Monday, September 19, 2011

When Mom and Dad are not husband and wife...

In the United States, at least, cohabitation remains largely a short-term relationship, even when children are involved. Indeed, recent research by Demographers Sheela Kennedy (University of Minnesota) and Larry Bumpass (University of Wisconsin) suggests that 65 percent of children born to cohabiting parents will see their parents part by age 12, compared to just 24 percent of children born to married parents. Primarily for this reason, the growth of childbearing within cohabiting relationships in the United States is a worrisome development. You can read the rest of the article here.

Suffice it to say that the studies and conclusions are hardly earth shattering.  We have known it all along.  We have just been afraid to say it out loud. The rise of cohabitation has made the situation faced by America's children even more likely to be difficult, more likely to be lived out in a single parent household, and without the ordinary extra structures marriage and family give to children.

It amazes me sometimes how excited we can get over gay marriage (I think you know where I stand on that) and how we glaze over at the much larger problem of cohabitation and what it is doing to the people cohabiting and to their children.  We often overlook this because too many folks in the pews on Sunday morning would be offended by honest conversation, because we Pastors have members of our own families in these situations, and because the answer is not just a marriage license (plus, we cannot go back in time and prevent the damage done).

I for one am amazed at how this has quickly become the norm, has become acceptable even to Christian households and individuals, and how we walk on egg shells about the inherent dangers of such relationships.  Clearly we have got to do a better job in this.  In every one of our congregations there are children with different fathers, whose mothers were married to none of them.  This is not simply about wielding the law and condemnation but about honest conversation to deal with the tragic portrait painted by the statistics themselves -- without commentary.

We are all excited about gay marriage (as we should be) but somehow forget what is the state of heterosexual relationships today (especially those who cohabit).  I think one of the most telling lines in the article is that cohabitation continues to be a short-term temporary living arrangement.  Perhaps the most wounded these on again/off again living arrangements lies in the wounds that people carry with them into future relationships and the wounded who are carted along as if they were no worse for wear (the children).  Truly a vexing problem for Christians today...


Terry Maher said...

Just 24% of children born to married parents see the parents part before they are 12? On what planet is this happening?

My generation made adolescence and adult life style. Everyone is going steady, "married" or not. My kids are 14 and 15. Hardly any of their friends live under the same roof with their biological mom and dad whether they were married or not. Even when they were younger, it was easier to explain that they have a mom who is in heaven than to explain why they don't have a step dad or mom or dad's boyfriend or girlfriend like everyone else.

Anonymous said...

Cohabitation can be divided into two
types. The first one is when a
men and women in their twenties and
thirties are living together to
supposedly find out if they are a
compatible couple. The local parish
pastor can have an influence in
helping them to either separate or
get married. The second type is when
divorced men and women are living
together and are burned out on being
married. They might have children
from their first marriage and now
have kids from their cohabitation.
This is more difficult for the
local pastor to deal with.

This is happening in our parishes
and pastors have a real challenge
to do something and not bury their
head in the sand. Pray for wisdom
and God's help.