Do Your Kids Care If You're Married?

by Leslie Morgan Steiner

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The latest Census figures show that for the first time in recorded U.S. history, unmarried adults are close to outnumbering married couples.

According to 2010 Census data, there are 99.6 million unmarried Americans age 18 and older.  Nearly 44% all U.S. residents 18 and older are not married. Over sixty percent of unmarried adults have never been married - the rest are divorced or widowed.

Why?

Conservative religious advocates blame a loss of family values and an erosion of societal emphasis on marriage.

More gay and straight couples cohabit instead of marrying, for legal and financial reasons.

Some analysts blame the poor economy - people are living in extended families and waiting for greater economic prosperity to tie the knot.

Feminists believe that women’s empowerment, delaying of childbearing due to careers and fertility prevention and treatments, and increasing economic independence have expanded the choices for women, and that one of these logical subsequent choices is not to get married.

Demographers explain that as people live increasingly longer, even if marriages last, there are longer periods of adult life when people are not married, either because of delayed marriages, periods in between marriages, and periods of being widowed.

Whatever the reasons, few people have examined the impact on kids.  But guess what?  The ramifications are major.

Thirty-five percent of women 15 to 50 who gave birth in the last 12 months are widowed, divorced or never married.?There are 11.7 million single parents.  Most (9.9 million) are single mothers; 1.8 million are single fathers.?Almost 800,000 unmarried grandparents are primary caregivers for grandchildren.

These numbers are shocking.  More than ever, children today are growing up without two married parents.  Is this a good thing?  A bad thing? 

The topic was recently explored by USA Today and debated on Circle of Moms.

I don’t think the answers are as simple as any single viewpoint or blog post.

Six years ago, I interviewed a class of fourth graders in Washington, DC, to find out what they think of their parents’ work status.  Turns out, kids don’t stress much about where, how, or at what mom or dad work.  What kids do care about, tremendously, is how happy mom and dad are, how accessible each parent is to them, and how emotionally and economically stable the family is.  This extends to marital status, too.  What matters most to children is that their family - no matter how family is defined - is steady, supportive, and happy.  Sometimes, marriage - with all its pressures and stereotypes - increases a couple’s commitment to stay together.  Sometimes, marriage creates tensions all its own, sowing the seeds of its own demise.

My hunch is that increasingly, adults in America have figured out that marriage is no guarantee of family bliss.  Maybe that’s what the Census figures are revealing.  And the kids?  Unfortunately the Census does not measure kids’ self-esteem, long-term potential, or sense of inner peace.

That's up to us parents.

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