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This blog is maintained by the Ruth Institute. It provides a place for our Circle of Experts to express themselves. This is where the scholars, experts, students and followers of the Ruth Institute engage in constructive dialogue about the issues surrounding the Sexual Revolution. We discuss public policy, social practices, legal doctrines and much more.
Posted on: Thursday, May 18, 2017
Changes in marriage and family life result in inequality for children.
Marriage, family and sexual equality are subjects that have all been extensively aired. Ironically, the discussion is often led by people who are creating another form of inequality, that foisted upon the children of new versions of the family.
In a special report for the Ruth Institute, Marriage and Equality: How Natural Marriage Upholds the Ideal of Equality … for Children, Jennifer Johnson describes her own experience of the inequality of a broken home, and challenges society to face the injustice that children suffer when only adult desires are taken into account. The following are slightly edited excerpts from her essay.
* * * *
I was not raised with my own married parents. My parents divorced when I was three and went on to subsequent marriages, divorces, different children, a lot of back and forth between “two homes,” and a lot of chaos.
Reflecting on this experience in the light of the “marriage equality” debate I have come to understand better one of the fundamental flaws in the argument for same-sex marriage, and at the same time the flawed arguments for divorce, donor conception, surrogacy and other departures from natural marriage: the inequality these create for children.
I define “natural marriage” as life-long marriage between one man and one woman who are open to procreating their own children through their lovemaking.
Diagrammatically I represent these relationships as an inverted triangle, with the couple’s child or children at the third point of the triangle. This triad, I argue, in line with social science evidence, is the family structure that best ensures equality for children – equality of love, belonging, identity and security.
That’s a type of equality that people don’t talk about so much, but it is real. And there are other equalities that flow out of that one. When the family breaks down or doesn’t form according to the triad, the inequalities for children multiply. Here are three ways this happens.
Two half-time dads do not equal one full dad
When I was growing up, my parents were divorced, so I spent my entire childhood doing the back-and-forth thing between “two homes.” They also both remarried. So in each of those places, I had a male father figure. So I had two half-time dads, a dad and a step-dad.
I was about twelve when I consciously understood that my two half-time dads did not equal one dad. To a casual observer, it might seem as though me being with each of them for half-time would be the same as having one whole dad.
But it was not.
I am not 100 percent sure how I came to this realization, but I do remember thinking it as I stood in the driveway one day. I also remember feeling terrible about the messed-up nature of my family, how alone I was in it, and how it was never going to change.
Jennifer Johnson's family situation
Perhaps I came to this realization because I was an eye-witness to what an intact family and a full-time dad looked like. My step-dad was a full-time dad to my half-sister. She lived with both her married parents, my mom and my step-dad. I could see quite clearly that what she had and what I had were two very different things.
In each home, I was required to pretend that my other parent (and that parents’ family) did not exist. So while in my mother’s home, I had to pretend that my father and his family did not exist, and while in my father’s home I had to pretend that my mother and her family did not exist.
Family photos of other people’s whole families were on the walls, but not of my whole family. Group family photos were taken and hung on the walls, but I wasn’t in them.
I was the only one who had divided Christmases, divided birthdays. I’ve seen this referred to as “Two Christmases,” or “Two birthdays” in some divorce literature. These are euphemisms. My dad wasn’t welcome on Christmas morning, and my mom wasn’t welcome on Christmas Eve. I don’t think either of them would have come, had they been invited. They were too busy with their new families. And when I got a little older and my parents lived further apart, I traveled alone during the holidays to see each of them. Nobody else traveled alone during the holidays to see ex-family members.
Just to show the reality of this, recently my dad’s sister met my step-dad’s brother. Quite innocently, he remarked, “I didn’t know Jim (my dad) had a sister.” Of course. How would he know? My dad had three sisters, but I never talked about them. I think my aunt felt a little slighted, but I had to explain to her that we just never talked about them.
While all of this was going on, I acknowledged everybody’s mother AND father and their whole families.
Missing donor dads and moms
I know there will be some who are tempted to think that my experience is unique to me, but it is not. It is the dynamic of what happens when genetic parents reject each other.
Something similar happens in other non-triad arrangements.
