Wednesday, May 2, 2007

The fate of the family is the focus of two major conferences this month.

This weekend at the University of Chicago, the Council on Contemporary Families (CCF) will celebrate its 10th anniversary by presenting the most intriguing research on the American family.

The 75 new findings “really highlight how the pressures, promises and dynamics of family life have changed over the past 10 years,” said clinical psychologist Joshua Coleman, who edited the CCF report, released today.

The CCF report indicates that marriage is becoming more egalitarian and more optional, that many women are satisfied living a single life, and that, despite their workloads, modern parents are spending more time with their children than parents in the “golden era” of the nuclear family in 1965.

Married mothers spent 12.9 hours a week caring for their children in 2000, compared with 10.6 hours a week in 1965, while fathers more than doubled their weekly child care from 2.6 hours to 6.5 hours, said research by University of Maryland sociology professor Suzanne M. Bianchi. One big reason, she and her colleagues found: less time spent on housework.

CCF speakers this weekend include some 30 family scholars, including Evergreen State College history professor Stephanie Coontz and Philip A. Cowan and Carolyn Pape Cowan, both professors emeritus at the University of California at Berkeley.

Next week, in Warsaw, the fourth World Congress of Families (WCF) will pursue a different theme.

WCF organizers, including founder Allan Carlson, president of the Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society, view the “natural family” — husband, wife and children — as the universal template, with other social influences and family forms either helping or harming it.

The 3,000 expected pro-family leaders, activists, scholars and political leaders will hear about marital fidelity, abortion, pornography, cohabiting, education, work and religion. Session topics include “Children as Treasure: Welcoming More Babies and Larger Families,” “The Mother in the Home and the New Home Economics,” and “The Attack on Marriage as the Union of Woman and Man.”

The two conferences may be seen as bookends in the ongoing debate over marriage.

On one side is an effort to “deinstitutionalize” marriage or move away from its customary forms even if it means changing its meaning and purpose, Institute for American Values President David Blankenhorn wrote in his new book, “The Future of Marriage.” The CCF, or at least some of its leaders, are on that side, he writes.

On the other side are those trying to “reinstitutionalize” or strengthen marriage so that more children are born and raised by their two happily married, biological parents, he writes.

With the future of marriage, “[n]othing is preordained or inevitable. We must choose,” writes Mr. Blankenhorn, who calls for more sophisticated discussions about how homosexual unions will impact marriage, families and children.

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