- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Beginning today, I have the privilege of switching from news reporting to writing columns and analyses on the family. In addition to appearing here on a regular basis, please look for me in the new Sunday Family Times.

As faithful readers of The Washington Times already know, my passion is family and social issues.

For the past 15 of my 30 years in journalism, I have reported on matters relating to family formation - dating, marriage, adoption and childbirth - and family dissolution - divorce, child support and child custody. I’ve also paid attention to the “failure to launch” issues of unwed childbearing and cohabiting.

What I’ve discovered over the years is that we as a nation aren’t too happy about the way things are going .

But which way is home?

The great American family upheavals of the 1970s and 1980s were supposed to fix some problems and make family life and couples’ relationships even better. But there’s a gnawing sense we were sold some bait-and-switch policies.

For instance, the no-fault divorce-law revolution, led by California Gov. Ronald Reagan, was supposed to end the vicious acrimony that occurred when one spouse had to prove in court that the other spouse was guilty of abuse, adultery or abandonment. No-fault was supposed to end the shenanigans - couples manufacturing “proof” of one of those grounds to get the divorce.

Another big deal - the so-called “sexual revolution” - was supposed to cast aside hidebound, repressive, religiously enforced sexual mores. No more would good people get stuck in a marriage with someone who was a dud in bed.

Living together sans marriage was also lifted up as an enlightened New Age decision. Its rationale, then as now, is to allow couples to test-drive their relationships, kick the tires so to speak. And cohabiting often makes economic sense - who can argue with that environmentally friendly adage “Save water. Shower with a friend.”

But each year, a litany of consequences wash over the nation - 1 million more divorces; rising rates of cohabiting, even though many couples still end up estranged; and 25 (instead of two) sexually transmitted infections, including AIDS, moving from person to person.

Isn’t it odd that with all our American education, techno-know-how, modern resources and religiosity, we haven’t figured out how to build a world-class family culture that is known for its health and well-being?

Why, in 2008, do our children have to pass through a gauntlet of “risky behaviors” to get to adulthood?

Why is there a prevailing message that sex is for kids (be sure to be safe), but unless you’re almost 30, you’re too young to get married?

Why do newlyweds, who want to stay together and in love forever, feel the odds are against them?

Why do grandparents whisper to each other about how they’ve learned to walk on eggshells around their daughters-in-law? Is it because they’ve seen the bitter truth that if their daughters-in-law get estranged from their sons, and they divorce, they will lose contact with their grandchildren, possibly forever?

In this space, I want to get into these and hundreds of other issues. My goal is to give busy readers an important insight or relevant information they hadn’t seen before.

We have the benefits of a growing body of research - call it 20/20 hindsight - about the previous decades’ social experiments. If we can better understand what’s tearing our families apart, we have a better shot at preventing discord, making repairs or at least doing it better the next time.

*Cheryl Wetzstein’s “On the Family” column appears Tuesday and Sunday. She can be reached at [email protected]

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