Saturday, November 05, 2005

A “Good Divorce” is Still a Divorce

Elizabeth Marquardt’s new book, Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce, will be the big news in the dialogue about divorce this year. Marquardt, a researcher with the Institute for American Values, worked with leading family sociologist Norval Glenn to survey hundreds and interview dozens of adult children of divorce. This work is in the spirit of Judith Wallerstein’s foundational work on the long-term effects of divorce on children, and Wallerstein wrote the preface to Marquardt’s book. Just as important as the research, Marquardt is herself the child of a “good divorce.” She has successfully married and has children. And yet, she knows that she herself was scarred by the divorce. This first-person book recounts her own experience, as well as that of her research subjects.

Most children of divorce do not show severe trauma. They have much higher rates of mental and emotional problems – twice or thrice the rate of kids from intact families – but still, most turn out ok. OK, but still marked. Marquardt pursues the question of divorce’s long-term effects past the gross dysfunctions – dropping out, taking drugs, becoming drunks, having marginal jobs, and, especially, divorcing themselves – to find the inner cost to outwardly functional adults.

As I have previously discussed, most divorces come from low-conflict marriages. Marquardt’s main conclusion is that even the best divorce is still worse than an unhappy, low-conflict marriage. Better, that is, for the kids. Adults may think that what is better for them is better for everyone. But it is not. Marquardt writes carefully, so as not to blame divorced parents, especially her own. But the main point remains – even a good divorce is still just a divorce.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Is Saying No to Kids a Failure, or a Necessary Discipline?

The Los Angeles Times had a well-done story yesterday, “The Mommy Shift Begins When the Nanny Shift Ends,” by Anna Gorman. It compares the lives of two married mothers living in different parts of Los Angeles. The difference is that Stacey, an upper-middle class mother of four, hires Margoth, an immigrant from El Salvador with three of her own, to help care for Stacey’s children for most of the day. At six, Margoth can go home to her own kids, and begin her second shift of momming.

Stacey is hugely appreciative of Margoth – Stacey doesn’t like the term “nanny,” and refers to Margoth as a “co-parent.” Margoth is happy with her work, except that it takes her so much from her own children. Stacey does not have a job, but needs the help so she can cope, and so she can have some free time of her own.

This is a good and interesting story. I suspect that one of the reasons that it is a “most emailed” story on the Times’ list is for its implicit critique of inequality. I do not see it that way; Margoth and her husband, also an immigrant, are making it in America by hard work, in the time-tested manner of immigrants. In two generations, their descendents will be hiring help, too. Maybe even in one generation. I don’t think Stacey is selfish for hiring another mom to leave her children to care for Stacey’s, so Stacey can have a life outside the home. Stacey is creating a job, and bucking the trend of too-small families.

What interested me, instead, was this line: “Stacey says she reserves the word ‘no’ for big things. Margoth says she doesn't hesitate to tell her children no.”

Stacey and her husband provide everything for their children. They provide material things, have arranged for Stacey to be home with her children, and, at considerable expense compared to their income, have Margoth to “co-parent” for their kids. For Stacey’s family, being able to provide everything for their kids is one of the greatest measures of their success in life – perhaps the greatest. Stacey’s husband was not interviewed for the article, but I expect he would say that that is what he works so hard and long for. From that perspective, if Stacey ever has to say no to her children, it feels like a failure. Unless the kids actually want to do something dangerous, they should be free from constraint to realize their desires. That is what money is for.

To Margoth, though, children need discipline to learn how to control themselves and avoid temptation. Her children can recite the litany their mother tells them all the time: “Do your homework. Stay out of trouble. Keep away from gangs.” For Margoth, saying no to her children is a gift – the gift of the habit of discipline.

The top and bottom classes differ significantly in how the best parents – like Stacey and Margoth – raise their children. This was the same difference that Adrie Kusserow wrote about in American Individualisms. Part of this difference is due to the different dangers that kids in different classes face. Stacey’s kids are not likely to be tempted by gangs, which is one of the reasons that Margoth says that if she won the lottery, she would move her family to Stacey’s neighborhood. She would lose her network of friends and relatives, but she would also lose the many threats to her kids that poor neighborhoods have.

