill. In order to have rights, you have to be a participant in society.

Then he started talking about rights and obligations in terms of marriage. He suggested that our society should be more insistent about upholding marriage as a common obligation. (I would specify here that it should be an obligation for those who aspire to lifelong love, and to have a family.  We must honor those people who wish to remain single, or to take on a vow of celibacy. Marriage is not the only ticket to the good life.)

But, Larry insisted, we can’t just uphold marriage as a common obligation–we can’t just have high standards. We have to help people to fulfill the obligation, to live up to the standard. This, he suggested, means ”honoring the struggle” that comes with marriage: the struggle of two selfish human being trying to love each other for life. Sometimes, he noted, a marriage is effectively destroyed before death does them part. For that reason, not all couples will, or should, remain together.

But, marriage is a struggle, and he suggested, we as a society need to be more candid about that struggle. He suggested that in the not-so-distant past, we did have a strong marriage culture that upheld the obligations of marriage–but that did a poor job of honoring the struggle of marriage. Just as a teacher sets high standards for his students ,and then seeks to help them meet those high standards, so we as a society need high standards for marriage, and we need to help people to meet those standards. (I’m not sure what that looks like–but the idea sounds promising.) We need to be open as a society about the difficulties of marriage. Larry suggested that we need biographies of married couples that show the struggle and the reward. I would add that we also  need movies that show this.

Finally, Larry said, in addition to honoring the struggle of marriage, it’s important to “remember the reward” of marriage, ”the pearl of great price”: enduring love–and I would add, an enduring family. This, Larry suggested, is “the good news about marriage”: it really is possible for love to endure. And, again, I would add, it really is possible for a family to remain intact and endure as a touchstone down through the generations as a rock of love and stability.

As Larry noted, the good fruit that comes from marriage is not magical. You don’t automatically get it as a result of getting married. Marriage is not magic. Marriage is a “school of love,” to use a favorite phrase of Catholic theologians.

But in order to get the fruit, you have to participate in marriage.

I would add that participating in marriage also requires confidence; confidence in the character of the other person, and confidence that, if two people of good will and character give it a shot, love can endure.

This confidence is what many poor and working class people, for good reason, lack. There is a low stock of trust capital. Helping people to fulfill the obligation of marriage will require helping young adults to rebuild trust in each other, and in marriage as a capable guide to enduring love, and to an enduring family.

Thanks, David and Larry, for a thought-provoking conversation.


The Conversation with David Blankenhorn TONIGHT

04.18.2013 12:56 PM

Join us tonight (live in Manhattan at the Center for Public Conversation or on-line!) when David Blankenhorn converses with Professor Lawrence M. Mead about “Is Marriage Gap Driving American Inequality?” By clicking here you can sign up to receive a reminder e-mail right before the event begins.  Also, tonight we will be live-tweeting the event–you can live-tweet your comments and questions too, using #IAVMead.  As usual we will include questions from the on-line audience at the end of the conversation!  Follow us on Twitter and stay up to date on the conversation!

You can read more from Professor Lawrence Mead from our recent Valentine’s Day Symposium!

The M.Guy Tweet

04.18.2013 8:31 AM

Marriage Media
Week of April 14, 2013
Courtesy of Bill Coffin

1. An Interactive Look at Declining Divorce Rates,

Contrary to popular belief, America has seen a decline in divorce rates over the last 20 years. Use the interactive graphic. . . to see how the divorce rates have declined in your state and across the country.

2. Women Are Choosing Cohabitation Before Marriage, Medical News Today

Many cohabitations happen at a young age, with one-quarter of females cohabiting by age 20. Within the first year of living together, close to 20 percent became pregnant and gave birth.

3. How To Be a Happy Working Dad, Part One, GGSC at University of California, Berkeley

But even though our time with kids has tripled since the mid-sixties, the Pew Report finds that we’re two times more likely than moms to say we’re not spending enough.

[Tips included, such as: Kill your commute.]

4. Okla. Bills Aim To Cut Divorce, But Doubts Persist, San Francisco Chronicle

Nelson’s bill on divorce education. . . cover[s] co-parenting and the impact of divorce on children, and the form of education — whether a half-hour video or four-hour session — is largely up to the district.

5. CNY Sees Highest Divorce Numbers In Nine Years, YNN

“But I think a lot of people who, in the past, were resigned to the fact that they had to just stay in an unhappy marriage for financial reasons or because they didn’t necessarily meet the grounds for divorce. . . now they feel a little more comfortable.”

6. Knot Yet, Huffington Post Live [30 minute clip]

As the average marrying age rises in the US, do the distinctive relationship burdens, social implications, and financial consequences that come with the institution of marriage potentially worsen?

7. The Controversial Letter to the Editor of The Daily Princetonian

For more, see here.

BREAKING: New Zealand Lawmakers Burst into Song Upon Enacting Marriage Equality

04.17.2013 10:16 AM

(thanks to my wife for the link!)

On Wednesday, local time, the New Zealand House of Commons passed a bill allowing same-sex marriage (they have had civil unions for same-sex couples since 2005). Upon declaration of the passage of the bill, the chamber burst into song.

Here is a video, which I think is adorable and absolutely made my day.

Congratulations New Zealanders of all orientations!

