Family Values


Ask your typical, proper, New York Times reading citizen if popular culture and government policies pose a real threat to family life in America today, and you're likely to get a response of eyes rolled upwards in exasperation.

It's not that most Americans don't believe the traditional family of husband, wife and kids is the preferred household arrangement. In polls taken after the 1992 elections for the major networks, the overwhelming majority of voters (68 percent) said they want government to promote traditional rather than nontraditional families. But - for the typical, proper, New York Times reading American - one senses this promoting should be done quietly, without an abundance of enthusiasm. The vehemence of what the press christened "the two Pats" (Robertson and Buchanan) at the Republican National Convention is at all costs to be avoided. So is the spectacle the press made of Vice President Dan Quayle, when he fired the first salvo of the family values war by taking television character "Murphy Brown" to task for glorifying single motherhood to America's young.

The New York Daily News headline reporting on Quayle's Murphy Brown speech said most succinctly the sentiment expressed that day in columns and editorials in newspapers all over the country: "QUAYLE TO MURPHY BROWN: YOU TRAMP!" The headline summed up perfectly the major media's two axioms on the family values movement: (1) It is an ugly and mean-spirited exercise in bashing single mothers, and (2) It is a rather ridiculous expense of effort on a wholly imaginary threat. The existence of such headlines goes a long way towards explaining why those trying to reinsert family values into the public debate are often treated with the exasperation usually reserved for those out canvassing for Lyndon LaRouche.

Of course, given the coverage of the media (and perhaps even the sometimes overzealous remarks of defenders of the traditional family) some exasperation is understandable. But as a logical response to supporters of profamily policies, it is simply not sustainable. Despite the headlines of the Daily News or the editorials of the New York Times, the family is indeed in trouble.

To say this is not to attack often heroic single moms, who labor to rear upstanding children. Instead, it is to warn of the danger posed by those implementing political, cultural, and educational policies geared towards uprooting what both tradition and social science point to as the breeding ground for healthy kids: a home with a mom and a dad.

The Importance of Family

Over three thousand years ago, the author of Genesis wrote of the divinely sanctioned order in a man's cleaving to his wife. The social sciences have been proving the importance of this cleaving for decades.

By virtually any standard, a child is far, far better off if he or she lives in a household with both a mother and father. This is most easily seen on the economic level. Over half of all children living with a single mother are living in poverty: a rate five to six times that of kids living with two parents.[1] In 1991, 60 percent of all poor families with children were headed by single mothers.

Having an intact household is such a key to economic success that scholar Lawrence Mead has remarked:

The main challenge [for social policy] is no longer to expand economic opportunity but to overcome social weaknesses that stem from the 'post-marital' family and the inability of many people to get through school. The inequalities that stem from the workplace are now trivial in comparison to those stemming from family structure. What matters for success is less whether your father was rich or poor than whether you knew your father at all. [2]

But it's not only in their pocketbooks and checking accounts that kids from single parent homes suffer. Consider the following:

Foundation, has found that across the economic spectrum, children from single-parent households are more involved in crimes and drugs than kids from two-parent homes. "The most accurate indicator of future delinquency in children is whether they are reared in one or two parent homes," says Rector. Scholar Nicholas Davidson has similar findings. As Davidson has noted in The Heritage Foundation journal Policy Review: "Ninety percent of repeat adolescent fire-starters live in a mother only constellation," as do "75 percent of adolescent murderers, and 60 percent of rapists."[6]

The statistics showing the critical importance of fathers in children's lives are so compelling that there is a consensus among liberals and conservatives on the matter. The Washington Post, for example, took the lead in attacking Vice President Quayle for his Murphy Brown remarks in the spring of 1992. But within a month, it gave prominent space to a piece by one of its reporters that echoed many of Quayle's points:

Fatherlessness consigns children to poverty; children in father-absent households are six times more likely to be poor than children whose homes are headed by a father. Anthro-pological studies have suggested that it may lead boys, in particular, to become hypermasculine and violence- prone. It deprives inner-city neighborhoods of the quasi-policing function played by good family men...Of all juveniles serving in long-term correctional facilities, 70 percent did not live with their fathers while growing up... [7]

Missing Distinctions

If liberal writers and scholars acknowledge these statistics, they are often reluctant to do so loudly. Sometimes this is for very understandable reasons.

