Family in Crisis
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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. Reprinted by permission. Copyright August 2001, Focus on
the Family Magazine (c), all rights reserved.