Kids who are conceived from anonymous sperm, or anonymous eggs – as in a single-mom-by-choice household or gay household -- have to pretend that half of who they are does not exist.
If the parents were raised inside the intact triad, then there is an inequality between the parents and the children. There are two different standards being applied. The child must pretend that half of himself does not exist, while the child’s parents don’t have to do the same. The child acknowledges those parents, the grandparents, their aunts and uncles, but one half of that child’s genetic family has been discarded, and is not acknowledged by those same people.
When full family acceptance is a two-way street, that is equality. The parents are treating the kids the same way that the kids treat the parents. Everybody’s full families are acknowledged.
When full family acceptance is a one-way street, that is inequality between the generations. The older generation gets preferential treatment. The younger generation just has to accept whatever acceptance of that other family that the adults “choose” to give, which is zero.
Social bias towards adults’ happiness creates injustice
Not only does the inequality happen on the level of the family, it happens in the wider culture. The child lives under a burden and is not allowed to feel anything negative about the particular family form that was chosen for him. If he feels grief about missing half of himself, it is “disenfranchised grief,” grief that is not acceptable to the wider culture.
Our culture is profoundly concerned about adults and their happiness in their marital, sexual and reproductive choices. But we fail to understand that when we redefine all of those things to expand those choices, the children must live under structural inequalities, double standards and unreciprocated demands.
Adults’ happiness with their family structure choices as adults is more important than their happiness as children regarding those same things.
All of this is going on, even in the face of all the social science data saying that kids fare best with their own married parents.
It is a strange sort of “win-win” for people to be raised with their own married mother and father, then grow up to champion unequal family structures for the next generation, including for their own children.
Our grief about these injustices is not acknowledged, since the injustice itself is not acknowledged. But those of us who experienced it deserve to be healed of our pain, just like everybody else who has pain.
Part of that healing is having the freedom to talk about it without being judged, free to develop language and concepts to understand it better, and free to advocate for policies that will prevent it from happening to others in the future.
That is a kind of equality that we are now denied. While it is true that we can go to therapy for our issues, the entertainment complex, the legal community, and the business community are actually going in the opposite direction. Increasing forms of “family structure diversity,” really means “entrenched disregard for natural marriage and the family founded upon it.”
You can decide who to listen to, but I suggest taking into account those who have actually lived it, as children. Be sure to listen very carefully to what they say.
Posted on: Tuesday, May 09, 2017
by Jennifer Roback Morse
This article was first posted at Crisis Magazine on May 2, 2017.
“The Personal is Political” was a slogan engineered by Marxist feminists of the 1960s and 1970s. Few people realized at the time exactly what that slogan entailed. “The personal is political” should have telegraphed loud and clear that these women intended to politicize every aspect of our personal lives.
Many people dismissed extreme feminism as irrational and crazy and therefore unworthy of serious consideration. Others excused feminism because they had some worthy goals, such as outlawing the firing of women when they got married or pregnant. I know I swung back and forth between these responses. I reasoned that I was just trying to live my life.
What I didn’t realize was how much baggage I had acquired from feminism. This baggage made it difficult to “just live my life,” even though I was never more than a skeptical feminist.
I thought it was important to “assert myself,” to not be a doormat, to demand respect from my husband. I thought it was important to keep separate bank accounts and divide our expenses equally. I thought we should avoid gender stereotypical divisions of labor. Even if he was manifestly better at something, I should try to “do my share” of whatever mechanical project he might have in mind.
Most importantly, of course, he should do his share of household chores, even if a particular chore didn’t even register on his radar screen. He should do his half of everything I thought was important. And, he should do it to my satisfaction. In the interest of fairness and equality.
It was all quite exhausting.
I did eventually learn that nagging my helpers for not doing things my way was a good way to lose my helpers. But notice: this is a purely pragmatic consideration. I still was not questioning the basic rightness of my overall approach. I thought I had a right to achieve my goals, and other people were there to help me achieve them.
Just to be sure I’m making myself clear here, let me repeat for emphasis: I had a right to achieve my goals, and other people were there to help me.
