- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 25, 2010

Cultural Challenge of the Week: Mixed Messages on Marriage

Get married? Why bother?

That’s the prevailing attitude of an increasing number of couples who consider marriage, if at all, only after a child arrives. USA Today spotlights Bristol Palin and Levi Johnston, and their toddler son Tripp, as symbols of the new trend: child first, marriage second. Recent data shows they have plenty of company: “A record four-in-10 births (41 percent) were to unmarried women in 2008, including most births to women in their early 20s.”

Perhaps unintentionally, the best illustration of the growing confusion about marriage comes from another unmarried mom, Davie Melton, interviewed by USA Today. She’s conflicted. On the one hand, as “a Christian, I believe you need to get married.” On the other hand, marriage “is a piece of paper nowadays, and I don’t think you necessarily need it to be a good family.”

So, is marriage good for children and families, or not? Does it really matter whether Tripp’s parents, Bristol Palin and Levi Johnston, get married?

In spite of the drama in Bristol Palin’s young life, she knows that marriage matters. Bristol explained her reason for getting back together with Levi quite simply. “We were working on our relationship for Tripp.” Her inclination to marry, while certainly intertwined with her feelings for Levi, is rooted in a basic truth: Children do best when they are raised by their married mother and father.

While I have no way of knowing whether Bristol and Levi’s relationship will mature into a solid, committed marriage, I applaud their desire to give their son the benefit of being raised by married parents.

How to save your family from indifference towards marriage.

Like young Davie Melton, our culture delivers two contradictory messages about marriage. We know it’s a good thing — the best way, in fact, to raise children. But when our own marriages struggle or our loved ones fail at marriage, it’s easy to fall silent about the goodness that marriage brings. We pretend it really doesn’t matter whether or not parents are married.

The research is clear, and we should say so. Married couples are healthier, happier, wealthier and live longer than divorced or single people. Even most unhappily married couples who stick it out (often because of the children) rediscover happiness within five years of their marital low point. Children raised by their married father and mother do better than children of divorced or never-married mothers on every measure of well-being. (See the Center for Marriage and Families or “The Case for Marriage” for research data.)

To help our children reject the lie that marriage is merely a piece of paper, irrelevant to raising a “good family,” let’s reaffirm our commitment to marriage itself, no matter how imperfectly we live it. Let’s teach them that God really did know what he was doing when he designed families, starting with a lifelong marriage between one man and one woman.

Husbands and wives, show your children that your marriage matters: Make time for your spouse, and express gratitude for their commitment. Remind yourself of the good you have found in marriage; even difficult marriages may bring personal growth and the blessings of children. If you are in a rocky situation, get marriage counseling. I’m constantly amazed at how much time, work, effort and money people spend on perfecting and enjoying every endeavor under the sun — except their marriages. You can find great counselors at www.FamilyLife.com

Finally, if your own marriage has suffered the pain of divorce, don’t give up. Stand firm behind the ideal of marriage, even as you strive to learn from your mistakes and transcend the unhappiness of the past.

And for Bristol, who “believes in redemption and forgiveness to a degree most of us struggle to put in practice,” I offer my prayers and best wishes for a long, happy and committed marriage.

Rebecca Hagelin can be reached at rebecca@howtosaveyourfamily.com.