Thanksgiving and marriage - Wharton Journal-Spectator: Opinion

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Thanksgiving and marriage

A Heritage and a Hope

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Posted: Wednesday, November 23, 2011 12:00 am

Peter Johnston

Thanksgiving was not intended to primarily be about family, turkey or sports as I have covered in previous years’ columns at this time.  While families are important, there historically has been a greater purpose to set aside this special day. However, looking forward to Thanksgiving (as I am writing this week’s column) and back on 58 years on earth I am thankful for traditional marriage and its positive impact on children and culture as a whole.

I am particularly thankful for my parents and their decisions day by day to stay married as they celebrated their 60th anniversary about a month before my father passed away in 2008.  Calculating it out they made regular choices for over 21,900 days to stay married and did so with genuine love and commitment.

I am thankful because I am certain their example of faithfulness positively affected my brother and me in numerous ways.

I am also thankful to my wife who has similarly chosen to stay married to me for over thirty years and has done so with genuine love and commitment. 

I am thankful that my wife and I did not even consider, let alone choose, to cohabit rather than get married as was becoming more acceptable at the time of our wedding and has increasingly replaced choices for traditional marriage.  This trend is of significant concern in light of a recently published study, “Marriage Matters:  Thirty Conclusions from the Social Sciences.”

Consider these statistics: one in four American children is born to cohabiting couples and an additional one in five American children “spend time in a cohabiting household with an unrelated adult at some point later in their childhood” according to the study. Subsequently, “[t]his means that more than four in ten children are exposed to a cohabiting relationship.”

While I have addressed the negative impact of cohabitation for cohabiting couples themselves in my March 26, 2008 column (available in the online archives of the Wharton Journal-Spectator), this current study focuses on the impact on children.  For instance, while the study recognizes that “[m]arriage is not a panacea for all social ills”, it demonstrates that a child is 3 to 4 times more likely to suffer physical, sexual or emotional abuse living with both biological parents who are cohabiting than with both biological parents who are married.

If a child is living with a biological parent and a cohabiting partner (not the biological parent) he or she is 10 times more likely to suffer physical, sexual or emotional abuse than if he or she were living with both biological parents married to one another.

The report states, “[t]oday, the rise of cohabiting households with children is the largest unrecognized threat to the quality and stability of children’s family lives. In fact, because of the growing prevalence of cohabitation, which has risen fourteen-fold since 1970, today’s children are much more likely to spend time in a cohabiting household than they are to see their parents divorce.”

The study indicates, not surprisingly, that “American family life is becoming increasingly unstable for children” and that “family instability is generally bad for children.”  With regard specifically to cohabitation, “children are less likely to thrive in cohabiting households, compared to intact, married families.” Additionally, these cultural changes demonstrate that the “nation’s retreat from marriage has hit poor and working class communities with particular force.”

The study arrived at three fundamental conclusions.  First, “[t]he intact, biological, married family remains the gold standard for family life in the United States, insofar as children are most likely to thrive—economically, socially, and psychologically—in this family form.” Second, “[m]arriage is an important public good, associated with a range of economic, health, educational, and safety benefits that help local, state, and federal governments serve the common good.” And third, “[t]he benefits of marriage extend to poor, working-class, and minority communities, despite the fact that marriage has weakened in these communities in the last four decades.”

Among other reasons, I am therefore thankful at this season, as previously mentioned, for the 60 year example of marriage of my mom and dad as well as for my wife for her 30 years of love and commitment to me as well as to those institutions within our society which continue to encourage and work to strengthen traditional marriage.

Peter Johnston, an East Bernard resident, earned a history degree from Cornell University and is a former high school history teacher.

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