Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Marriage – and Children

 

The work of Kay S. Hymowitz, a senior fellow at the Mahattan Institue and a contributing editor to City Journal, deserves close attention. No one I know of today is as keen a student of contemporary trends as they apply to love and marriage. She has a book coming out on Tuesday entitled Manning Up: How the Rise of Women has Turned Men into Boys, and she has written a teaser touching on its main themes – which I hope to discuss tomorrow or the next day.

Today, however, I want to introduce her thinking by looking back at a piece she wrote for The Wall Street Journal last year, in which she drew on that book’s predecessor Marriage and Caste in America: Separate and Unequal Families in a Post-Marital Age. The piece I have in mind was entitled Losing Confidence in Marriage.

In it, Hymowitz alludes to the infidelities of John Edwards, John Ensign, and Mark Sanford and cites articles and posts in which Sandra Tsing Loh and Kerry Howley have expressed a certain skepticism about the future of marriage.

Part of what Hymowitz wants to point out is that in some parts of the American population marriage is less fleeting today than it was thirty years ago. “In actuality,” she points out, “the divorce rate for college-educated women has been declining since 1980,” and “out-of-wedlock childbearing among the educated class remains rare.” Moreover, the typical divorce takes place relatively soon after the marriage takes place. “The risk of break-up goes up after one year of marriage and peaks at 4 ½ years.” If something like 40% of children are born out of wedlock, it is because marriage has collapsed among those who did not attend college. It is the nexus between class and conduct that we should attend to.

This is troubling, but it makes sense to me. It fits what I saw around me when I lived in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It fits what I see around me here in Hillsdale, Michigan. But there is one claim that she makes in her article that seems wrong to me.

Hymowitz is sensible. She links marriage with the bearing and rearing of children; she does not call it matrimony (which derives from a Latin term meaning “the condition of motherhood”), but that is what she has in mind. She describes it as “a human invention designed to create order and some semblance of permanence out of natural chaos in order to rear the next generation,” and she says that the skeptics are on to something when they argue “that long-term, monogamous unions are at odds with nature.”

I am not sure, however, that in saying this she does full justice to nature’s complexity. We human beings are a restless lot. That much I will grant. We possess nomadic instincts, and we tend to stray. But we also long for rest – which explains why, as she puts it, “the marrying classes still want love with a capital L.” This longing seems to me to be as natural as and perhaps even more natural than the inclination to wander. Order is an achievement, but it may, nonetheless, be more natural than chaos.

I am also surprised at this claim. “Kids tend to decrease marital satisfaction, social scientists tell us. It starts with the first child and goes downhill from there.” Children, she claims, “suck up all the oxygen that used to be spent, um, communicating,” and “marital happiness increases once the kids are gone.”

There is no doubt something to this. When I go off to Europe or the Middle East, as I am on occasion wont to do, I wish that I could take my wife, and she would love to go. But this would be prohibitively expensive were we to take our brood of four with us, and we would spend the bulk of our time ministering to them. Yet I cannot say that their presence decreases marital satisfaction. Within my experience, it gives it substance.

Marriage is a special form of friendship, and Aristotle, whose Nicomachean Ethics is our finest moral guidebook, says that there are three kinds of philia – friendship based on pleasure, friendship based on utility, and friendship based on virtue.

The first of these is easy to describe: it is the sort of friendship that unites children in play, and it lasts as long as they are capable of having fun together – which is to say, it is fragile and fleeting. Friendship of utility is similar. It unites business partners, who have cordial relations as long as they are both profiting from the tie. It dissolves in the absence of utility. Friendships based on virtue tend to be more robust. They are grounded on the presence of a common good – something for which each of the friends readily and happily makes sacrifices.

Some friendships are pure. They are based on pleasure or on utility, and that is that. Most are mixed. Pleasure and utility are by no means incompatible, and friendships of virtue are nearly always pleasant and useful as well.

For most people most of the time, the supreme friendship of virtue is marriage. It has an association with intense pleasure. The partners in marriage are of use to one another. But the main thing that unites them in the long run is neither pleasure nor convenience; it is a common project. They both love their children; they spend endless hours deliberating together (not negotiating) concerning their well-being; they readily sacrifice that which they find pleasant and that which they find useful for the good of their offspring; and they do not much lament the sacrifices they make.

I do not mean to say that there can be no other common good in a marriage. Some couples write books together; farm couples farm together; missionary couples collaborate in evangelization; and there are pastimes of a noble character that can also serve as a substitute for progeny. But for most married people most of the time, children are the common good – a source of anxiety and a source of joy. If kids really decrease marital satisfaction, why are childless marriages more apt to end in divorce than marriages that bear fruit?

