Put on your own oxygen mask first

Divorce Family Marriage Parenting

A while ago, we had a medium-sized crisis involving one of our kids. One of the first thoughts that raced across my mind was “Just when I finally thought I had my act together — now this!!” Then I immediately caught myself. Would I rather it happen while I’m drowning in three other crises? Or when I feel like I’m in a position to let everything else slide for a bit while I focus on my child’s problem?

Meanwhile, my husband jumped up to the plate as well, and we both found solace and emotional replenishment in each other’s arms while dealing with the problem.

This incident came to mind when I read the following comment:

Excuses like the kids would want me to be happy that adults use to justify their divorce (news flash your kids dont give a damn if youre happy. Kind of like how you dont give a damn what they think about the divorce. Funny how that works).

Sure, most kids (being, by definition, immature) don’t consciously care much about other people’s happiness. But having the emotional and physical energy to deal with crises (as well as with day-to-day parenting) is not something you can fake or simply conjure up by force of will. It’s the parents’ responsibility to provide a safe and healthy environment for their kids, and it’s the adults’ responsibility to figure out what they need to do to create that environment. It is the couple that knows whether their marriage is a source of comfort and solace or whether it is a source of additional stress, hindering the parents’ efforts to focus on their kids’ needs.

When people say that no-fault divorce is destroying the family, I take issue with that personally — because if it weren’t for no-fault divorce, I probably wouldn’t have the happy family that I have today. I remember thinking that if the point of restricting divorce is for the sake of the kids, I shouldn’t have even had the six-month waiting period for my no-fault divorce. If a childless couple has already decided to call it quits, the last thing you want to do is insist on giving them another opportunity to bring a child into this picture. Of course, even for couples with kids, if they’ve decided to split amicably, it’s not necessarily in the kids’ interest to insist on turning it into a fight.

Now, I know that the defenders of traditional marriage will say that the point is that if they create more obstacles to divorce, maybe the couple will choose not to divorce. Because that’s what a stress family needs: more obstacles. (Aside: A historian studying Victorian-era illegitimacy told me that there was a high rate of cohabitation and illegitimacy due to one or both partners being unable to obtain a divorce from an earlier union.)

Studies on kids’ “outcomes” have shown that kids whose parents stayed married do better than kids whose parents are divorced. But if these studies are used to tell people that they need to stay together “for the kids” (and they are used for that, consistently), then the fact that some of families in the “married” category actually didn’t even want to split up is a major factor that should not be glossed over. The only relevant studies are the ones that specifically compare outcomes of families where the parents wanted a divorce (but decided to stay together for the kids) to the outcomes of families where the parents divorced and cooperated in child rearing. And, to be credible, such studies should be free of major funding conflicts of interest.

Sometimes I get the impression that people who want to “defend” (heterosexual-only) marriage don’t really think very highly of marriage, even straight marriage (see this recent critique of straight marriages where the spouses are in love with each other). Personally, I think marriage is a commitment rather than a prison, and — even though it represents some amount of work — on balance it is a comfort and joy rather than a punishment.

377 thoughts on “Put on your own oxygen mask first

  1. Let me start by admitting that I did not read all 250 comments. So, maybe someone had already addressed this.

    I divorced my first husband for my kids. They needed to know how to be men that love and respect their spouses, and women who demand respect and equality in their marriage.

    I followed my mother’s example, first in marrying a man for whom unrighteous dominion came much more naturally than partnership. I oftentimes wonder if she had married my step-father early enough that I could see a healthy marriage, before I got married, if I might have made a better decision. It is knowing how difficult it was for me and my siblings that I didn’t stay in a bad marriage.

    I don’t think divorce is inevitable for all couples, but I worry that too much of the focus in the church is on not having sex and discussing what should happen before marriage, and not nearly enough time, energy and instruction about the realities of marriage, how to choose a partner that shares the same views and goals, and emphasizing all of the ways a marriage can be strengthened, including sex, but not exclusively sexual.

    I wish someone had given me more practical advice on marriage, without rose colored glasses, and that we had skipped some of the sewing projects.

  2. @251

    Hi Julia–

    No one has made quite the point you’ve made, and it’s an important one, so thanks for making it. But people have pointed out some of the problems in the LDS approach to marriage, as in this comment. @196:

    Encouraging young people in their early 20?s (with little relationship experience) to marry people theyve known for perhaps a few months shows profound lack of respect for what a serious commitment marriage is.

    Jumping into marriage also disrespects the other person. It says I care more about what my parents or my ward or my God(s) think than I care about being sure this is the right choice before locking you into a commitment that will affect your entire life.

  3. Holly,

    I think marrying young can be part of the problem, although I see this patern I’m a lot of my friends who married later in life too. For me, I think that we all want to believe our parents are good people and doing the right things. Someone can tell us it isn’t right, but if we don’t see the wrong thing stopped, and changed to something better, I think we end up being more likely to repeat that mistake. I think the WORST thing parents can do is stay married “for the kids” just long enough to teach the kids that they should be miserable and married for as long as they have kids. I just don’t see how that helps break family patterns of abuse and unhealthy relationships.

