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 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
What has been the reaction of the government to the disturbing
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
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.
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Reprinted by permission. Copyright August 2001, Focus on the Family
Magazine (c), all rights reserved.