I sometimes tease my students, who tend to be a fairly strait-laced lot, by suggesting that when I think about sex I always think about Hillsdale College. When they look at me as if I have finally taken leave of my senses, I ask them, “How many children does Professor X possess?” And I add, “There is something to be said for life in a little town far from the madding crowd blessed with long winters and an abundance of nothing to do.” The truth is that with four children I would be considered a bit of a freak on almost any other campus in the United States. Here – where colleagues of mine have thirteen, eight, six children – I with a mere four am considered a piker. And yet nowhere in my perambulations throughout the world have I encountered in one place so many blissfully happy couples.

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  1. Mel Foil Inactive

    If you never have (or adopt) children, you’ll never meet your grandchildren, and that’s always a sad thing. You’ll also never meet your grandchildren if your children decide to abort them–doubly sad.

    • #1
    • February 28, 2011, at 3:13 AM PST
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  2. Instugator Thatcher
    InstugatorJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I am blessed in that, while I have an 18 year old son in college, our two younger children are 5 and 1.5. I haven’t accumulated enough miles in this job to fly them when I go on business travel, but if I have an opportunity to drive, they are right there with me. We pull my 5-yr-old of his Montessori school at the drop of a hat and off we go. Let me get the miles built up and we will do the same thing via air, it is just a matter of time.

    • #2
    • February 28, 2011, at 3:14 AM PST
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  3. Good Berean Inactive

    At the end of the Gospel of John, Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves Him. Each time Christ asks do you agape me? And Peter answers. Lord you know I phileo you.

    Jesus was asking, do you have covenental love for me? Are you ready to assume your covenental obligations to enter into my yoke of service? And Peter answers, Lord I love you with brotherly affection. No, I am not willing to enter into that yoke of covenental obligation. Fortunately, Peter did finally become converted and eventually turned to feed Christ’s lambs

    Marriage is a covenant. It may have a dimension of friendship, romance, eros, etc. but in its heart of hearts it is a covenant: a perpetual promise of mutual affection (agape love)and obligation that is undertaken by mutual consent, for the purpose of establishing a partnership which is the basis for family government and economic independence.

    The breakdown of the understanding of marriage as covenant has resulted in economic impoverishment and an ever increasing statist authoritarianism and collectivism as apostasy in the area of family government results in the shift of authority and responsibility to the greater society.

    • #3
    • February 28, 2011, at 3:23 AM PST
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  4. Profile Photo Member

    We live in a society where we are encouraged to constantly ask if “we are happy.” And we are fed a diet of films, TV, music, where people come and go out of relationships because they “weren’t happy.” Best advice I ever read about marriage was “kindred tastes, motives, and aspirations are necessary to the formation of a happy and permanent companionship.” – Mary Baker Eddy.

    I think our life work is part of our child-rearing and reflect a commonality of life mission with our spouses. If they feel satisfaction in the joint mission of child-raising and both parents’ life efforts, the relationship is deep and satisfying. When it isn’t, for good or bad reasons, humans feel compelled to leave the relationship.

    Our younger generations are generally being fed the meme that it’s “all about them and being happy.” (more self-esteem nonsense) They often find out, on their own, that it’s less satisfying when they are alone without a trusting and admiring spouse by their side in the combat of the arena of life.

    I would like to hear what Rob thinks of this conversation…

    • #4
    • February 28, 2011, at 3:24 AM PST
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  5. Profile Photo Member

    As a person who chose not to have children, I would say that marriage without children is far, far better than children without marriage.

    • #5
    • February 28, 2011, at 3:49 AM PST
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  6. Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe
    Kenneth: As a person who chose not to have children, I would say that marriage without children is far, far better than children without marriage. · Feb 27 at 2:49pm

    Yes, I can see that. My worst nightmare is that my wife would have an accident and die while our children are young. Hers is that I would die under similar circumstances. Our experience is that it takes two — and children born out of wedlock rarely have that privilege. I shudder at the thought of having a responsibility I cannot properly shoulder.

    • #6
    • February 28, 2011, at 3:59 AM PST
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  7. Charles Mark Member
    Charles MarkJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Your kids can be your best friends, as long as you don’t try to be their’s.

    • #7
    • February 28, 2011, at 4:13 AM PST
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  8. Profile Photo Member
    Kenneth: As a person who chose not to have children, I would say that marriage without children is far, far better than children without marriage.

    I hate to get too personal, and I hope you don’t take it that way, but from experience it seems to me that people become more socially conservative when they have children.