    I don’t think any marriage is doomed to fail. Both of my grandmothers married at sixteen, since their sweethearts were going off to war, and one has always been happy, and one tolerated my grandfather until she died. I think my mom was able to make a healthy second marriage because she had a good example for it. I doubt my father wi ever have a healthy relationship with anyone after the example that his father, and his grandfather, set about what a relationship should or could be.

    I don’t know that I would say I was a divorce advocate, but I think that if you are going to base your choice to stay married or not on what is best for your kids, that the default should not be staying unhappy but together.

  4. I was going to wait for Chanson to add her additional thoughts, but she seems to be having fun on vacation, so I’ll wish her well and not wait.

    I don’t think the age of marriage is so much the problem as the societal context we’ve built up around age. There’s no question in my mind that a lot of 20 year olds are not ready for marriage. But I don’t see that as being due to their age. I see it being the fault of our society that disempowers young people and doesn’t allow them to have significant responsibility until much, much later in life. Our 20 year olds SHOULD be ready for serious adult responsibilities, like higher education, employment and marriage. They SHOULD be ready for this. But they aren’t.

    And that is a defect in our culture.

    Back in the 1800s, a 13 year old male could run a small dairy farm by himself. He knew how to milk the cows, save a pregnant cow’s life by turning the calf, ride a horse, round up strays, shoot a rifle at coyotes, repair a saddle and any other number of tasks that needed doing. And no one had to tell him to do it. He just did it because it was needed. Plenty of 13 year old boys back then were frankly, more mature than the majority of University of Utah’s freshman class last year.

    This is because we tend to look down on and coddle our youths these days. We don’t teach them to be responsible with their lives, we don’t teach them the things about marriage and relationships Julie was calling for.

    And as a result, the age at which people can be entrusted with adult responsibility has been on steady decline for the last 50 years.

    It’s not an age problem. It’s a cultural problem.

  5. Now on the cohabitation problem.

    We’ve focused the discussion down on the personal level. Meaning that we’ve been talking about personal anecdotes, such as Chanson sharing her story of why cohabitation and divorce were the correct decisions for her and stories like that.

    However, the discussion also needs to look at the broader picture of what cohabitation means for society. By and large, the people on this blog represent a narrow demographic of people. profxm is a college professor, Holly has a PhD (I think – I can’t find the bio page anymore), and I’m sure others here have similar achievements.

    Point being – the participants here all come from the higher end of the education bracket. That’s not a majority of society though.

    The problem with these “what’s the harm?” debates is that they are always conducted using the lives of the highly educated as test cases. So the pair of PhDs are used as the model couple for how cohabitation worked out just fine and felt like the right choice and all that. When no-fault divorce was being debated likewise the discussion was from educated people imaging how people like them might benefit from easier divorce. Yes, there was intense discussion of abuse (which crosses economic lines). But the potential drawbacks were all seen from a perspective of how intelligent people would cope with them. And I see the same thing happening with discussion of cohabitation.

    The problem is – the worst effects of no-fault divorce were not felt among the educated upper class and upper middle class. They were seen in the poor lower class and the lower middle class – where the divorce rate, the single parent household rate, and the fatherless rate absolutely went through the roof. Poorer neighborhoods were turned into literal family wastelands.

    And in the lower to lower middle class, the effects of cohabitation have been EXTREMELY bad. One can find only slight variations in rates of happiness between educated couples – regardless of divorce, cohabitation, or marital status. But among the lower-educated the well-being factors differ greatly based on marital status.

    I was reading a study worth considering:

    http://nationalmarriageproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/WMM_summary.pdf

    A few of the key findings (I’ll just cut and paste some quotes):

    1. “On many social, educational, and psychological outcomes, children in cohabiting house- holds do significantly worse than children in intact, married families, and about as poorly as children living in single-parent families. And when it comes to abuse, recent federal data indicate that children in cohabiting households are markedly more likely to be physically, sexually, and emotionally abused than children in both intact, married families and single-parent families (see figure 3). Only in the economic domain do children in cohabiting households fare consistently better than children in single-parent families.”

    2. “the impact that transitions into and out of marriage, cohabitation, and single parenthood have upon children. This report shows that such transitions, especially multiple transitions, are linked to higher reports of school failure, behavioral problems, drug use, and loneliness, among other outcomes.”

    3. “Cohabiting couples who have a child together are more than twice as likely to break up before their child turns twelve, compared to couples who are married to one another (see figure 5).”

    4. “For instance, one indicator of this growing complexity is multiple-partner fertility, where parents have children with more than one romantic partner. Children who come from these relationships are more likely to report poor relationships with their parents, to have behavioral and health problems, and to fail in school, even after controlling for factors such as education, income, and race.”

    5. “the United States is devolving into a separate-and-unequal family regime, where the highly educated and the affluent enjoy strong and stable [families] and everyone else is consigned to increasingly unstable, unhappy, and unworkable ones.”