Given that a traditional home with a loving mom and dad is the best place for kids to be raised, it remains that we live in a broken and fallen world, where not all moms and dads are loving. Better an absent father, perhaps, than a cruelly abusive one. We must not create a society in which parents and children are kept from escaping destructive relationships. And again, we don't want to attack or demoralize single moms who are laboring valiantly against the odds. "It's important to remember that many single parents do an extraordinary job in raising their children and deserve our full support,"[8] says Cheri Hayes, executive director of the National Commission on Children, who is concerned that her findings that kids do best with both a mother and father may lead to bashing single moms.

Such concerns are valid. But they can be relieved not only by abandoning all public discussion about values, but by noting a distinction: It is not single moms that are the problem, but the policies and culture which encourage single motherhood, make it seem glamorous or empowering, or a better economic move than marriage. Such claims are lies. There is nothing glamorous about single motherhood even in the wealthiest and most educated of homes; for the typical single mom, maintaining a mere functioning household is a Herculean task. And in the overwhelming majority of cases, single motherhood or fatherhood leads not to empowerment, but to the powerlessness of poverty and despair.

Despite the odds, many single mothers are doing a heroic job in raising their kids. Let us applaud them. But let us also note that it is only the rashest public policy that seeks to expand the occasions where heroism is required to achieve the public good. Raising kids is a hard enough task as it is; being a single parent makes it all the harder. While many single parents carry off the job admirably, it is the job of public policy to make the rearing of children easier and less burdensome, by encouraging and sustaining families of both a mother and father. For it is in these families where kids best thrive.

The Revolution In Family Policies

"What's the big deal? Isn't this what public policy is already doing?" some may ask. The answer is far from an unhesitating yes. The fact is, an increasing number of people are rejecting the traditional notion of the family, and are trying to use culture and public policy to promote their assertion that the nuclear family is just a social convention, an invention that might have been good for the 1950s but is now as outdated as DeSotos or Brylcreem.

Gary Bauer, president of the family advocacy group the Family Research Council, tells of the time a few years ago when he first realized that the nature of the family was up for public debate. His story is worth telling at some length:

I was there, on "Nightline," with a homosexual couple from Madison, Wisconsin, and a fellow from Los Angeles who was president of something called The Family Diversity Project, and we began to discuss what a family was, and my opponents said to me, "Well, you know, the most important thing is whether the people involved have a loving, caring relationship. If they do have such a relationship," they said, "that makes them a family."

And I have to confess to you that, at first glance, that sounded like a reasonable argument to me. But then I began to think about it a little bit, and we came back from a commercial and I raised a hypothetical issue with the guests I was on with. I said, "Well, what about three homosexual men, in a loving, caring, relationship? Or for that matter, how about a heterosexual man and two heterosexual women, in a loving, caring, relationship? Are those families? Should they get all the rights and privileges that we give to families, the right to adopt children and the right to file joint tax returns?"

My opponents said, "Well, of course those are families. Who are you," they asked, "to inflict your narrow definition of only two adults involved in a sexual relationship?"

That night, on "Nightline," we reopened the polygamy debate in America, and no one seemed to notice, no one except the individuals that took the time, that night, to call both my office and my home, and to leave messages on the answering machine that were so vile I could not share them with a mixed audience, messages threatening my wife and my children. Because I had done what? Because I suggested that God intended men and women to live together in stable, monogamous, hetero-sexual relationships, faithful to each other, something that, just a few years ago, there was no argument about in America. [10]

Since Bauer's "Nightline" appearance two years ago, the argument about the nature of the family has expanded its scope, forcing its way into nearly every aspect of American life. Advocates of "alternative families" have moved the debate from shows like "Nightline" and "Donahue" into our schools, our courtrooms, our churches, and into the TV sitcoms, movies, books and newspapers that create our popular culture.

Consider the following:

The Family Research Council says in summation of such efforts to redefine the family:

With increasing intensity and effectiveness, organized efforts are being undertaken in city councils, in courts, in State legislatures, in the Executive branches at all levels of government, and in the private sector consciously to redefine the family. Such redefinitions have not been confined, or even truly inspired by, efforts to account for such growing phenomena as single- parent households, although the problems typically encountered by such families are frequently invoked in the cause of family redefinition. Advocates of family redefinition...[primarily] include aggressive ideological elements who see in the traditional family everything from a cellblock of sexual repression to a stumbling block against the expansion of the state.[11]

The Broken Home

How much of an effect are such policies and programs having on family life? It is impossible to definitively prove any causal relationship, of course; but taken cumulatively, policies like these appear to have worked a revolution. Two parent families have undergone a dramatic decline in the past twenty or thirty years. In 1960, for example, 9 percent of all children lived in single parent homes. By 1990, that number had soared to 25 percent. Today, 27. 1 percent of all American children are born into single- parent homes, a number that is on the rise. In the black community, that figure is an astounding 68 percent.[12]

Since 1970, the number of one-parent families has more than doubled.

The traditional family is so threatened today that it could be on the verge of extinction, say some researchers - and those not just family value alarmists. Newsweek magazine, in an article published December 7, 1992 called "What Traditional Family?," said the idea of a natural or divinely ordained order in the family was a myth. AndTime last year devoted a special issue to what the future holds, "Beyond the Year 2000: What To Expect in the New Millenium." The article featured scholars predicting that the two-parent family would soon be going the way of the dinosaurs, killed off by divorce, serial monogamy, the decline in marriages among the young, the increasing prevalence of homosexuality. "It is reasonable to ask whether there will be a family at all," write theTime authors.

Given the propensity for divorce, the growing number of adults who choose to remain single, the declining popularity of having children and the evaporation of the time families spend together, another way may eventually evolve. It may be quicker and more efficient to dispense with family- based reproduction. Society could then produce its future generations in institutions that resemble state-sponsored baby hatcheries...

Time and Newsweek paint a grim picture indeed for the family in the years ahead. Ironically, however, most advocates for the traditional family are more hopeful.The family will continue to be buffeted by forces that are already in play; the buffeting will get worse. But for those who believe that the traditional family has an objective order, instituted and sustained by God and rooted in our common nature, the predictions of Time and Newsweek are not to be believed.

Yet one thing is certain. If such predictions do come to pass, then our entry into the year 2000 should fill us with dread. Despite the propaganda that says the new, alternative households are just one more kind of love equal to or better than the traditional family of mother and father, the end of the traditional family will give us more of what the breakdown of the family has already spawned: poverty, illness, abuse, depression, violence, and decay.


  1. See Current Population Reports, U.S. Bureau of the Census, Series P-20, no. 445 and earlier reports.

  2. Lawrence M. Mead, "The New Politics of the New Poverty," The Public Interest no. 103 (Spring, 1991): p.10. Quoted in Free to be Family, The Family Research Council, 1992, p.16.

  3. Beverley Raphael et al., "The Impact of Parental Loss on Adolescents/ Psychological Characteristics," Adolescence 25, (1990). p. 689-700. As reported in Free to be Family, p.16.

  4. Deborah Dawson, National Center for Health Statistics, May 1990. As reported in Free to Be Family, p.16.

  5. Beverly Gomes-Schwartz, Jonathan Horowitz, Albert P. Cardelli, "Child Sexual Abuse Victims and Their Treatment," U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, National Institute for Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, (July 1988): 3. As reported in Free to Be Family, p.71.

  6. Davidson, Nicholas "Life Without Father: America's Greatest Social Catastrophe," Policy Review, Winter 1990. p.40ff.

  7. "Life Without Father," The Washington Post, June 7, 1992.

  8. "Studies Show Kids better Off With Two Parents," The Washington Times, May 22, 1992.

  9. Columnist Morton Kondracke notes in his Washington Times column of May 27, 1992 that very few real single mothers enjoy the advantages of television's Murphy Brown. Single women between the ages of 35 and 44 with incomes of more than $50,000 a year make up only 15,000 of the nation's 10.1 million single moms.

  10. "The State of the American Family 1992," speech given February 5, 1992.

  11. Free to be Family, p. 105

  12. Ibid, p.22-3