We all know at least a few people who, when confronted with a problem or with their own bad behavior, will say humbly, "You're right. I'm sorry. This can't go on. What can I do to make it better?"
And we all know a lot more people who, when confronted with a problem or their own bad behavior, will invariably protest, "It's not fair! How can you treat me this way? It's not my fault! You all need to change to make me feel better!"
The liberal but contrarian Slate magazine should be ashamed to fit very neatly into the second category with their recent article, It's Better to be Raised by a Single Mom. Now, Slate has a habit of attaching inflammatory, attention-getting headlines to its articles, often slightly misrepresenting what the author is actually saying. The author of this piece doesn't actually quite claim that kids raised by a single mom are superior to kids raised by married parents -- but she does say that the trials and deprivations of having only one parent have challenged her kids to become wonderful in all sorts of ways.
I don't want to be too hard on Kripke, but this is a pretty dumb article. She says many true things: that it's good for kids to work hard, to not be pampered, struggle a bit to get what they need and want, and so on. But she doesn't seem to realize that it's extremely common for stable, married couples to provide all of these things for their kids, without putting them through the anguish and tumult of an acrimonious divorce. Kripke is apparently making the best of a bad situation. But that doesn't mean that a bad situation is therefore a good thing! Heck, people gain valuable life lessons by getting trapped in caves and having to saw their own limbs off with a pocket knife, but that doesn't mean "DIY Limb Sawing" should therefore be a course required for high school graduation.
So, silly article. But what gave me more of a chill was the way it was set up. Slate introduced it this way:
A few months ago, social scientist W. Bradford Wilcox insisted in Slate that it’s worse to be raised by a single mother even if you’re not poor. Children of single mothers, he argued, are more likely to end up as pregnant teens, or in jail, or otherwise in trouble. For centuries Wilcox’s has been the common view. But in an age when single motherhood is becoming more common, these mothers (and social science research) are starting to challenge that view. In fact, some believe that in an era when children are coddled and dependent for way too long, being a child of a single parent has distinct advantages.
Readers, we invite you to submit your testimonies on why being raised by a single mother, or being a single mother, has its benefits and might even be better than having both parents around. Send your essays to firstname.lastname@example.org and write “single mother” in the subject line. (Please check out our submission guidelines.) We will choose the best ones and run them on the blog. We’d love to hear from single dads and boys raised by single mothers, too.
Got that? There was a study (one of many) that showed that it's bad for kids to be raised by a single mother (and the "social science research" they link to is merely a mildly interesting New York Times essay on parenting, whose main point seems to be, "It's complicated.") But Slate didn't like the study. It didn't fit in with the way they like the world to be. So it's going to try to manipulate people's emotions with a bunch of anecdotes, so we're less influenced by what science and common sense tell us is true. (Someone remind me again how it's religious conservatives who hate science and prey on weak people's fears and emotions?)
Contrast Slate's approach with a series of commercials my husband's been hearing on sports radio lately. These are 30- or 60-second spots, nothing profound, nothing extraordinary -- and they simply promote marriage. They feature normal-sounding men and women just chatting about the ups and downs of marriage. The common theme is that marriage is good for you, and good for the society as a whole -- that a single good, stable marriage indirectly affects hundreds, even thousands of people.
These commercials are "a message from the Catholic Church!" (Thought I was going to say Mormons, didn't you?) If you go to the website, foryourmarriage.org, you will see a nice array of simple, common sense, helpful ideas for addressing the challenges that the typical modern marriage presents; and it includes anecdotes, quizzes, and stories of married saints, and it clearly and accessibly presents the Church's teaching on marriage. It's nothing radical or profound. It's just trying to help.
What's the big deal about this? Well, the Church has the same statistics that Slate and the NYT has: marriage is declining, divorce rates are high, and more and more people are having kids out of wedlock, with more than two parents involved. These situations are bad for kids and hard on moms who are raising kids by themselves; and, as the "social science" article points out, it's also hard on kids and moms to live in a home where the parents are married but don't get along and don't treat each other well.
Slate's response to these statistics? A foot-stamping, pouting, emotionally manipulative "it's not fair, I don't like it, everyone else should change!" But the Church takes another road: they're encouraging people to stay married. Encouraging them not to give up when there is conflict. Encouraging them to support each other, look for help, reach out to other people, and keep on trying and forgiving and working on improving things so that there doesn't have to be a single mom or an unhappy marriage.
These are not fancy ads. They're just upbeat and professional, and they say something that desperately needs to be heard: marriage is worthwhile. Like everything that's worthwhile, it sometimes takes hard work. But it's good for you. It's good for society. It's not something that any of us should be giving up on.
This message has been brought to you by Simcha Fisher, who is happy to be married, and happy to see the Church producing something upbeat, professional, accessible, and sorely needed.