    6. “While cohabitation is associated with increased risks of psychological and social problems for children, this does not mean that every child who is exposed to cohabitation is damaged. For example, one nationally representative study of six- to eleven-year-olds found that only 16 percent of children in cohabiting families experienced serious emotional problems. Still, this rate was much higher than the rate for children in families headed by married biological or adoptive parents, which was 4 percent”

    7. “While marriage is a social good, not all marriages are equal. Research does not generally support the idea that remarriage is better for children than living with a single mother.9 Marriages that are unhappy do not have the same benefits as the average marriage.10 Divorce or separation provides an important escape hatch for children and adults in violent or high-conflict marriages. Families, communities, and policy makers interested in distributing the benefits of marriage more equally must do more than merely discourage legal divorce.”

    And I already remarked on the disturbingly higher rate of child abuse from live-in boyfriends as opposed to biological fathers.

    So whatever the motives and merits of individual cases of cohabitation, the debate cannot ignore the bigger social problems the arrangement is causing.

  6. Seth, thanks for writing the last post do I didn’t have to go find the links. I lived with my second husband for about 13 months before we got married. It was fine for me, but it wasn’t for my kids. I thought they were fine, but working with their counselor made me aware of how insecure they felt.

    If I hadn’t had kids, and the only consequences were mine, then I might do it again. But my kids were involved, and the damage to them was only exaggerated when my second husband decided he didn’t want a “second family” about three years after we married. I think if we had waited to live together until after we got married, we both might have been more aware of the needs of my kids. At the time, being with me was so much healthier than being with their father, that I didn’t take a very hard look at how my choices were impacting my kids.

    I remarried (yes sometimes I still blush when I admit that I failed twice before) I made sure that they met my husband as one of my friends, that we did things as a group with other adults and kids, and when we started getting serious, he took my kids out to dinner and asked THIER permission toasty me and become their step- father. While they have all bonded well, the kids continue to have trust issues with all of the men in their lives.

    I have to take most of the responsibility. I married the man who is their biological father, and had children with him because we thought it would help save our crumbling marriage. I found out I was pregnant with my oldest a few weeks before I was going to file divorce papers. Looking back, I should have filed them anyway.

    I already talked about what I did wrong the second time, and how we tried to do better this last time. It isn’t ideal, but my kids have friends who have have ten or more “dads/uncles” live with them and who have no real sense of what a stable family or parents as a unit. In my experience, the lower the income and education levels of a person, the more likely they are to choose cohabitation, with no set time for how long or how stable the relationship is.

  7. Julie, you missed all the fighting in the 250 previous comments.

    But I did want to just say thanks for the nice response, and state that my previous remark was targeted at broader social trends, and that I realize there can be deviation and counterexamples at the individual level. I’m glad you feel things worked out for you, I don’t really question your conclusions about your own life. I don’t think people who divorce are automatically inferior to people who stay married even if I don’t really agree with divorce as a general matter. Nor do I consider marriage a panacea of some sort that equally fixes everyone’s life.

    And it’s unfortunate that I did such a lousy job of conveying the same sentiments in the previous “250 comments”. If you get around to reading them, you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about. 😛

  8. Julia:

    but I think that if you are going to base your choice to stay married or not on what is best for your kids, that the default should not be staying unhappy but together.

    This was a common sentiment throughout the comments.

    Seth:

    So whatever the motives and merits of individual cases of cohabitation, the debate cannot ignore the bigger social problems the arrangement is causing.

    No one here wanted to “ignore the bigger social problems,” but your flipflopping on many points, your insistence that people cohabitated because they were “jerks”, and your steadfast claim that you knew why people made choices you disapproved of and that their motives were bad made it pretty difficult to get at the bigger social problems.

    The stuff you discuss in your comments, Seth, show the need for economic fairness. Cohabitation does often work just fine if people have secure financial lives.

    But making divorce more expensive, inconvenient, and difficult for people who already have limited resources and options doesn’t seem particularly wise.

    It also raises the question of how often people live together for economic rather than romantic reasons.

    So the real issue might be raising people out of poverty, not dictating their morals.

    Point being the participants here all come from the higher end of the education bracket. Thats not a majority of society though.

    There are about as many people with PhDs in the US as there are active Mormons–about 1% of the population in both cases.

    And it’s not like none of us have ever have friends or relatives or neighbors on the lower end of the economic scale.

    I realize there can be deviation and counterexamples at the individual level. Im glad you feel things worked out for you, I dont really question your conclusions about your own life.

    Really? then why did you write stuff like

    Heres the problem with speaking on moral issues. Its impossible to have opinions on stuff like divorce and cohabitation without stepping on big personal landmines for people you know. I deal with cohabitating couples all the time filing bankruptcies. And theyre pretty normal folks. Nice in most respects theyve got their own sets of problems and Ive got mine. They have their own strong points too. Some are nice, some are stupid, some are admirable, some are downright annoying.

    Its just your normal slice of society. So when I oppose cohabitation in writing, I actually do have human faces in mind whom I know would not like what Im saying. I feel bad about that.

