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“And children residing with a parent who is just cohabiting with a partner may have the lowest well-being of all,” he said.

Mr. Cherlin’s advice to the Obama administration is to continue spending money to promote marriage, but mix in some advice to “slow down.”

“Marriage is important,” he said, “but ‘get married’ should not be our sole message.

“We should spend less time promoting marriage and more time supporting stable caregiving in children’s lives. The two are not the same,” he said.

This is especially important for single mothers, he added.

It makes sense to encourage marriage with a young couple with a child “if that is their goal,” he said. But it makes less sense to encourage a young, single mother — who has broken up with the baby’s father — to rush into marriage with another man.

Be more cautious, he said. Don’t rush into having children with a new live-in partner. Single mothers should choose their next romantic partner carefully, and introduce him to the children gradually — “don’t try to make him an instant parent.”

I agree with Mr. Cherlin’s point about taking things slow. “Serial dads” don’t seem to be the answers to any kid’s dream, and having unrelated men living in the home actually raises the risks for domestic violence and even sexual abuse of the children.

Since hope springs eternal, especially for Americans seeking love, it seems that a renewed appreciation for relationship education can’t happen fast enough.

Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at