Archive for August 17th, 2011
As more and more U.S. couples decide to have children without first getting married, a group of 18 family scholars is sounding an alarm about the impact this may have on those children.
In a new report out on Tuesday, they say research shows the children of cohabiting parents are at risk for a broad range of problems, from trouble in school to psychological stress, physical abuse and poverty.
The study is put out by the National Marriage Project and the Institute for American Values, groups whose missions include strengthening marriage and family life. It suggests a shift in focus is needed away from the children of divorce, which has long been a preoccupying concern for such scholars.
Brad Wilcox, a report co-author and head of the National Marriage Project, says divorce rates have steadily dropped since their peak in 1979-80, while rates of out-of-wedlock childbearing have soared. Forty-one percent of all births are now to unwed mothers, many of them living with — but not married to — the child’s father.
Wilcox notes that the iconic 1979 movie of the divorce revolution, Kramer vs. Kramer, is no longer emblematic of the drama facing families today.
Percent of Children Experiencing Divorce/Separation and Cohabitation (2002-2007)
By the time they are 12, children today are more likely to have their unmarried parents live together or with others than to have their married parents divorce or separate.
Source: National Survey of Family Growth
Credit: Stephanie d’Otreppe, Sheela Kennedy and Larry Bumpass, 2011
“It’d be Kramer vs. Kramer vs. Johnson and Nelson,” he says with a small laugh. “We’re moving into a pattern where we’re seeing more instability, more adults moving in and out of the household in this relationship carousel.”
Wilcox says the children of the divorce revolution grew up to be understandably gun-shy about marriage. Many are putting it off, even after they have kids. But research shows such couples are twice as likely to split.
“Ironically,” he says, “they’re likely to experience even more instability than they would [have] if they had taken the time and effort to move forward slowly and get married before starting a family.”
In fact, another recent study finds that a quarter of American women with multiple children conceived them with more than one man. Psychologist John Gottman, a co-author of Tuesday’s report, says that kind of instability can have a negative impact on kids in all kinds of ways.
“Both in externalizing disorders, more aggression,” Gottman says, “and internalizing disorders, more depression. Children of cohabiting couples are at greater risk than children of married couples.”
This is true, says marriage historian Stephanie Coontz, “but the question is why it’s true.”
Coontz teaches family studies at Evergreen State College in Washington state and is research director for the Council on Contemporary Families. She says people are more likely to get married if they have the things that make a union strong: mutual respect, problem-solving skills and — especially — economic security.
That’s something many working-class men have lost as wages stagnated in recent decades. In fact, Coontz notes that a huge marriage gap has emerged, with lower-income Americans much less likely to wed.
“Cohabitation and out-of-wedlock childbearing is as much a symptom of the instability of children’s lives as it is a cause of it,” Coontz says. Coontz worries that too many Americans who break up with a partner rush into another relationship, thinking this will provide more stability for their children. As Tuesday’s report notes, the appearance of a new caregiver can also be traumatic for children, many of whom appear to fare better with a loving single parent.
To be sure, not all marriages are good, and some cohabiting couples create perfectly healthy families. But psychologist Gottman says for whatever reason — and it’s a mystery to researchers — cohabiting partners are not as stable in the U.S. as in some European countries, where family-building outside marriage is more of a norm.
For Americans, Gottman says the evidence for marriage is strong. The institution’s wide-ranging benefits — better health, longevity, greater wealth — are not conferred on those who cohabit.
“Because,” he says, “they’re basically saying, ‘If you get into trouble, baby, you’re on your own; I’m not there for you.’ I think that’s the big problem.”
Gottman’s advice, even if you decide not to tie the knot: pick a partner carefully, then hang in there — for better, or worse.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Listening is a critical element of communication and often a real challenge to family members, partners in a relationship or even friends. In the early days of a relationship, we hang on every word the other person has to say. But as familiarity and daily life take over, real listening is often sacrificed.
Partners may half-listen to what the other one is saying or tune out altogether. They make assumptions about the speaker’s message (what they expect to hear) and listen just enough to know that it’s time to speak or nod or go back to what they were doing in the first place.
It’s not easy to listen fully. The environment interferes, along with unrelated thoughts about the speaker and about daily life. Perhaps the speaker is distractingly attractive, or isn’t as articulate as he or she might be, or misses an important point that the listener is eager to mention. Each of those possibilities takes the listener’s attention away from the speaker’s words.
Listening is a sort of glue in a relationship; when good listening is lost, the pieces of the relationship no longer fit together as tightly as they once did. True listening is a sign of interest, respect, caring and intimacy. Failure to listen conveys the opposite message: a lack of interest, respect, understanding and even love.
So it follows that improved listening is a valuable tool to build a stronger relationship. Every single conversation should be included in the effort, whether you’re on the phone, in the car or sitting next to each other on the couch. Here are a few suggestions:
• Face the speaker. Maintain eye contact. Lean toward the speaker slightly.
• Reduce distractions. Set aside the newspaper or knitting, turn down the music and turn off the television and other electronic devices. Even a muted TV is a powerful distraction.
• Don’t interrupt. No matter how urgently you feel the need to react, let the speaker finish his or her thought. Be patient. You may forget what you wanted to say; that’s okay. Really listening can lead to a deeper conversation.
• React. Nodding, smiling, laughing, frowning and verbalizing (for example, “I see” or “mm-hmm”) show the speaker that you’re tuned in to their words.
• Paraphrase. When the speaker has finished speaking, rephrase key points of what they said. For example, “I think I understand. You are telling me…” and then mention an important point in your own words. The purpose of paraphrasing is not simply to parrot back what your partner has said, but to create communication and dialogue. It also improves remembering!
• Clarify. Where paraphrasing looks at the substance of your partner’s words, clarifying gets at some of the underlying feelings. So, for example, after your partner explains how important it is that you call when you’re going to be late, you might ask the clarifying question, “How did you feel when it got to be 11pm and I hadn’t called?”
• Ask questions. If the speaker seems hesitant or stalled, ask a related question to encourage them to continue.
• Offer feedback. Without being argumentative or belittling, share your thoughts and opinions about what your partner said. It’s okay to disagree. But keep your disagreement respectful, open-minded and receptive to each person’s right to an opinion.
Obstacles to real listening
• Lack of trust
• Lack of respect
• Judging or prejudice
• Listening for what you expect or want to hear
• Rehearsing what you will say next
• Looking for hidden messages
• Acting like you’re listening just to be nice
• Deflecting the conversation to a more comfortable subject
Physical/environmental obstacles, such as noise, use of alcohol, hearing impairment, language differences or speech impediment, can also contribute to poor communication.
Make every effort to create a an atmosphere conducive to communication – one that works best for both parties. Listening is a skill that children learn from the earliest age. The more carefully adults listen to children, the better listeners children will be as they grow up.
Listening skills can be dramatically improved with practice. A relationship counselor can offer dynamic listening exercises to help both partners gain more from every conversation – and from their relationship.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )