Oh Say, What Is Truth?: Marriage and Childbearing

I’m taking a sociology and philosophy course right now in school. I had several people in my church give misgivings about taking philosophy – apparently, the discipline can shake your testimony and turn you into an atheistic, flaming liberal. However, I’ve found my philosophy class to be incredibly enriching to my religious beliefs and hopefully can continue to pursue learning about such an interesting and varied field. Sociology, however, rocks my testimony to its core. I have since then come terms to the constant assailing on what I used to think as fundamental truths – in this time of uncertainty, this I know – God is real, and somehow, Jesus performed some sort of miracle that has cleansing, healing power. All the rest – all of the commentary, the folklore, the myths, the pithy sayings, the unchallenged assertions – is burned away like dross. In this way, I feel my testimony is now stronger than ever. I live in an environment of uncertainty, but of two simple truths, I now know more than ever. I need not base my belief on faith-promoting rumors but on truth.

However, my social mores have been attacked once more by the cold, unflinching discipline of scientific inquiry and statistics. This time, it concerns the family. My wife has never been too keen on having children any time soon. In our marriage, it has always been me that brings up the prospect of children or how we should raise them or when we should start considering child raising. And I attended some of the most liberal sexual education courses in high school ever. I saw a video of a head crowning during a birth. I learned how to put condoms on bananas. We even tried to see how many hands we could fit into a stretched condom (answer: A lot). We had these baby dolls to carry around that would cry if you did anything wrong, and then wouldn’t shut up until you rectified this (it revealed a surprising number of our classmates as potential child absuers. Scary). None of this has ever deterred me from abstinence until marriage or the desire to have babies.

But then I took sociology. Forget sex ed classes. Teach kids sociology and they will be scared straight.

Concerning the effect of children on marriage:

“Many in the U.S. grow up embracing the notion that having children brings one closer to one’s spouse and helps hold a marriage together. Actually, the data shows otherwise, in that, at least for the wife, the fewer the children the happier the marriage (Ross and Van Willigen 1996). The aforementioned researchers found that, ‘…children increased anger more for mothers than fathers and each additional child in the household increased the level of anger. Two major types of stressors included economic strains and the strains associated with childcare.'”

“Not only is it true that the fewer the number of children, the greater the level of marital happiness, all else equal, it is also the case that the less involved with children the couple is, the greater the level of marital happiness. The nature and degree of such involvement changes predictably over the life course – and along with it, marital satisfaction. Keller (2000) and others have charted how marital satisfaction starts off high (before the birth of children), takes a dip when children are born, reaches a marital low during the children’s teenage years, then rises back to a high level once the grown children have left the household. Non-parents and empty-nesters, he notes, enjoys the highest level of marital satisfaction.”

Concerning divorce laws:

“..the more lenient the divorce laws, the higher a country’s over all level of marital satisfaction.”

Concerning women working out of the home:

“Although some pundits have noted a correlation between women’s participation in paid employment and a higher divorce rate, researchers examining the actual dynamics within marriages find that the more equally shared the housework, over all, the happier the marriage (Hochschild and Machung 1989). And as may not be surprising, at least up to a point, wives working in paid employment hold greater leverage for negotiating an equitable sharing between themselves and their husbands on the chores front. So in a roundabout way, women’s greater paid labor participation has actually enhanced, rather than detracted from the over all rate of marital satisfaction.”

Concerning the effect of gay people parenting:

“Although there has been much consternation over potential harm to children raised in gay families, Golombok (2003) and colleagues, as well as Lambart (2005), find children raised by gay parents to be as psychologically healthy and well-adjusted as their peers from heterosexual couple households. Actually, when difference between hetero- and homosexual parenting practices are found, the gay parents’ practices tend to be superior. Johnson and O’Connor (2002) found gay parents to be more responsive to their children and more child-oriented. Some critics worry children raised by gay parents will, themselves, somehow be forced into growing up gay. Bailey et all (1995), however, found 90% of sons of gay or bisexual men self-identified as heterosexual. And Golombok and Tasker (1996) found the large majority of female children raised by lesbians self-identified as heterosexual by their young adult years.”

And for the politically conservative:

“Another key reason for the trends of increased childlessness, delayed childbearing and the bearing of fewer children is policy decisions by American voters. With the ‘smaller government is better’ ethos that prevails in the present-day U.S., childbearing is, for all but the wealthiest or poorest, an act of financial self-destruction. What few provisions there are in the way of medical care and childcare are erratic at best and whether fine or poor quality, markedly expensive…

“With the lack of governmental provisions for health care and childcare, the U.S. is one of the most (financially) punitive nations on earth in which to raise a child.”

Now, I do not post these statistics to drag everyone around me down to hell. Quite the contrary. We must admit as a Church that divorce is a problem. Child abuse – verbally, emotionally, physically, or sexually – is a problem. Keeping young people in the Church as they leave homes, get married, and contemplate families of their own is a problem. Truth, we are taught, are things as they really are, and we need to examine our social problems within the Church and the larger society in general as they really are, and not simply hide behind pithy sayings, comforting platitudes, or useless, folksy sayings. And I don’t want people trying to counter this information with circumstantial “well I know some families are happy and so this information must be untrue.” If you wish to counter these statistics, I implore you to dig up studies of your own – peer reviewed and accepted by the discipline’s community. I am not concerned with comfort when seeking truth or trying to convince myself out of a pickle. Realizing truth – things as they really are – can help us face the roots of these social evils and eradicate them, rather than treating symptoms haphazardly while never striving to understand the real reasons. To do less than that would be to fulfill Marx’s scathing indictment against religion as an opiate of the masses.

When we have widespread problems amongst society as an aggregate, there are serious structural problems that cause and perpetuate this problem. In the political, social, and economical environment we live in, how prudent is it to teach young married couples to have children right away? Can we truly condemn gay people as a whole as abominable, when they turn out to be better parents than us? Is this no different than Jacob’s Nephite society, who widely considered the Lamanites inferior when the Lamanite culture actually treated their families better? What cultural factors are contributing to high divorce rates, high rates of unhappiness within marriage, and why has child or spousal abuse not been stamped out within our population? And most importantly, which of these cultural mores we hold as sacrosanct concerning the family are rooted in gospel doctrine and theology and which are rooted within unchallenged, misguided, or ignorant cultural ideals or misinterpreted religious thought?

All quotes taken from Sociology: A Critical and Contemporary Perspective by Scott Lukas, MaryKriss Mcilwaine, Sue Dowden, and Chien Huang.

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “Oh Say, What Is Truth?: Marriage and Childbearing

  1. I’ll be very interested to see what kinds of comments this generates.

    But for what it’s worth, My first semester at BYU I had a professor who pulled out that study by Keller with the graph that showed the highest rates of martial dissatisfaction among people with teenagers. We picked it apart. That study made a lot of assumptions that weren’t accurate reflections of the data gathered. Correlation is not causation: just because a lot of families with teenagers are unhappy in their marriage does not mean that teenagers make their parents dislike each other.

    I’ve read about a lot of these studies and they all kind of make me mad. I think they underscore two main ideas: 1) Our society hates children, 2) people are selfish. What else would you call it when parents balk at the idea of staying home to care for their children, preferring to outsource it to daycare or a nanny? Schools everywhere are cutting out everything that makes school FUN – Recess, Music, Art.

    I think these studies speak volumes on the value we place on our children. I think they say more about the selfish obsession for instant gratification in our society than giving an accurate representation of what it really means to be a parent.

    As for gay parenting, I will withhold judgment on the article cited until I read it myself.

  2. palmolivist

    “how prudent is it to teach young married couples to have children right away?”
    From the portion of article quoted, it does not address the issue of when children are had in marriage and the happiness of the couple (but I think a few general authorities have some things to say on the issue 🙂 ).

    This article is contradictory in nature. It states:
    “Bailey et all (1995), however, found 90% of sons of gay or bisexual men self-identified as heterosexual” after saying that children of gay couples are are no more likely to be gay. This corresponds to 97% or so among the population as a whole.

    Also, the article commits another no-no by by using vagaries like ‘the great majority’ of daughters of gay couples claim to heterosexual.
    Just some nit picky details.

    Since I’ve not read the book by these specific authors, I will not be critical beyond the scope of what is quoted. However, I will say that after reading a book for another ‘soft’ science (psychology) I was surprised how nonobjective and imprecise the wording was, and how often opinion, hyperbole, and bias from the author crept in. Perhaps I was spoiled by years of physics and kinematics books, but these quotes above seem to read very much like the psychology book of yesteryear, when the author let is own personal agenda creep in.

  3. rob

    I am a Ph.D. grad student in soc and liked your post (one of my google alerts found it for me). I would love to discuss it more if you are willing, send me an email if you are. But, it sounds like you have some good teachers that are really getting you to think.

  4. As far as the women working outside the home quote, that told me less about the effects of women working outside the home and more about how pathetic and lazy their husbands must be. What I took from that quote was that marriages with a wife that works are happier because the wife is finally able to get her husband to help with housework. You mean when one spouse isn’t treated like the unpaid maid, the marriage is happier?! GENIUS!

    I agree with Beth that statistics and studies can be bent and picked apart to prove any point of view. But even if these are all true, I’m not sure where the conflict is with our gospel. A man presiding over the household doesn’t mean he gets out of all the chores. I don’t remember any Sunday School lesson that said having and raising children was supposed to be easy and more fun than Disneyland.

    As “folksy” as this may sound, no study (peer-reviewed or otherwise) can measure the effect of these social mores on our eternal lives. If all you believe in for sure is that God exists and that some Atonement-like thing happened, then why are you a Mormon? I still think religious people can find value in fields of study like sociology, but you can’t expect them to base a religion on what is scientifically-proven to make people happy. (Doesn’t nitrous oxide make people the most happy? Let’s make the Joker our prophet!) Religious people base their happiness on things that don’t exist inside the world, which is why all the evidence in the world will never dissuade them.

  5. Ted

    Statistics are never a perfect science (then again, it’s difficult to find anything that is a perfect science) but when multiple studies indicate general trends might exist, I would say it’s a decent assumption to say these trends might exist.

    I am not saying the Church is absolutely dead wrong when it comes to families. In fact, when it comes to studies on families, LDS families beat the snot out of most other families in every area. But that doesn’t mean we have a monopoly on truth or the perfect way to raise a family – if the Church didn’t change its position from time to time (even in massive ways), we wouldn’t need the two proclamations in the back of our triples. We’re definitely not perfect and there are definitely some parts of our Church culture in general that are self-destructive, or at least detrimental to the family. Some of the cultural emphases on family can hurt more than help, such as encouraging young people to have children right away even if they may not be emotionally or financially capable of taking care of them, or putting a massive amount of guilt on mothers who work outside the home for economic reasons, or not really teaching what it means to be a parent within our youth structure.

    For example, throughout my youth, I never learned much about fatherhood. I learned a heck of a lot about going on a mission, and I learned a decent amount on dating. But nobody taught me how to change a diaper, or shared stories about how they taught children the alphabet, or the best ways to calm a colicky baby. On my mission, I felt prepared. In the dating field, I felt prepared but inadequate. Now that I’m married and the prospect of parenting is very real, I realized that I had never been prepared for this position, ever. My wife also feels woefully, inadequately prepared. Nobody told us what it’s like to have kids. Nobody will tell us the truth when we ask these questions. They smile and say, “You’ll find out,” or sugar coat everything, even giving birth. We’re not that naive to think that birthing a baby is simple or relatively painless.

    So what is a young married Mormon to do? He sees his old mission companions going to school and having kids right away before they graduate, he has bishops telling him that he needs to have kids right away, and yet he looks through the finances with his wife, discusses long-term plans with her, and realizes if he had even one child, they would be up the creek without a paddle. He asks questions but people rarely give real, detailed answers. The Lord will provide, he’s told. But when he’s paying tithing dutifully but no magical money is falling out of the sky like he was promised by some, no doubt he turns to something else to find real answers to what families are like.

    I am not saying that people who do have children early on and are happy are insane. If they feel the decision is right for them, it is right for them and they are all the more happier for it. But to apply that as a blanket statement to all couples does, to me, seem insane, especially with such a life-changing decision such as having children. In reality, children have the very real potential to apply immense pressure on a marriage; if you’re not prepared, you are essentially gambling on your eternal marriage which does have eternal consequences.

