I’m a big KCRW fan. They have wonderful programming and a great variety of shows. As a foodie, I love Evan Kleiman with her “Good Food” show on Saturdays, which has a Farmer’s Market report from Santa Monica regularly. I’m an armchair psychologist so I find Ira Glass’ show, “This American Life,” endlessly fascinating.
But for current events and hot topics of the day, I don’t think you can beat NPR’s “Morning Edition.” I was listening to it yesterday as I drove to Equinox where I’m still trying to work off the Thanksgiving dinner before Christmas dinner sets in. There was a story about the changing dynamics of marriage and parenthood in America.
It turns out that marriage is becoming a rite of passage for the educated and affluent. There was a study done by the National Marriage Project out of the University of Virginia that demonstrates what I’ve been observing in my family law practice for the past decade — a marked shift away from young couples doing things in order.
Historically, Billy and Susie dated, then got engaged, married, bought a home and had a child. That is the traditional, and some would say right, way to form a family. It makes sense, there are increasing levels of commitment and as a couple settles into a rhythm they form a home and then a family. From a sociological perspective it makes sense that people would take things in order. After all, you don’t put the flour, eggs and butter in the oven for an hour, and then try to mix them to make a cake.
But societies change. Ours has undergone many changes over its 200-year history, and this latest change will continue. What is happening is that marriage is becoming a state that the lower levels of our society are choosing to put off in favor of having children.
The NPR story highlighted a couple from Maryland who chose to have a child before marriage because they felt that child rearing was something that couldn’t be put off. That’s an interesting way of looking at parenthood because it is very dependent on the female’s biology. As men are capable of fathering children well into their 70s, clearly it is not his biological clock that is ticking.
It will be interesting over the next 20 years to see how this impacts children and their attitudes toward marriage, which I imagine will continue to decline. The National Marriage Project found that, “the desire of teenagers of both sexes for ‘a good marriage and family life’ has remained high over the past few decades. Boys are almost 10 percentage points less desirous of this than girls, however, and they are also a little more pessimistic about the possibility of a long-term marriage. Both boys and girls have become more accepting of lifestyles that are considered alternatives to marriage, including non-marital childbearing and unmarried cohabitation.”
The long-term effects of this on how children are raised, and what their expectations are of gender roles remains to be seen. I fear that it will have a negative impact on how boys are raised, and what their understanding of what being a man and father means.
As more boys and girls are raised in single-parent households, primarily by their mothers who do not see the important value of having a man to demonstrate day-to-day living and problem solving, I anticipate that we will have a generation of boys who are confused about their role in society.
As women see a husband as less of a necessity in their own lives, it seems to me that it won’t be long until they see a father as less of a necessity in a child’s life. That is problematic, because in my experience and opinion it is other men who teach men how to be men. Teenage boys need a father figure to help guide them through the maze of hormones and new rules for social behavior, and without that, I fear that they will be left in the wilderness to recreate some modern version of “Animal Farm.”
My concern is that boys will not develop a positive self-image if they only see males as weekend fathers who only contribute financially. Additionally, I am concerned that the will not see men as playing a positive role if they don’t see their fathers as more than sperm donors.
But, in the end, the changes will come, and we will adapt. I don’t know what the future males of America will be like, perhaps they will be more emotionally open and nurturing, perhaps they will be better than what I think is possible. I don’t know what the future females will be like, perhaps they will be stronger and more independent and our society will reach new heights of equality.
Whatever the future is, it is sure to be interesting.
David Pisarra is a divorce attorney who specializes in father’s rights and men’s issues with the firm of Pisarra & Grist in Santa Monica. He is the author of the upcoming, “A Man’s Guide To Child Custody.” You can pre-order the book by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or (310) 664-9969.