"…the greatest work you will do will be within the walls of your home." – Harold B. Lee
We live in challenging times. Even here in North Dakota, where many once thought we were sheltered from the ills of the rest of the world, things are not what they used to be. Alcohol and drug abuse, teen pregnancy, poor academic performance, high school dropouts, depression, teen suicide, pornography, poverty, and the list goes on. All are issues that impact North Dakota and its people, along with the rest of the nation.
It’s one thing to recognize a problem. It’s quite another to find a solution. Far too often we miss the mark and ignore the root of our problems. We look to counselors, schools, and government programs as a means of doing "something". We tax and spend, as if throwing more money at society’s ills will fix them. It never has. It never will. In fact, it likely only makes the problem worse, not better.
If we truly want to reverse these negative trends that plague our nation today, then we must turn to the most basic unit of our society… the family. Nothing has been more detrimental to America than the disintegration of the family. In some respects, the idea of the traditional family is under attack. Marriage is often openly scoffed at as unnecessary and outdated.
A study showed in 2013 that just 46% of children live in a two-parent home with heterosexual parents in their first marriage. This compared to 1960 where 73% of children did. Even 61% of children in 1980 fit this description.
Sticking with the 1960 comparison, just 5% of children were born outside of marriage. Today that figure has risen to an alarming 41%.
1975 was the first year statistics were kept on labor force participation of mothers. At that time it was shown that 47% of mothers were in the labor force. By the year 2000, that number had dramatically risen to 73%, where it has basically leveled off since.
Another bit of research discovered the importance of time with our children:
"…children of parents who are frequently absent throughout the day — such as when they wake up, come home from school, eat dinner and go to bed — are more likely to feel emotionally distressed than their peers. In addition… there is a strong correlation between parental involvement and a child’s self-esteem and ‘internal controls,’ which points to a child’s ability to regulate his emotions. In other words, involved parents equate to happier kids."
So, what does it mean for children to have both parents in terms of outcomes? Well, studies show these children are:
1. more likely to attend college.
2. physically and emotionally healthier.
3. less likely to be physically or sexually abused.
4. less likely to use drugs or alcohol.
5. less likely to become divorced as adults.
6. less prone to teen pregnancy.
7. less likely to be raised in poverty.
8. less likely to end up in prison.
One aspect I’ve had to consider in pondering on this subject is why are marriages more broken than they were in the past? I’m sure there’s multiple reasons, but there is one that’s not often discussed that sticks out to me. It is the idea that courtship – to a large extent – seems to be a thing of the past.
The use of the term "courtship" is intentional on my part. Please, do not confuse this with our modern society’s version of "dating", which is often simply two people spending time together in what far too often ends up being more of a relationship of sexual chemistry than anything else.
Courtship goes beyond just spending time together. Nor is it based on a sexual chemistry. One author summed it up this way:
"During this process the couple moves beyond just enjoying social activities together to spending time alone, engaging in quality conversations about life goals, parenting philosophy, personal beliefs and values, experiences that have formed them, meeting each other’s parents and siblings (here the male may ask the permission of the girl’s father to court his daughter), and etcetera. Essentially, the purpose of courtship is to determine whether this is the person who you want to spend the rest of your life with on earth, and, if possible, to have children with. Courtship is dating with a purpose, rather than dating just to be dating with no end in sight."
Unfortunately, to a large extent, our society today is sex-centered. I don’t think I really need to provide examples as evidence of this. They’re everywhere. The above author rightly expressed the problem with this, in regards to dating, in these words:
"The sensory feeling of sex is so satisfying that it oftentimes proves to be an overwhelming distraction to evaluating whether the person who you are in a relationship with is truly someone who you want to reconcile yourself with for rest of your life."
This often leads to people being married before they realize they have little in common beyond a physical relationship, which ultimately isn’t enough to maintain a healthy and happy marriage.
President Trump ran his entire campaign on "Making America Great Again". And there is definitely value to some of his ideas for the country. But ultimately the folks at the nation’s Capitol in Washington, DC and the State Capitol in Bismarck will not be the ones to solve these problems.
If we are to reverse the trend of broken marriages and families, which often result in the aforementioned negative societal issues, then perhaps a good old-fashioned return to courtship and traditional family values is in order. Restore the family and we’ll make America great again.
3. "Why Marriage Matters: 26 Conclusions from the Social Sciences," Bradford Wilcox, Institute for American Values