Being Right

“We know the statistics — that children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime; nine times more likely to drop out of schools and twenty times more likely to end up in prison. They are more likely to have behavioral problems, or run away from home, or become teenage parents themselves. And the foundations of our community are weaker because of it.”

That was Barack Obama, speaking on Father’s Day 2008. He should know, himself being a product of a single parent household.

It’s pretty much acknowledged that depression, suicidal tendencies, mental illness, the inability to handle stress are rising among today’s children and the preferred primary villain for this is social media.

In one school gathering I attended recently, psychiatrists from a popular metro university clung to this theory, all the while ignoring the possibility of another, more obvious cause.

As I wrote in a previous article, social commentators and medical experts have long pointed to the “changing family structure, and it turns out that adolescent depression and suicide are closely linked with divorce and single parenting. Teens who live with a single parent have twice the rate of suicide attempts as those who live with both parents. The same is true of other forms of distress and self harm.” (“The Kids Are Not All Right,” Mona Charen, National Review, 02 June 2017)

Author and historian Joshua Charles admits that “older generations are inclined to be harsh toward millennials. We certainly deserve it, in some ways. We avoid marriage and family life and when we marry, we tend to marry late. Millennials seem ‘afraid of commitment.’ We won’t ‘settle down.’”

But, as Charles points out, “part of the reason is way too many of us have seen our parents, you, divorce.” “No generation has seen divorce among its parents as much as the millennial generation. I would not at all be surprised that it has necessarily played a role in many millennials’ decisions to get married later, not at all, or to go on ‘test runs’ with significant others through cohabitation.” (“What’s Wrong With Millennials? Partly, Their Parents’ Divorces,” The Stream, 04 August 2017)

Unfortunately, studies have shown that the latter “remedy,” that is cohabiting before marriage, also tends to an increased likelihood for divorce.

The myth being perpetuated is that divorce is a far acceptable alternative for children, rather than have them seeing their parents fight all the time. Not true.

While children in quite high conflict homes may benefit by being removed from that environment (not necessarily through divorce), the situation of children in lower-conflict marriages (of which 2/3 of divorces are of this type) can go much worse following a divorce.

Furthermore, children experience lasting tension even after their parents divorce, particularly as a result of the increasing differences in their parents’ values and ideas. The point: children of even so-called “good divorces” fare worse emotionally than children who grew up in an unhappy but “low-conflict” marriage (see, citing Paul R. Amato and Alan Booth, A Generation at Risk, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997; also Ten Findings from a National Study on the Moral and Spiritual Lives of Children of Divorce, Elizabeth Marquardt).

What makes divorces even more devastatingly ironic is that studies have conclusively shown that “children benefit if parents can stay together and work out their problems rather than get a divorce.” Read this alongside the research showing that only if couples stick together, reform themselves, and pull through, they’ll find themselves much happier later on (“very happy” or “quite happy”; see, citing Linda J. Waite and Maggie Gallagher, The Case for Marriage, 2000).

To continue with divorce’s irony, we move on to marriage’s crucial role in poverty alleviation.

As Princeton’s Robert P. George cogently puts it (“Marriage — Can We Have Justice Without It? An Interview,” The Plough, 25 June 2014): “Virtues are indispensable in any society, since its legal, political, and economic institutions depend on them. But these virtues aren’t produced by legal, political, or economic institutions: they are produced by the family, which in turn is based on the marital covenant between husband and wife. When that is compromised — when the marriage culture begins to erode and then collapse in a community — the consequences are easy to see.”

The thing is “marriage is the original and best department of health, education, and welfare. It plays an indispensable role in providing children with the structure, nurturing, and education that enables them both to flourish and to contribute to the flourishing of others. It enables them to become people who will respect themselves and respect others, and will order their own lives according to virtues like honesty, integrity, conscientiousness, the willingness to work hard, to defer gratification, and to respect the property and lives of others.”

The point is: for the sake of kids, just say no to divorce.

Jemy Gatdula is a Senior Fellow of the Philippine Council for Foreign Relations and a Philippine Judicial Academy law lecturer for constitutional philosophy and jurisprudence.

Twitter @jemygatdula