    But what then?

    Are we supposed to drop any moral position we know would upset someone we know? Are we supposed to simply stop opposing divorce because we all know divorcees?

    Also:

    I dont think people who divorce are automatically inferior to people who stay married even if I dont really agree with divorce as a general matter. Nor do I consider marriage a panacea of some sort that equally fixes everyones life.

    And its unfortunate that I did such a lousy job of conveying the same sentiments in the previous 250 comments. If you get around to reading them, youll see exactly what Im talking about.

    yeah, it really is. Thanks for owning up to that here, Seth, because you sure seemed to be working pretty hard to convey the exact opposite of what you now claim you wanted to convey.

  9. The stuff you discuss in your comments, Seth, show the need for economic fairness. Cohabitation does often work just fine if people have secure financial lives. . . .

    So the real issue might be raising people out of poverty, not dictating their morals.

    Great. And what do we do until someone figures out how to make that happen?

  10. Well, it’s a good point.

    Saying that we’ll solve the family once we solve poverty is just another way of saying “I don’t want to deal with the issue – let’s talk about something else.”

  11. There’s a lot of problems that afflict the poor. But we don’t just tell them to suck it up until we can figure out how to make them “not-poor” anymore.

    Furthermore, the mere fact that better-educated folks cope with cohabitation better doesn’t mean there’s nothing wrong with the idea. Healthy 20 something people can cope with the flu much better than the elderly or infants (for whom it can be deadly). But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing wrong with the flu. It just means that some people show the stresses it puts on them more readily.

  12. Saying that well solve the family once we solve poverty is just another way of saying I dont want to deal with the issue lets talk about something else.

    Back to the mindreader routine, eh, Seth? How’d that work out for you last time?

    And what on earth does it mean to “solve the family”? Who here has said that we’ll “solve the family”?

    There are plenty of policies that help people be more financially secure. They helped create a large middle class and reduce poverty in the US.

    Poverty rates are very low in Sweden, which also has fairly rates of things like cohabitation, unwed mothers (though not teen mothers) and divorce.

    it has low rates of crimes and very low rates of violent crimes, particularly when it comes to children, as in “Every year, eight to ten, sometimes as many as twelve children die in Sweden due to violence. This has been true for several years.”

    Imagine how we’d rejoice if ONLY eight to ten or twelve children died in the US due to violence.

    If we want to protect children, there are societies who do it better than we do. If we’re not imitating them, it seems logical to deduce that as a whole, there is something we value more than protecting children.

  13. Sweden is a racially homogenous, quiet, and undisturbed country that doesn’t have half as much on its plate as the United States, so I don’t consider them a great comparison in all respects.

    I’m not mind-reading Holly. It’s just what you plainly stated.

    Oh, and Sweden has it’s own problems. It isn’t an unqualified family paradise:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BUAlFuUnsLY&feature=share

  14. so I dont consider them a great comparison in all respects.

    I look forward to learning the ways in which you do consider them a great comparison.

    m not mind-reading Holly. Its just what you plainly stated.

    Well, at least I understand why you resort to mindreading, Seth, bad as you are at it: you’re bad at plain old reading too. Because “So the real issue might be raising people out of poverty, not dictating their morals” doesn’t equal “solving the family,” let alone I dont want to deal with the issue lets talk about something else.

  15. Come on now; don’t be obtuse. We’re saying “solve the family” as a shorthand for addressing the social fallout from no-fault divorce and widespread cohabitation raised in Seth’s post at 256.

  16. Were saying solve the family as a shorthand for addressing the social fallout from no-fault divorce and widespread cohabitation raised in Seths post at 256.

    thanks for clarifying that.

    Not everyone thinks that the fallout from no-fault divorces and widespread cohabitation is worse than the fallout from restricted divorces and coercive marriages.

    But if you do think that “solving the family” is important, I assume you’ve thought about how to do that?

    Given that you raise the issue, it would be helpful if you would offer your assessment first.

  17. I’m just saying you can’t dismiss Seth’s points about the fallout from no-fault divorces and widespread cohabitation with a handwave and a nod to “raising people out of poverty,” especially since you and I both know full well that’s much easier said than done, all things considered.

  18. Not everyone thinks that the fallout from no-fault divorces and widespread cohabitation is worse than the fallout from restricted divorces and coercive marriages.

    So, the advantages that no-fault divorce and widespread cohabitation create for weathy white women outweigh the disadvantages that no-fault divorce and widespread cohabitation create for poor minority women?

  19. So, the advantages that no-fault divorce and widespread cohabitation create for weathy white women outweigh the disadvantages that no-fault divorce and widespread cohabitation create for poor minority women?

    I don’t think that no-fault divorce creates more disadvantages for poor women than having no way out of bad marriages. As the passage Seth quotes @256 points out,

    9 Marriages that are unhappy do not have the same benefits as the average marriage. 10 Divorce or separation provides an important escape hatch for children and adults in violent or high-conflict marriages. Families, communities, and policy makers interested in distributing the benefits of marriage more equally must do more than merely discourage legal divorce.

