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The Family in Crisis

United States Census 2000

The decennial report issued by the U.S. Census Bureau in May contains alarming news on the condition of the family.

We have sensed for a long time that the traditional family is in serious trouble, and the recent Census revealed just how dire the situation has become. The alarming results show that households headed by unmarried partners (most of them involving people living together out of wedlock) grew by almost 72 percent during the past decade. Households headed by single mothers or fathers increased by 25 percent and 62 percent respectively, and for the first time ever, nuclear families dropped below 25 percent of households. Thirty-three percent of all babies were born to unmarried women, compared to only 3.8 percent in 1940. Other studies show that cohabitation increased by close to 1,000 percent from 1960 to 1998, and that households headed by same-sex couples are soaring. We are also seeing a growing number of unmarried women in their 20s and 30s who are choosing to bear and raise children alone.

Dr. James Dobson talks about the implications of these developments and what we can--and must--do to reverse them.

Focus on the Family magazine:
What do the Census results mean to our society, in practical terms?

JCD: First, they mean that the institution of the family is unraveling at a faster pace than ever. They also indicate that the old taboos against divorce and cohabitation are disappearing, and that the culture is abandoning its commitment to lifelong marriage. About half of the children today will spend at least part of their childhood in single-parent homes, and that number is rising steadily. That scenario has breathtaking implications. Imagine a world where most children will have several "moms" and "dads," perhaps six or eight "grandparents," and dozens of half-siblings. Little boys and girls will be shuffled to and fro in an ever-changing pattern of living arrangements. It doesn't take a child psychologist to realize that this type of environment will be, and already is, devastating to children.

Is the Christian family immune from these trends?
I wish it were, but recent evidence indicates otherwise. The divorce rate is actually higher by a small margin among born-again Christians than for those who profess no faith at all. This may be the most distressing of all the recent disclosures because of the spiritual consequences for children. The traditional family is the most effective instrument ever designed to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. The vast majority of believers come to Christ when they are children, under the influence of their parents. If that institution breaks down, however, the faith of generations to come will be in jeopardy. That has already occurred in Western Europe and in other pagan countries. Pollster George Barna reveals that if a child hasn't been introduced to Jesus Christ by the time he or she is 14, there is only a 4 percent chance that such conversion will happen between ages 14 and 18, and a 6 percent chance that it will occur in the remainder of life. It comes down to this indisputable fact: The family is critical to the propagation of the faith.

What has been the reaction of the government to the disturbing Census report?
It has been disgraceful. When Margaret La Montagne, the White House Domestic Policy Advisor to President George W. Bush, was asked during a C-Span interview about her reaction to the report, she replied, "So what?" Her flippant attitude is difficult to understand. Given the national crisis revealed in the findings, one would think the federal government would be trying desperately to support the institution of marriage and do everything possible to restore it to a position of health and vitality. Instead, there has been nothing but a yawn from our leaders. Congress has been shameless in its disregard for the institution of the family. For 32 years, married couples that have poured every resource into raising their children--many of them barely keeping their heads above water in financial terms--have been taxed at a higher rate than those living together without benefit of marriage. And the new tax bill will not offer a single dollar toward eliminating the "marriage penalty tax" for four more years. That is unconscionable!

Aside from government apathy, what other factors have contributed to the breakdown of the family?
That's a complex question, but generally, a great deal of external pressure is being placed on the traditional family. Radical feminists, abortion zealots, liberal politicians and haters of Judeo-Christian ethic have in their own ways ushered in a new era devoid of religion, gender distinctions and traditional family relationships. In addition, the hostile media, the entertainment industry, the ACLU, People for the American Way, the National Education Association and especially liberal judges are busily opposing moral principles at every turn. Together, they have brought the institution of marriage to its knees. I have been most concerned about the anti-family agenda being pushed forward by radical homosexual activists.

How does the gay and lesbian agenda threaten the family?
First, it is attempting to destroy the definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman. If homosexuals are successful in that effort, then marriage will lose its meaning. If it is not exclusively between one man and one woman, then any combination of temporary relationships could qualify, such as two men and three women. Polygamy itself would be legal. In short, if marriage means everything, then it ultimately means nothing.

Second, homosexual activists have targeted children and youth with the objective of capturing their hearts and minds. Our public schools in California and Massachusetts, in particular, appear to be moving relentlessly in that direction. In some curricula, children are taught that homosexual behavior is acceptable and normal and that moral perspectives are hate-filled and bigoted. We must be diligent to oppose those initiatives.

