Marriage, economy, community

On the drive into work on Friday, my local NPR station had a story on Governor Kaine disucssing the econonmy (sadly, the station isn’t very good about posting stories on its web site). Apparently, Gov. Kaine made a statement that one way to improve the economy would be to raise the marriage rates to where they were in the 1970s – he mentioned on how children from single-parent homes face “challenges” in their lives.

I can think of one way to raise the marriage rate, but I doubt Virginia will rapidly join Maine and Iowa, and that’s not really what I wanted to write about.

One of the points Gov. Kaine made was (his facts) most of the single-parent families in Virginia have a mother but no father. His solution to this is to promote marriage. Mine would be to promote community. As my last post mentioned, I think about the difference between how we live now and how we lived fifty or a hundred years ago (or more). A child who only had one parent in the home, but who had a community of adults of different ages who they could trust and turn to for guidance would probably do just as well, if not better, than a child in a two-parent family who didn’t have that kind of greater community.

When more people lived in one house, when we lived closer together, or were (in general) more engaged in social “institutions” (places of worship) which were nearer to our homes, there were more adults around to help both parents and children. Parents can get support elsewhere – many of my friends belong to online communities which support breastfeeding, where they can give and receive advice – but children are more limited in where they go to get adult advice. I was very lucky in that I lived in a neighborhood built mostly in the 30s/40s where the houses had porches and the local Neighborhood Association hosted regular events. I left that neighborhood ten years ago this summer, and I am still in touch with many of my neighbors, because it was more than houses – it was community.

I don’t think there’s one simple solution, or that one solution fits all. I do think that when someone says “The best way to ensure adult presence in a child’s life is to have two-parent (one of each gender) families” they are seriously missing the point, and ignoring a lot of history.