  20. Somehow I don’t think it’s an either or situation Holly.

    I have a hard time believing you have to embrace a widespread culture of encouragement for and acceptance of divorce just to save women from abusive marriages. By the way, I’m not advocating abolishing no-fault divorce, since I think that could have a lot of unintended consequences I’m still wary of.

    But lets keep the cohabitation question separate from divorce.

    Is it worth culturally celebrating cohabitation so that the privileged can “test out” their relationships at the expense of ruining many more families in lower income brackets?

    I’m not saying that’s the price you have to pay for one or the other. But we do have to keep in mind that “it’s not all about me.” What I do, the example I set, and the social arrangements I advocate for have a much broader impact on the people who share society with me. And I cannot simply say they aren’t my problem and I’m entitled to my rights – even if it messes up their lives.

  21. Another finding I found in my research was that a great many low conflict marriages where the unhappiness with the marriage was enough for the spouses to want divorce, but the spouses decided to stick it out – the conflict resolved itself in 5 years and couples reported a return to healthy marital satisfaction levels.

    I’ll have to dig up the source again for exact percentages…

  22. Also, another thing to keep in mind is that the abusive marriage can often be a red herring in discussions of the general availability of divorce. According to this article:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/11/04/AR2005110402304.html?referrer=facebook

    Two thirds of divorces today end “low conflict” marriages where there is no abuse, violence, or even serious fighting. Little real outward indication that mom and dad don’t really like each other anymore. Which tends to come as a shock to the kids – who never saw it coming.

  23. Well, I know far more limited english speakers than I do Phds. And in my limited acquaintanceship with my non-white low wage female coworkers, I’d say plenty (what a nice qualitative term,) are choosing cohabitation.
    It seems that poor, minority women favor the advantages of no fault divorce and cohabitation for themselves as well.

  24. Somehow I dont think its an either or situation Holly.

    Hallelujah!

    This is a point many of us were trying to make, comment after comment.

    Glad you finally came around.

    Is it worth culturally celebrating cohabitation

    Who is celebrating it, Seth?

    The fact that a bunch of people here acknowledge that
    1) cohabitation is an option many people choose for a variety of reasons, and that
    2) cohabitation before marriage is actually shown by plenty of evidence to inhibit divorce; and then ask
    what, given that, we can do to make life better for children and adults
    does not mean that we celebrate cohabitation. (Particularly since plenty of people here are pro-marriage in all sorts of ways.)

    It means we’re trying to deal with reality.

    Another finding I found in my research was that a great many low conflict marriages where the unhappiness with the marriage was enough for the spouses to want divorce, but the spouses decided to stick it out the conflict resolved itself in 5 years and couples reported a return to healthy marital satisfaction levels.

    That’s awesome. that’s reason for people to weigh their options carefully. That’s reason for people to go to counseling, be honest about what they want and what they can do to get it and to give it to someone else.

    it’s not necessarily a reason to tell them they’re bad people for deciding that what they’re experiencing isn’t “low” conflict, or that even if it is, they just don’t have the resources to deal with it. It’s not a reason to assume that neither party in the marriage has their children’s best interest at heart or doesn’t value the institution of marriage.

    Ill have to dig up the source again for exact percentages

    Thank christ, you’re finally learning.

  25. Holly, I was never trying to say who was and wasn’t “bad” in the first place.

    I was saying that co-habitation had a selfish element inherently stuck inside of it. You chose to interpret that as me saying “you cohabit – which means you suck – and I feel like I’m better than you.” If you’d spent half as much time reading carefully and not jumping to conclusions as you did feeling pissed-off and attacked, you might have caught that.

    Suzanne, your anecdotes actually support the research I was reading.

    Low income women cohabitate at a much higher rate than higher income women. That data is fairly well supported.

    But you’d be mistaken to conclude from that – “well, I guess it must be working out well for them – because that’s what they are doing.”

  26. I was never trying to say who was and wasnt bad in the first place.

    I was saying that co-habitation had a selfish element inherently stuck inside of it.

    Do you think selfishness is “good”?

    You chose to interpret that as me saying you cohabit which means you suck and I feel like Im better than you.

    I admit that in light of comments like this one

    Heres the problem with speaking on moral issues. Its impossible to have opinions on stuff like divorce and cohabitation without stepping on big personal landmines for people you know…. So when I oppose cohabitation in writing, I actually do have human faces in mind whom I know would not like what Im saying. I feel bad about that….

    But what then?

    Are we supposed to drop any moral position we know would upset someone we know? Are we supposed to simply stop opposing divorce because we all know divorcees?

    I and a great many others perceived you as denigrating the choices of others and expressing a lot of moral superiority. I imagine this is not a surprise to you, given that acknowledged that

    its unfortunate that I did such a lousy job of conveying the same sentiments in the previous 250 comments.

    It would be helpful to understanding what your position actually is if you would confront the way your comments were received here and to do more to address the “lousy job” you did of conveying what your sentiments really were or are.