Let's go back to the Census report and its revelation of a dramatic rise in the divorce rate. We all know that marital breakups are hard on kids, but don't they typically recover rather quickly? What are the long-term implications of divorce for children?
I wish I could say that children quickly bounce back after their parents separate, but research tells us otherwise. It is indisputable now that emotional development in children is directly related to the presence of a warm, nurturing, sustained and continuous interaction with both parents. Anything that interferes with the vital relationship with either parent can have lasting consequences for the child. For example, one landmark study revealed that 90 percent of children from divorced homes suffer from an acute sense of shock when the separation occurred, including profound grieving and irrational fears. Fifty percent reported feeling rejected and abandoned, and indeed, half the fathers never came to see their children three years after the divorce. One-third of the boys and girls feared abandonment by the remaining parent, and 66 percent experienced yearning for the absent parent with an intensity that researches described as "overwhelming." Most significantly, 37 percent of the children were even more unhappy and dissatisfied five years after the divorce than they had been at 18 months. In other words, time did not heal their wounds. These findings come from exhaustive research by Dr. Judith Wallerstein, for foremost authority on children of divorce. She began studying boys and girls 25 years ago and has followed them to this time. Her recent book revealed that 40 percent of her subjects never married, compared with 16 percent of children from intact families. Clearly, the impact of family breakups is a lifelong affair.

If that is true, then is it accurate to conclude that much of the anti-social behavior we see among young people today is probably linked to family disintegration?
Without question! For example, recent studies have shown that divorce is directly related to promiscuous behavior during adolescence. Researchers from the Oregon Social Learning Center tracked the behavior of 200 junior high and high school boys who lived in higher crime areas. They found that the boys who had sexual intercourse at an early age tended to be those who experienced two or more parental transitions (divorce, remarriage, re-partnering and so on). Only 18 percent of those promiscuous boys came from intact families. By contrast, 57 percent of the virgins came from homes where divorce had not occurred. Another study found that a strong correlation existed between young women who bore babies out of wedlock and those who had been through a change in family structure while growing up. It was concluded that the stresses of divorce and remarriage on children directly impacted out-of-wedlock childbearing. Again, we are seeing now that divorce, single parenting, and family disruption are terribly hard on children. I do not mean to criticize those who find themselves in these situations, but we cannot deny the fact that intact, two-parent families are the most healthy for kids, and that intact families contribute directly to a stable society.

If you had to indicate the one factor that has done more damage to families than any other, what would it be?
It would be the almost universal condition of fatigue and time pressure, which leaves every member of the family exhausted and harried. Many of them have nothing left to invest in their marriages or in the nurturing of children. Fifty-nine percent of boys and girls come home to empty houses every afternoon, during which anything can happen. This hurried lifestyle also puts great pressure on women. Many of them are trapped in a chaotic world that constantly threatens to overwhelm them. Some of these young women grew up in busy, dysfunctional, career-oriented households, and they want something better for their kids. And yet financial pressures and the expectations of others keep them on a treadmill that renders them unable to cope. I have never said publicly what I will share now--and I will be criticized for saying so in this context--but I believe the two-career family during the child rearing years creates a level of stress that is tearing people apart. And it often deprives children of something that they will search for, for the rest of their lives.

If a scale-back from this lifestyle, which I call "routine panic," ever grows into a movement, it will portend wonderfully for the family. It should result in fewer divorces and more domestic harmony. Children will regain the status they deserve and their welfare will be enhanced on a thousand fronts. [Wise Solomon spoke about the importance of a man securing his career before taking on a family when he said, "Plant the field, and then build the house." I.e Becoming properly educated and getting one's career on track before getting married would make this movement Dr. Dobson says is so needed so easy.] We haven't begun to approach these goals yet, but I pray that a significant segment of the population will awaken someday from the nightmare of over-commitment and say, "The way we live is crazy. There has to be a better way than this to raise our kids. We will make the financial sacrifices necessary to slow the pace of living."

You have just completed a book titled Bringing Up Boys. When will it be out, and will it deal with some of these issues?
I've been working on this book for the last 30 months, involving hundreds of hours of writing. It is now finished and will be released by Tyndale House in October. And yes, it will deal with the development of boys and how families can meet their needs more effectively.

If you would like to support Focus on the Family in its efforts to defend families around the globe, call (800) A-FAMILY (232-6459) or go to our Web site at . Reprinted by permission. Copyright August 2001, Focus on the Family Magazine (c), all rights reserved.


content Editor Peter Benson -- no copyright, except where noted.  Please feel free to use this material for instruction and edification
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