But different threats is only part of the reason that the classes discipline kids differently. Margoth’s kids need a deep self-discipline and a work ethic like their mother’s to rise in class and status. Stacey’s kids were born already in a comfortable class and status. They have the resources to do just about whatever they want. What Stacey wants for her kids is that they have the internal freedom to take advantage of their external, material freedom.

With each strength, though, comes a complementary weakness. If Margoth’s kids learn to be disciplined, hard-working, and self-sacrificing for their families, they run the risk of being stingy, judgmental, and hard-hearted toward others without the same discipline. If Stacey’s kids learn to be free, risk-taking, and self-asserting, they run the risk of being undisciplined, self-destructive, and arrogant.

Here, though, I think the parallel ends. The bad things that Margoth’s kids might learn from hearing “no” regularly are far outweighed by the good that can come to them and to society from learning discipline and work. The bad things that Stacey’s kids risk from never being told “no,” on the other hand, are very bad indeed, for themselves and for society. Disciplined working class kids build the nation; undisciplined owning class kids tear the nation down.

Just say “no.”

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Would Disestablishing Marriage Be Like Disestablishing Religion?

In Marriage: A History, Stephanie Coontz argues (following Nancy Cott) that what we are seeing now is the disestablishment of marriage, on the analogy of the disestablishment of the old state churches. Traditional marriage is not disappearing. Rather, it is losing its long-time monopoly of legitimate forms of close relations. Henceforth, this theory argues, marriage will have to compete with all other forms of close relations in a free market.

I think that disestablishment is good for religion. Lyman Beecher, who had been a minister in the state-supported Congregational Church in Connecticut, fought its disestablishment in 1818. Later, after he experienced the freedom from state control, and the renewed spiritual vigor of the independent church, he changed his mind. In his autobiography, he called disestablishment “the best thing that ever happened to the state of Connecticut. It cut the churches loose from dependence on state support. It threw them wholly on their own resources and on God.” Monopolies get lazy; competition helps them remain vigorous, or go to the wall. The United States has a vibrant religious life, and Europe does not, because we have a genuinely competitive market in religion.

So would a free market in marriage be a good thing? Would traditional marriage – one man, one woman, for life, raising their own children – be stronger if it had to compete with polygamy, gay marriage, polyamory, serial monogamy, casual sex, ritual fellatio in men’s societies as among the Sambia, lesbians with cloned children, temple prostitution, berdache unions, incest, etc., etc., etc? Coontz is right that marriage, for long centuries, was whatever the couple and their families told the world it was. It was only later that the church and the state regularized marriage, creating a public ritual with real spiritual and legal consequences.

No, I don’t think so. Church and State made marriage a public institution in the first place to protect women and children, who were routinely abused and exploited under the cover of the “private” family. Women need less protection now than they once did, but children are as vulnerable as ever, and always will be. And mothers of young children are still vulnerable, and that, I think, is not likely to ever change, either.

When churches were disestablished, it meant that the playing field was leveled between the one monopolistic state church and the many competing sects. It was part of the ideal of the church that society only needed one, but dissident individuals kept creating those pesky sects. Eventually, both church and sect were forced to accommodate and become denominations within the larger currency of religion – to the benefit of both.

The analogy with marriage would be if there were only one family in society. This is not way off the mark. In monarchical societies, the Royal Family is a thing apart, with privileges, responsibilities, property rights, and prerogatives different in kind from all other families. Yet even in the most absolute monarchies, the royal family did not argue that it should be the only family in society. The Bourbons did not exclude the existence of other families, not even among peasants. In totalitarian societies, the Maximum Leader did not have the one and only family. In Plato’s authoritarian fantasy in The Republic the guardian class gives up separate families, but other classes keep theirs. Utopian communities attempt to live as one family, but the only enduring examples had to be celibate communities.

Disestablishing the institution of marriage is not like disestablishing the institutional church. Everyone can create an “established” marriage; there can only be one “established” church. In the United States we disestablished the One Church, but support and accommodate many different kinds of religious institutions. This is because even the most deistical of our Founding Fathers thought that religious institutions were a public good and made better citizens. Marriage as an institution is also a public good. It not only makes better citizens, it is by far the most effective way to make competent human beings.