    Low income women cohabitate at a much higher rate than higher income women. That data is fairly well supported.

    But youd be mistaken to conclude from that well, I guess it must be working out well for them because thats what they are doing.

    You’d also be mistaken not to seriously entertain the possibility that however poorly cohabitation works out for these women, they still see it as superior to marriage.

    And if that’s the case, you need to address some of the factors that lead them to conclude that.

  27. Yes, and it was exactly that quote which should have put you on notice that I was drawing a distinction between the problem of cohabitation and the people who actually do it (whose individual circumstances, I do not hold myself judge over).

    I feel like cohabitation has an element of selfishness inherent in it. But that doesn’t mean I think that Chanson – for example – is a “selfish person” just because she did it for a while. People cannot be reduced in character to one of their life choices. Nor can they be defined simply by one aspect of their social relations.

    That quote you picked was trying to make clear the distinction and indicate I was troubled by it and wrestling with it.

  28. I feel like cohabitation has an element of selfishness inherent in it.

    That is a far less emphatic, absolute statement that you made previously. That acknowledges that the statement is your opinion, and suggests that selfishness is not the only element in cohabitation. It gives people more room to respond with their own ideas, without needing to first counter yours.

    It’s much easier to have a conversation when those are the types of statements being made. thanks for doing it.

    That quote you picked was trying to make clear the distinction and indicate I was troubled by it and wrestling with it.

    And yet, a primary thing it conveyed was your willingness to condemn friends and associates for making choices you disapprove of.

    I’ll remind you of another statement you made:

    I have my own words to thank for how I am perceived.

  29. Seth R.
    I don’t presume that co-habitation must be working well, only noting what they are choosing.
    And sometimes what may look like co-habitation may not be. Poor female workers may see advantages in having a male roommate, benefits not included. Whether this is selfish, I do not know.

  30. No, it conveyed a willingness to condemn cohabitation – but an acknowledgment that it is hard to do that without making people feel like you are condemning them even when that is not your desire.

    I don’t know – I’ve heard parts of the DAMU condemn the whole concept of “love the sinner, but hate the sin” that gets said a lot in church before. I have no idea where you stand on that concept.

    Either way, I don’t generally find it useful to rank other people’s hangups (real or perceived) as higher or lower than my own. I find that a rather useless exercise in most cases.

  31. No, it conveyed

    Here’s how it works: the audience, not the speaker, determines what a statement conveyed.

    Your summary might be what you WANTED to convey.

    What people here have worked to make you see is what you ACTUALLY conveyed.

    And since they are the ones who received and interpreted the message, they are the only ones who can say that accurately. You cannot tell people what they thought about your message–unless you’re a mindreader.

    I dont generally find it useful to rank other peoples hangups (real or perceived) as higher or lower than my own. I find that a rather useless exercise in most cases.

    I’ll take your word for it, but add that it’s a bit hard to believe, given much of what you’ve said here, including

    Id much rather own my own comments on this thread than own yours. No question.

    In return, I’d like you to believe me in the future when I write something like

    I find theodicy really boring and beside the point. Its an unanswerable question I dont really care to discuss.

    instead of insisting that I’m lying and writing things like

    Admit it Holly, youre just trying to derail this into a discussion about why God allows suffering.

    and

    the topic of is God a bad parent is inevitably going to wind up being a debate about why suffering is allowed. Ive been on enough atheist message boards to know that 9 times out of 10, if an atheist brings this topic up, its going to derail the conversation completely and about 7 times out of 10 that was deliberate on the part of the atheist who brought it up.

    Seriously: the mindreader routine needs to go.

  32. Back in the day, when marriage was supposedly more stable, it was because one person had ownership / economic power over the other person. The existence of no-fault divorce / cohabitation in our society now is basically a reflection of how neither person has ownership over the other as far as the state is concerned.

    Conservatives have a tendency to latch onto certain topics — “marriage,” “abortion,” “homosexuality,” etc — and use reverse logic to make their points at the expense of critically thinking about class, gender…history even. The points above about no-fault divorce being bad for low-income folks should be a conversation about poverty and gender dynamics before about marriage. Marriage is an institution whereas class, race, and gender are more fundamental aspects from which to analyze. We don’t have to “fix” poverty first before we talk abut marriage, but it’s a little silly to latch onto marriage as a fix-all when so many marriages are unstable and so many cohabitating relationships are stable.

    Seth, the study you cited above is put out by the Institute for American Values, one of whose sole goals is to “strengthen marriage” and whose founder David Blankenhorn recently decided to support gay marriage in part because he believes there’s more consensus now about its stability. Heh, maybe if enough cohabitating couples talk about their stability, he’ll get off their backs, too — but then, what would the IAV be fighting for?

  33. Who knows Alan, maybe he will.

    Until someone actually has a response to the studies and the data they present, I don’t really care where they came from. I did a bit of digging to see if I could find some criticisms of the organization and read a few of them. I didn’t find them significant, so I felt comfortable citing the studies for the time being.