“Look for the Helpers”

04.16.2013 12:43 PM

mister rogers helpers quote


In the wake of yesterday’s tragedy in Boston, Huffington Post Parents ran this article, which they had previously run following the Newtown School shootings, quoting the incomparable Fred Rogers on how best to engage children when horrific events unfold in the news.  Aside from the quote above, which I think is wonderful, the advise he gives is very sensible – limit a child’s exposure to television, internet, and radio news, model calm behavior in front of children, and go out of your way to affirm your love and care towards your child as they process the traumatic event.  The included link to his website leads to further advise for parents.

A good deal of research has taken place in the U.S. in the years following 9-11 about the psychological implications of large-scale natural and man-made disasters.  Parts of these studies have focused on the resilience of young people, and the factors that contribute in helping them process traumatic events.  A 2004 NYU Medical Center newsletter highlights the important link between children and the adults in their lives when it comes to positive outcomes:

In a study of post-traumatic stress in Israeli preschool children 30 months after SCUD attacks, the psychological well being of mothers and other family members was the best predictor of the child’s mental health.11  When families and mothers ‘did well,’ so did their children. Conversely, families and mothers who showed negative post traumatic reactions to the attacks had children who showed similar negative outcomes.

I highly recommend checking out both articles, as they are great resources for parents, teachers, and those who interact with Children regularly.

Surnames in the Digital Age

04.15.2013 11:31 AM

So, many of you know that I am a bit of a nut when it comes to following current practices in changing or not changing surnames in marriage.  I stumbled upon this collection of commenter anecdotes from The Dish.  One reader notes that our choices in terms of surnames is actually changing and will most likely challenge the art of geneology for future generations.  Coupling this name practice with my working thoughts on life and death in the digital age (catch up on your Google Death Manager reading here and here...), I continue to be struck with the ways that we find to unmoor ourselves from history and tactile existence.  Liberation may often be called for (spoken as a feminist who chose not to change her surname in marriage) but the existential philosopher in me wonders, what is real?  The digital age conflates form and content in ever new and challenging ways.  Our e-mail, social media, digital pictures not only communicate and share our thoughts and memories but they also hold them, or do they?  What does inheriting the stew of thousands of mundane, secret, time-sensitve, and time-limited e-mails of a loved one really mean?  Can you box them up and stick them in the attic for future generations to pour through?  Or does our digital existence and singular names actually speak to the intrinsic illusory nature of mortals?  The concept of legacy shifts beneath us in this modern age.  Literally, how will you be remembered?

New adventures in the culture wars

04.15.2013 10:48 AM

The Alabama State Senate seems poised to pass a bill that would drastically restrict the ability of local sheriffs to deny anyone in the state who is not an already-convicted felon the right to carry a concealed weapon.  Every sheriff in the state opposes the bill, for reasons that, for most of us, are quite obvious.  But the bill is likely to pass anyway. 

 Next door in my home state of Mississippi, a similar thing just happened.  Outraged by New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s attempt to limit the serving sizes of sugary drinks, the state legislature recently passed a law saying that nowhere, anywhere, under any circumstances in the sovereign state of Mississippi can anyone for any reason restrict the serving size of a sugary drink. 

 What shall we call this phenomenon?  No one has ever imagined, until now, that the right to own a gun was somehow under threat in Alabama.  And no one has ever imagined, until now, that the right to consume huge containers of sugary drinks was somehow under threat in Mississippi.  But in each state, lawmakers apparently feel the need to act preemptively, as it were – in one case, it seems, to strike a blow against something being done by a northern mayor who probably has never set foot in Mississippi and never will, and in the other case to strike a blow against the very idea that anyone, anywhere, for any reason would ever limit the right of anyone to carry around a concealed weapon. 

 The culture wars are a funny thing.  They seem to fill people up with aggression that needs an outlet, and if there is nothing practically that can be done at the local level – if there is no locally available evil to take action against – then the thing to do, apparently, is to strike symbolic blows against evils that appear to be or might be occurring in far-distant climes, or evils that, in theory, might one day – who knows? – actually show up here at home. The culture wars are a funny thing.

MTV, Seek Redemption

04.15.2013 9:59 AM

MTV announced last week that it won’t air the second season of the popular reality TV show Buckwild, after the most popular cast member, Shain Gandee, died in a mudding accident. As you may know, Buckwild followed the exploits of a group of 20-somethings in a small West Virginia town. The idea is that it’s Jersey Shore West Virginia style.

Amber and I watched a few episodes, and found the whole thing terribly exploitative — but a fairly accurate indicator of how “emerging adulthood” is playing out in working-class America. With no real courtship script and few norms to guide young adults’ sexual behaviors, everybody is a free sexual agent — and everyone seems to realize it. Hooking up and cheating and mistrust abound.

Although Amber and I have heard many working class young adults say that their bad experiences with sex and relationships were valuable learning experiences,  it is difficult to see how the “Buckwild“ script helps working class young adults to reach the good marriage that most working class young adults want — particularly because many of them already have the disadvantage of a low stock of “trust capital” because of their families’ fragmentation.

Good for MTV for cancelling the show. It was a disgrace that they ever ran it. Instead of gawking and profiting from the deterioration of trust in working-class America, Big Media should create television that helps working class young adults to rebuild trust, and that supports their aspirations for a good marriage and family life.

Should Tax Rates Penalize Marriage?

04.14.2013 8:55 PM

Interesting discussion at today’s “Room for Debate” concerning marriage and the tax code:

“Even with marriage in the news this spring, it’s easy to forget that it comes at a price: the “marriage penalty” hits many couples on tax day. Federal tax rates generally discourage dual-income couples from getting married, and encourage single-earner couples to marry.

Does this mixed message make sense? Is there a better approach?” Read More…