What we are threatened with today is not the disestablishment of marriage, but the complete privatization of all close relations. The religious analogy would not be disestablishment of the church, but a complete privatization of religious belief, including driving all religious institutions from the public square. Some people want to drive religion from public life altogether, but most Americans have resisted these secularizers, and for good reason. Now, some people want to drive marriage from public life altogether. They should also be resisted, and for much the same reasons.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

When It Comes to Abortion, the Husband is Not Just Another Guy

A peculiarity of American abortion law, and of the Roe v. Wade decision on which it rests, is that husbands are not part of a married woman’s abortion decision. Doctors are, but husbands aren’t. This shows who has a more powerful PAC in Washington. Our abortion laws are very unusual in the world even compared with other countries with very liberal abortion laws. Husbands have a stake in practically every legal decision a wife makes, as a wife has a stake in practically every legal decision a husband makes. The law no longer gives one spouse a veto over the decisions of the other (and a good thing, too), but it does normally make provision to protect the interest of husband and wife in their spouse’s decisions -- except when it comes to abortion.

The question of whether a husband deserves to even be notified when his wife is considering an abortion is back in the news because of the most famous judicial opinion, thus far, of Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito. Judge Alito, who sits on the federal appeals court in Philadelphia, was on the panel that heard Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Pennsylvania law had enacted several limitations on abortion, including a provision that husbands needed to be notified. The panel voted 2 – 1 to strike down this part of the law. Judge Alito, in dissent, defended that part of the law. Ultimately, the Supreme Court upheld the appellate court’s decision, and with it, the basic holding of Roe v. Wade.

Adam Liptak, writing in today’s New York Times, has detected a traditional theory of marriage in this and several other decisions of Judge Alito. Marriage, Judge Alito argues in a number of cases, creates a bright line recognized in the law in dozens of ways. In other cases, for example, he argued that when women are granted asylum in this country to escape persecution and forced abortions, their husbands are included in the asylum protection, but their boyfriends are not.

In Western tradition husband and wife become one flesh. Their relation is unique. They are not just partners, and they are certainly not just parties to a business contract. Husbands and wives are uniquely affected by one another’s actions. This applies in every area of life, especially in a decision that goes to the core of what family life is about, as abortion does. Note that the Pennsylvania law did not give husbands a veto over a wife’s abortion decision. It just required that he be notified. The court struck down that part of the law, but if any state considered something like it, they might include a judicial bypass provision in the case of abuse, as there is for the requirement that the parents of minors be notified when their daughter is considering abortion. I think husband notification is not dead as an issue in the abortion discussion.

I think Judge Alito is right, A husband is not just another guy when it comes to his wife’s decisions.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Smart Men Marry Smart Women

Maureen Dowd’s article, “What’s a Modern Girl to Do?” in the current New York Times Magazine laments the post-feminist return of many educated young women to husband-seeking tactics of yore. She wonders if feminism was a hoax, leaving high-achieving women, like Maureen Dowd, with careers and skills that actually scare off husbands, and preclude children.

Dowd cites some of the sociobiological evidence for enduring differences between men and women, especially in how they normally seek a mate. She does not dispute this evidence, but laments it as a fact, and feels betrayed by the decades of social constructivist chimeras of androgyny.

I think Maureen Dowd is giving up too easily. I think it is true that men and women are different in their hardwiring, different in what they seek in a mate, and how they go about that search. But I also know what sociologists know: the normal tendency of a group is not the doom, or fate, or limit on what each individual in that group can do, or will do. Most men and most women prefer a marriage in which he is a little taller, older, smarter, richer, and higher status than she is. This leaves high-achieving women (not to mention older women) in a difficult position, which they lament in, say, the New York Times. Of course, the same process leaves low-achieving men in an equally difficult position, but their troubles rarely find voice in the Times.

Some men do seek the smartest, highest-achieving women. Some men know that looks fade, but brains endure. A smart man, who plans to earn a professional income, can often figure out that marrying a smart woman is likely to get him smarter kids. And two professional incomes means more money than one, or than one career and “girl money.”

Men who seek smart, high-achieving women are not random mutations in the otherwise benighted field of men. Smart, educated people with knowledge-based jobs are a class, often called the knowledge class. They are in a struggle with the old property-owning and –making class. Marriages in the old owning class are based on him trying to earn and own more in order to support her and the children materially. In exchange, she supports him and the children emotionally. Marriages in the knowledge class, on the other hand, are based on husband and wife supporting one another, and their children, in brighter and deeper achievement. Both classes, at their highest levels, exercise real power in the world. Each class makes a serious bid to be the ruling class. Both can produce excellent marriages.