    Even some (not all, unfortunately) of the raging hippies, who were all about free “love” in their teens and twenties, suddenly found themselves giving much different advice once their own kids approached that age. And those that didn’t, often ended up with grandchildren to take care of (because their children had them out of wedlock, got dumped, and are now going from boyfriend to boyfriend, etc.).

    The old-fashioned principles have a strong basis in the actual realities of human nature as experienced over time by many generations, though these principles may not always be as easy to express in clear and logical terms as some of the economic principles held by conservatives and libertarians alike. I’ll be honest– often as a socon it’s hard work to convince critics who are skeptical of the wisdom of past generations.

    • #8
    • February 28, 2011, at 4:38 AM PST
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  9. Profile Photo Member
    Paul A. Rahe: The work of Kay S. Hymowitz, a senior fellow at the Mahattan Institue and a contributing editor to City Journal, deserves close attention. No one I know of today is as keen a student of contemporary trends as they apply to love and marriage. She has a book coming out on Tuesday entitled Manning Up: How the Rise of Women has Turned Men into Boys

    In college, I tentatively called myself a “feminist.” By that, I meant that I affirm the equal rights of women. I married a strong woman as well.

    However, as I grow older I am convinced more and more that the feminist movement went way too far. To supposedly raise up women, they found themselves trashing men and the “patriarchal” society that preceded them. Whatever the faults of our ancestors, they found a way to keep social order, and part of that was assigning different roles to men and women, who are in fact psychologically as well as physically different.

    Feminism went overboard by trashing manhood itself, including certain aspects of manhood that are essential to men growing up and being responsible. The result is that many men do not grow up.

    • #9
    • February 28, 2011, at 4:48 AM PST
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  10. Profile Photo Member

    Men need a certain kind of affirmation– even respect– in order to find the motivation to be the kinds of husbands, fathers and role models they must be to the next generations. Most men seem to need to have someone believe in them, in their ability and right to fulfill their roles in the family and society.

    Perhaps that is our weakness, and I wish it were not this way. I wish men would stand up on their own and do what is right without needing this affirmation. And some do. But far more men simply fail to live up to any standard when they are taught there is nothing essentially special or unique about being a man– indeed, when the entire role of manhood has been put down so severely in our culture.

    I was fortunate to have a strong father who taught me many things. And yet in this society, I still struggle with being the husband and father I know I need to be– with claiming the role that even my strong wife wants me to claim. I can only imagine how hard it must be for those who never had such support.

    • #10
    • February 28, 2011, at 4:52 AM PST
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  11. Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe
    Chris Deleon: Men need a certain kind of affirmation– even respect– in order to find the motivation to be the kinds of husbands, fathers and role models they must be to the next generations. Most men seem to need to have someone believe in them, in their ability and right to fulfill their roles in the family and society.

    Perhaps that is our weakness, and I wish it were not this way. I wish men would stand up on their own and do what is right without needing this affirmation. And some do. But far more men simply fail to live up to any standard when they are taught there is nothing essentially special or unique about being a man– indeed, when the entire role of manhood has been put down so severely in our culture.· Feb 27 at 3:52pm

    Consider the movie Casablanca. It is not until Ingrid Bergman throws herself into the arms of Humphrey Bogart and says to him, “You do the thinking for both of us,” that the character he plays steps up to the plate and takes responsibility.

    • #11
    • February 28, 2011, at 5:30 AM PST
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  12. Elizabeth Dunn Inactive
    Paul A. Rahe: If kids really decrease marital satisfaction, why are childless marriages more apt to end in divorce than marriages that bear fruit?

    Professor Rahe,

    If you would, please explain this statistical skew. (I have always assumed the majority of marriages do bear fruit; ergo, more divorces must occur between spouses with children).

    • #12
    • February 28, 2011, at 5:35 AM PST
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  13. Profile Photo Member

    I gather that marriages with children end less often in divorce because the parents feel the need to maintain the marriage for the sake of the children. This however does not reinforce the notion that marriages with children exceed childless marriages in terms of satisfaction.

    • #13
    • February 28, 2011, at 5:38 AM PST
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  14. Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe
    Elizabeth Dunn
    Paul A. Rahe: If kids really decrease marital satisfaction, why are childless marriages more apt to end in divorce than marriages that bear fruit?
    Professor Rahe,

    If you would, please explain this statistical skew. (I have always assumed the majority of marriages do bear fruit; ergo, more divorces must occur between spouses with children). · Feb 27 at 4:35pm

    I do not know the precise statistics, but there are lots and lots of childless marriages — and percentage-wise these are more likely to blow up than marriages where there are children. Keep in mind Hymowitz’ finding that most divorces take place early on in marriages.