  34. Sometimes people don’t respond to data because the bias behind it is so obvious that responding to it is a waste of time — and plays into the hands of those who are biased. Of course you would grab data from an organization whose sole reason for existence is to support the institution of marriage, and not see how this bias drives their methodology. -_-

    What if I showed you data about how interracial marriages are more unstable, leading to more divorce? Would you conclude that this is bad for children and that therefore interracial marriages are, on whole, “lesser” than monoracial ones? Would you insist that your position of them being lesser is based on the “fact” of their statistical instability, and that you’re not actually condemning individuals who make the choice to enter them?

  35. Alan, I think all the quotes I selected were a bit more nuanced than simply saying “cohabitation is always bad.” In fact, the study found little deviation in satisfaction levels at higher income and education levels.

    That’s not exactly something a Focus on the Family staffer would be willing to admit, you know?

  36. Hi guys, sorry to wander off — we had the most amazing, enormous, all-ages party all afternoon and evening!

    Back in the 1800s, a 13 year old male could run a small dairy farm by himself. He knew how to milk the cows, save a pregnant cows life by turning the calf, ride a horse, round up strays, shoot a rifle at coyotes, repair a saddle and any other number of tasks that needed doing. And no one had to tell him to do it. He just did it because it was needed.

    There are a few different dynamics going on here:

    First, there’s the point that Parker mentioned in the higer education thread, namely that higher education is being artificially lengthened (and trade school de-emphasized), partially as a trend for the “haves” to give their kids a leg up on the “have-nots”. Yes, this causes people to start the adult phase of their lives earlier.

    But the second (and more important) point that has been ignored is the longer lifespan enjoyed by modern people. People in the modern developed world live literally twice as long as people in the ancient world (and earlier) did. The lifespan in the 1800’s in the US was between the ancient and modern.

    If you can reasonably expect to live 35 years, then, yes, you’d damn well better have kids when you’re seventeen if you want to successfully reproduce at all. But if you’re going to live for 70 years, and if you can expect all your kids to live to adulthood (so you only need to raise two in the first place to have two adult descendants, see fertility, mortality), then it’s totally reasonable to lengthen the span of time that you spend investing in your education and preparing yourself for adult responsibilities.

    Personally, I could have had kids when I was a teen or in my 20’s (instead of my 30’s), but why? How would that have benefitted anyone in any way? I can expect to be healthy and active well into my 60’s, and so my family and I benefit from the added maturity and life experience that I can bring. Yes, previous generations didn’t have the same luxury, but that doesn’t mean that it’s useful for me to make life decisions as though I were in their shoes.

  37. That isn’t the point I was planning to add the other day though. I wanted to go back to Holly’s comment @204, reagarding people who have more kids than they can handle (either for status or out of a sense of duty) without taking their kids’ welfare into consideration.

    I know some people have big families because they’re really capable of giving that many kids the love and attention they need — and do a fantastic job. But I have seen too many cases of large families where some of the kids essentially get lost in the crowd, and wind up with major problems because of it. As Seth put it:

    Kids are basically fashion-accessories for insufferably pampered an spoiled-rotten twenty, thirty, and even fourty-somethings

    That is the most rotten part of Mormon culture, IMHO. That is why I went ballistic when they preached at General Conference that women should view their kids as their fashion accessories, as their jewelry. Children aren’t jewels or other accessories, and they don’t deserve to be used as symbols of their parents’ righteousness.

  38. WOW! I didn’t think keeping up with a single blog post would be this much work. 😉

    You go visit a friend, take a nap, have dinner, watch tv snuggled up to your husband, text with a girlfriend, and then check your email and find 137 of them. Now not all of them were from this discussion, but at least half were. I admit, I dealt with the ones from my own website and friends before I went to bed and then started reading these this morning when I woke up.

    Most of the comments really seem to just be going back and forth on what one person said and then changed how they said it, and then more discussion of whether something should be said or what studies to trust. It was interesting, and some of it may link in to some public policy debates, but there were four things that really struck me. ( I still have not gone back to read the first 250 comments, I don’t get the feeling that they are much different than those that came after.)

    1) There are wildly differing views about who is hurt most by divorce and cohabitation laws, and whether they are a good idea. Since everyone has those choices, as far as I know, it seems that this is more of a freedom of choice issue. Having been poor, but still gotten divorced, I don’t think that when a relationship is bad that someone will stay in it just because you have to get creative about how to get the resources.

    2) Kids are impacted by divorce, cohabitation, single parents, parents that stay together, happy or not, and that while statistics give part of the picture, it is really difficult to say which choice is right for the parents or the children.

    3) There are parts of Mormon culture that inform opinions, concerns and justifications on almost every part of courtship, marriage, child rearing, divorce, family size, remarriage and morality. Some people are very rigid in agreeing or disagreeing with Mormon cultures answers to these questions, while others find that their personal experiences, in some way or another allow for more flexibility in how they think about and judge the actions of others.