For examples of each kind of marriage, we can think of George and Laura Bush, as compared to Bill and Hillary Clinton.

I don’t know Maureen Dowd’s history or prospects. I do know, though, that there are whole subcultures of men who do not simply judge women by their appearance, but are attracted to brains and accomplishment in a potential wife. Likewise, I know whole subcultures of women who do not judge men simply as “success objects,” to tie themselves to, tie down, and tie up.

Men and women who seek spouses on the basis of brains, ambition, and achievement will have the last laugh.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Good News: Evangelicals Give the Supreme Court a Catholic Majority

Evangelical Methodist George Bush has nominated Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. He joins John Roberts, now Chief Justice, who President Bush had nominated earlier this year. Both are Roman Catholics. If Alito is confirmed, the Supreme Court would have a Catholic majority for the first time ever. The evangelical Protestant wing of the Republican party forced the President to drop the evangelical Protestant (and Catholic convert) Harriet Miers, and instead nominate the way Catholic Alito.

How recently would that have been a fighting issue? In 1960, John F. Kennedy’s mild Catholicism was a major campaign issue among conservative Protestants. Last year, John F. Kerry’s mild Catholicism barely made a ripple. He didn’t even take a majority of the Catholic vote – which proves that there is no “Catholic vote.”

Will the Court Catholics vote as a block? Not very likely. Justice Kennedy and Justice Scalia may be of the same communion, but they don’t share much else.

Which proves the point that Robert Wuthnow argued in The Restructuring of American Religion: the crucial divide in American religion today is no longer between Catholics and Protestants, or Christians and non-Christians, but liberal believers versus conservative believers. Alito’s Catholicism will, no doubt, be relevant in his decisions, in an indirect and constitutionally permissible way. The same is true of Justice Kennedy’s Catholicism, though I think it appears more in cases involving poor people. The same could be said for Justice Ginsburg’s very mild Judaism, and Justice O’Connor’s more robust Episcopalianism, to take just a couple of examples.

The center is well served when old divisions are overcome.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

The eHarmony Guy Delivers Some of the Goods

Neil Clark Warren, the genial, Mr. Rogers-like face of, has written several books, including the eHarmony companion, Date … or Soul Mate? Warren, a graduate of Princeton, Princeton Theological Seminary, who then got a Ph. D. in psychology from the University of Chicago, has years of clinical practice in marital therapy. He also draws on his own and others’ research to back up his claims that he can tell you “how to know if someone is worth pursuing in two dates or less.”

The book is light, unfootnoted, and a little repetitive. It could be reduced to a set of lists and slogans, once you get the basic idea. Still, the basic idea is solid, and the practices behind it, which Warren tells us they employ in eHarmony as well as in his personal clinical practice, are likely to help you find a well-matched mate – and to avoid a bad marriage.

The core of Warren’s advice is that if you are emotionally healthy, have a realistic concept of what you bring to mate selection and what you want in a mate, and are seriously looking for one, you can find the love of your life. If you are not emotionally healthy – if you are too neurotic, if you are an addict, and especially if you have a character disorder which makes you a charming, conscienceless manipulator, you have no business getting married. If are emotionally unhealthy, get help. If you are dating someone like that, run.

For the average person, though, Warren has good news. The core of his argument is that if you really want to find the love of your life, look for people who are similar to you, who bring roughly the same level of personal and marital qualities to the relationship, and who match your particular list of “must-haves” and “can’t stands.” He presents 50 popular contenders for each list, but urges the reader to pick only ten of each. This is a reasonable compromise between being too picky, and not choosing carefully enough. Warren notes that the culture pays the most attention to physical attractiveness, but what proves more worth choosing for in the long run is kindness, chemistry, similarity, and adaptability.

Warren doesn’t really get down to cases in this book on how you can tell all this about another person in two dates. He is probably right, though, that if you are clear on what you want and can’t stand, you will be able to read the clues in another person’s conversation and presentation better than you could explain in words. He reports that most failed marriages were flawed from the start, and very often one or both parties knew it. Having the courage to act on that knowledge, and the firm conviction that a bad marriage is worse than no marriage, could save many couples heartache, and save society the disaster of divorces.