    • #14
    • February 28, 2011, at 5:43 AM PST
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  15. Elizabeth Dunn Inactive
    Paul A. Rahe
    Elizabeth Dunn
    Paul A. Rahe: If kids really decrease marital satisfaction, why are childless marriages more apt to end in divorce than marriages that bear fruit?

    Professor Rahe,

    If you would, please explain this statistical skew. (I have always assumed the majority of marriages do bear fruit; ergo, more divorces must occur between spouses with children). · Feb 27 at 4:35pm

    I do not know the precise statistics, but there are lots and lots of childless marriages — and percentage-wise these are more likely to blow up than marriages where there are children. Keep in mind Hymowitz’ finding that most divorces take place early on in marriages. · Feb 27 at 4:43pm

    In other words, young and childless marriages may be skewing marital stats as a whole. You wouldn’t know this from any television program, movie or political narrative produced in the last 20 years! (One could be led to believe all husbands are morally bankrupt philanderers like John Edwards and entirely responsible for disintegrating the family unit)….

    • #15
    • February 28, 2011, at 6:23 AM PST
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  16. Sisyphus Member
    SisyphusJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member
    Paul A. Rahe
    Kenneth: As a person who chose not to have children, I would say that marriage without children is far, far better than children without marriage. · Feb 27 at 2:49pm
    Yes, I can see that. My worst nightmare is that my wife would have an accident and die while our children are young. Hers is that I would die under similar circumstances. Our experience is that it takes two — and children born out of wedlock rarely have that privilege. I shudder at the thought of having a responsibility I cannot properly shoulder. · Feb 27 at 2:59pm

    My wife and I brought home our first, and as is sometimes the way of these things he did not settle.

    After thirty hours of unsuccessful attempts to settle him, we were both exhausted. And with droopy eyes I pointed out, “We are already outnumbered.”

    I tend to regard divorce between those without dependent children as merely regrettable, rather than irresponsible. The one that I found most devastating was the couple that adopted three small children over five years, and then the husband ran off with some teenage honey. We were all college friends, but I never saw it coming.

    • #16
    • February 28, 2011, at 6:26 AM PST
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  17. Profile Photo Member
    Michael Labeit: I gather that marriages with children end less often in divorce because the parents feel the need to maintain the marriage for the sake of the children. This however does not reinforce the notion that marriages with children exceed childless marriages in terms of satisfaction.

    Research has found that people who “stick it out” instead of quitting during a rocky period in their marriage quite often end up much happier and with their marriage in a better state a few years later. Many psychiatrists, from experience, advise against divorce unless there is actual abuse or something similar going on.

    Most of the problems with marriage stem from the selfish notion that it’s all about me, that marriage is supposed to make me happy. When it doesn’t exactly live up to those expectations, people naturally want out.

    Paradoxically, those who do not pursue their own happiness first are the ones who are most likely to find it.

    This is why using “happiness” as a measuring stick for the value of a marriage is tricky. Yes, happier marriages should be a goal, but you don’t necessarily get there by setting happiness in your marriage as the goal.

    • #17
    • February 28, 2011, at 8:26 AM PST
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  18. Bill McGurn Contributor

    The original entry point with Kay Hymowitz was her discussion of men who are in fact boys. As the father of three girls, I’m always telling them that when they marry, I hope it’s to a man — not someone they will have to baby. I have to say I am amazed by young men today, especially when compared to their peers many years ago. I’m looking forward to reading Kay’s book for some of the answers.

    PS, the men I know love babies and children. Watch those soldiers coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan scoop up their kids. My dad was a Marine and FBI agent. No one would question his toughness. Yet he insisted his boys learn how to change diapers and so forth. Most of the dads I knew growing up were like that. They had their faults. But when it came to their familie, they were guys you could count on.

    • #18
    • February 28, 2011, at 11:08 AM PST
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  19. Profile Photo Member
    Bill McGurn: … As the father of three girls, I’m always telling them that when they marry, I hope it’s to a man — not someone they will have to baby…

    PS, the men I know love babies and children. Watch those soldiers coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan scoop up their kids. My dad was a Marine and FBI agent. No one would question his toughness. Yet he insisted his boys learn how to change diapers and so forth. Most of the dads I knew growing up were like that. They had their faults. But when it came to their families, they were guys you could count on.

    It’s my job as a dad to teach and model to my daughter what to look for in a man, and my son to be that kind of man.

    It’s tough to do that when you’re not a fully responsible man yourself, or not even around. It’s already tough enough when society tells you that as a man, you are not needed in the family and that you’re basically a fool and a dunderhead. (In contrast, it’s really easy to live up to those expectations.)

    • #19
    • February 28, 2011, at 11:21 AM PST
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