    These statistics that discuss “marital happiness” is not your run-of-the-mill happiness. This isn’t what color of Skittles makes you happiest, or what drug of choice gives you happiness. Marital happiness affects marriages, and marriages affect people and they affect children especially. We should be concerned with marital happiness, because so much of our futures and our children’s futures ride on it, both temporal and eternal. Is there an element of selfishness involved? In most cases, probably. But whether for selfish reasons or altruistic reasons, if children have the ability to put strain on a marriage enough to bring constant dischord or divorce, it doesn’t matter the motivation of the reason – something bad is happening and we need to find the real reason for the problem to apply both healing and preventative measures. I would say sociology has the ability to discover the roots of problems so we can fix them.

    • After reading some of the other comments people have made, I feel the need to clarify my position a little better. When I said that these studies make me mad, I didn’t mean that I am doubting their validity. The thing that I dislike about these studies is that the researchers almost always put a “spin” on it, usually to the effect of, “Gosh, isn’t it awful to have kids? I don’t know why anyone would ever want them!” As a mother, this sentiment is just plain offensive.

      I disagree, Ted, that our church doesn’t prepare our Youth to be parents. When I was in Young Women’s, 1/2 of our lessons were about being mothers someday. When I went to college, this was upped to 3/4 of the lessons in Relief Society. Now that I am in a regular family ward, nearly all of them somehow relate back to motherhood. I do think that the negative attitudes towards having children make people afraid to have them, leading people to believe that parenthood is more difficult than it really is and fostering feelings of inadequacy. All you hear is, “It’s SOOOOOooOOO hard,” and “You never get any sleep!” and “Labor is SOOOOoooOOO painful!.” And you know what? It is hard. I don’t get a lot of sleep. And labor wasn’t exactly a trip to Disneyland. But it it is doable (yes, even labor!). It is rewarding. It is wonderful; most definitely not as bad as everyone says it is.

      I also disagree that the church puts undo pressure on couples to have children before they are ready. I think there is some peer pressure to participate in the “baby race” (Whoever has the most before menopause wins!”) but I don’t believe that this comes from the church itself. My father is a bishop and he regularly counsels new couples that birth control of any kind is between the two of them and the Lord and that it isn’t anyone else’s dang business. This counsel is also echoed in the bit on birth control found in the “True to the Faith” gospel reference and also the Eternal Marriage student manual. The Lord has also told us not to run faster than we have strength.

      And I’ve gone so far as to practice what has been preached. My husband and I had been married for 3 1/2 years before our son was born. By then we had worked a lot of the kinks out of our marriage and he also had a good job with health insurance. Most our our friends were having their second kid around the same time we were, but that didn’t bother us; quite the contrary! A close friend of mine (who was married about 10 months after I was), got pregnant after having been married for four months. She regularly tells me that she wishes she had waited. She’s experienced a lot of hardship because of this choice.

  6. Ted

    Also, for the record, I suppose I could go to any other Protestant church, but my firm belief in the Book of Mormon as scripture (which leaving out, I admit, was stupid on my part) tends to disqualify me for any real, contributing membership.

    I have a firm belief that the prophet exists. I also have a firm belief that the prophet isn’t going to tell us how to do everything. Only a slothful servant would ask for all the answers to tumble from a prophet’s mouth. So I turn to other things – studying Church doctrine, praying, and yes, investigating the world around me by applying numbers and science to find answers to perplexing, almost paradoxical questions.

  7. a nony mous

    Most of these studies, and sociology studies in general, suffer from selection bias ([wikipedia.org] for an interesting reference.) The study on homosexual vs. heterosexual parenting is no exception.

    In other words: Of course homosexual parents are going to be better parents than the average! This is because by nature homosexual parents cannot have children; therefore, for a homosexual couple to go through the process of obtaining a child, they are already extremely committed people to the task of raising kids.

    Can you tell me the average parent nowadays is committed to their children in the same way? I believe this study (and all studies like it) would have had much different results if all things really were equal.

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