    4) This debate ends up being very cyclical. The same points can be said in slightly different words, over and over again, but when a viewpoint that is unique enters the discussion it isn’t talked about for long, since the most prolific commenters go back to their favorite issues after a few comments. (I am not saying any one person or view is wrong, just that the pattern seems to be pretty repetative.)

    So, there are several OPs that came after this one, which have gotten very few comments. Have you read them? Is there a reason they don’t inspire almost 300 comments? Is it maybe time to take a look at some of them and see if they might lead to intersting discussions if more people commented, and/or asked questions?

    Just wondering.

  39. Julie, mainly because a personal fight usually inspires a lot of comments.

    Chanson, I don’t really see that attitude too much among large families to be honest. I know several and my wife is the middle kid of nine in a family that didn’t have the finances to have that many kids. I’m the oldest of 6 kids in a family that did have the financial ability to support that many. In both cases, yes – there is a lot of pride in the kids (I think it’s justified for any parent to be proud of their kids). My dad would sometimes quote the Old Testament verse of “children are an heritage of the Lord – blessed is the man who has his quiver full….” I forget the exact wording.

    (keep in mind he said this with a healthy sense of self-mocking)

    But I didn’t get the sense that the kids were a vanity project. They simply drained too much from the parents for any sense of fashion to build up. You can’t send 6 kids to the best pre-schools, the best extracurricular activities, the best soccer leagues, and ballet lessons. You can’t drive 60 miles to take your 10 year old to a soccer game (happens here in kid league soccer all the time). You can’t obsess over and helicopter parent 6 kids. You can’t spoil them as easily. And you can’t really doll them up much. It just takes too much money and energy to do this.

    Helicopter parenting is impossible for large families. Yes, they have their own problems – sometimes severe problems. But I always felt it was more an expression of obligation and duty than personal fulfillment. You don’t approach the prospect of six kids the same way you approach the prospect of writing a book, or taking a rock climbing clinic in Boulder, or planning a trek across Nepal. And you can forget about the massive baby-showers, birthday parties, weddings, and other ways that Americans like to show off for other Americans.

    But yes Chanson – I think it would be foolish to deny that ego and fierce pride of identity doesn’t factor into the decision to have a lot of kids. I think it’s not so much a matter of one group having more pride than the other, or one group being exempt from pride. But both groups doing it differently.

  40. Just wanted to let you know that MSP is included in this Sunday’s edition of “My New Favorite Blogs.” http://poetrysansonions.blogspot.com/2012/07/my-new-favorite-blogs-sunday-july-15th.html

    I specifically linked to this thread, as an example of how hard it can be to come into a OP that has so many comments that unless you started with the conversation, or have extremelly passionate views about the OP, getting through the comments can take MUCH longer than the OP itself deserves.

    I am glad that MSP exists, and I don’t mind long chains of comments, but in introducing my readers to new blogs, I like to give them a heads up if different posts get different patterns of attention!

    Thanks for letting me be part of the fray!!

  41. @294 & @296 — Thanks for the summary and the link!!

    This discussion is very far from being representative of what this site is normally like. We don’t usually have long discussions like this, and this thread has got to be one of our longest ever! It’s probably because Seth is back after a fairly long absence. He keeps the discussion lively, and there were some points that he had made on an entirely differen blog that I wanted to respond to here.

    @295 There is no doubt that parenting styles have changed dramatically in the space of a couple of generations. I think the biggest factor driving the changes has been the lengthening of our lifespans and the dramatic drop in infant and child mortality. People stop at two or three kids these days because they can. Period.

    As I discussed in my “Fertility, Mortality” post linked above, the fact that instead of raising and loving six kids — and watching four of them die — we can have two to begin with, and focus all of our love and attention on those two. “Helicopter parenting” is a pejorative term for the pathological extreme, but the fact that modern parents have more time and attention/energy for each kid is simple math.

    If you look at cultural trends in terms of the environment that drives them, you can see that not all of the things that are different are bad. Some are bad — the American consumer culture you mention, for example, plus this thing of only going out to drive from an air-conditioned house to an air-conditioned mall, spending all social time on TV and screens like this one — causing a real breakdown in IRL communities. But I’m having some major culture shock being back to the US after all these years, so don’t get me started on my “what’s wrong with America” lecture series — I don’t want to be the cranky expat. 😉 But a lot of cultural trends are simply a reflection of the fact that we have a different set of options than people did in the past, and our options that work for us today might not existed then, or might not have been adaptive.

  42. I know this is an old conversation that should probably just be left alone, but this article I found was just a bit too relevant to the cohabitation debate to not link to:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/15/opinion/sunday/the-downside-of-cohabiting-before-marriage.html?_r=4&hp=&pagewanted=all

    This author isn’t for or against cohabitation before marriage. But gives a very useful warning against viewing cohabitation as a convenient “test run” to see if you want to get married. It’s not without exit costs, it’s not easier to get out of than marriage, and it can even pull people into the trap of settling into a comfort zone of living together for years with people they otherwise would have broken up with in a few months if they hadn’t been living with them.

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