Author Stephanie Coontz (Marriage, A History – Viking, 2005) believes traditional marriage (a father and mother) should no longer be the emphasized standard. Instead, diversity (single-parent families) should be embraced as the new and acceptable standard. To support her thesis, she points to the 1990s where the incidents of teen birthrates and violent crimes dropped, while the number of gay marriages and single-parent families increased. The conclusion: nontraditional families aren’t so bad, and in fact, may be a positive social trend. Therefore, behavior dictates the standard.
To be fair, she doesn’t say that single-parent families are perfect. According to Coontz, there is still work to be done. However, promoting traditional families is not part of the heavy lifting that remains. Instead, she suggests constructive advice on single-parenting accompanied by government programs that include job training and education along with high quality child care.
Her rationale goes like this: Taxpayers (including those two-parent taxpayers) pay for programs that are made necessary when other taxpayers and non-taxpayers (divorcées and unwed mothers) make decisions (to get divorced or have kids out of wedlock) that create a need for programs (because many single-parents struggle financially), but the conditions that require the programs are a still good thing.
You gotta love the liberal mind.
Without addressing what may be inaccurate assumptions about the social dynamics of the 1990s, let me clarify two points. First, not all single-parent families are by choice and certainly not all are bad. Second, even if a single-parent family is created by bad choices, we should still act with compassion to meet the special needs of those families. We must be a society that recognizes our own failures and responds to those of others with humility and without judgment. For in the end, but for the grace of God go any of us.
And to that end, social safety nets are an important component to a well functioning democracy. However, besides the fact that those nets should be cast by the private and nonprofit sector, the real problem comes when a net that is designed to catch a fall becomes something more akin to a hammock that provides a comfortable place to settle.
Safety nets such as job training and child care programs can become enabling when not accompanied by the recognition of a desired standard of conduct that if achieved, may avoid the need for the programs in the first place. Such standards, when reinforced by policy and law, create a benchmark of expected behavior—a standard of expectation.
The traditional family is, by design, the structure that best provides the protection, discipline, nurture and love that is necessary for the healthy development of children who need to experience the inherent and exclusive qualities possessed by a father and mother.
And so when it comes to families, the standard of the traditional two-parent family cannot be compromised in order to fall into step with the reality of the increase of single-parent families.
Behavior can never dictate the standard by which the behavior is measured.
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