I was still operating within the Equality Paradigm, created by those whose stated objective was to politicize my personal life. Only after my reversion to Catholicism, did I realize that there was a “More Excellent Way,” as St. Paul would put it: The Way of Love (1 Cor. 12:31).
Instead of asking myself whether he did his fair share, I can ask myself: What does love require of me, in any given situation?
Let’s say I want the bed made in the morning. I don’t take it for granted that all my readers accept this as a lofty goal. So be it. I want the bed made each morning. Sometimes, my husband and I make it together.
The problem is: my idea of “making the bed” is not universally shared. I know this for a fact, since my husband’s idea of “making the bed” is not the same as mine. How smooth must the sheets and covers be? Do we have to pull the covers down evenly on each side of the mattress? The most frequent difference of opinion is over the correct location of the covers, in relation to the pillows: under or over the pillows?
My husband made the bed this morning.
I’ve got a few choices here. Correct him? Tell him he did it wrong? “Here is the correct way to do it.” I know from experience that, as a non-push-over himself, my husband doesn’t appreciate being treated like a child. (Imagine that.)
Or worse, I could scold him. “I’ve told you a million times how to do this. You are doing it wrong just to spite me. I have to do everything around here.”
Or I could ignore it until he leaves the house and remake the bed to my satisfaction. Sometimes, this is what I do. I like seeing the bed a certain way. So, I do it my own way, for my own reasons.
When I take this path, I strive to do it without judgment of him. I try to put these thoughts in my mind: “He does a lot for us. He can handle effortlessly things I can’t do, and would not even know where to begin.” In other words, I try to praise him, even when he is not around.
I can also install in my mind some course corrections on the significance of the chore itself. “It is just the bed. It is not that important in the grand scheme of things.” Best of all, “Never mind. With any luck, we are just going to mess it up again soon,” with a grin in my heart.
I notice that I still have to shut down some of those Way of Equality scripts running in my head. I feel quite certain I am not the only woman who thinks this way. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if there aren’t female readers tut-tutting me at this very moment. “He is a grown man: he should know how to make his bed by now.” “He is counting on you to keep his home nice.” And so on.
But those scripts are not the Way of Love. Love means being grateful to and for one another, in all our differences, with all our quirks and insecurities. There are lots of possible Ways of Love in every situation. In all cases, the Way of Love teaches us to see the person as more important than the chore. In fact, the person is more important than pretty much anything else.
The feminists with their Way of Equality, gave us an unlimited supply of justifications for nagging our husbands, for feeling superior to our husbands, and for being just plain selfish. Do you suppose this is relevant to the high rates of family breakdown in our culture? Dismissing this topic as unworthy of thoughtful political commentary underestimates the gravity of what the sexual revolutionaries have been doing to us all this time. They have been driving wedges between men and women, husbands and wives, and even between mothers and babies.
While our brothers in the conservative movement were holding conferences on the American Founding, and symposia on free market economics, the sexual revolutionaries moved into our homes. Sexual revolutionary rhetoric is speaking to us from across our kitchen tables, from the back seat of our mini-vans, and from the other side of our beds. The revolutionaries have entered the minds of our family members, our spouses, children, and grandchildren.
All the while, powerful people have accumulated even more power over our personal lives, which have indeed become extensions of our political lives. Big Government expands to fill the voids created by family breakdown. Big Business makes money selling us stuff we wouldn’t need if we were content with our family lives. Big Media makes money keeping us overstimulated, while we scarcely know how to have face-to-face conversations. Perhaps this explains why feminists who support the Sexual Revolution get far more legal, financial, and media support than any other group of women who try to wear the feminist label.
So here we are in 2017, with record numbers of young people afraid to get married and millions of children born without both parents living with them. We Christians have a humane alternative sitting right under our noses: The Way of Love. “Love one another as I have loved you.” Fully, freely, faithfully, fruitfully, love one another to the end.
I mentioned that my husband made the bed. Did I mention that he did it without my prompting, asking or nagging? When I see the half-made bed (or the bed I consider “half-made”), I can say, “Thank you, honey, for making the bed. I smile when I see it. I appreciate you so much.” Almighty God put this man in the center of my life. No matter what is going on, I know God wants me to love my husband.
That is St. Paul’s “More Excellent Way.” The sexual revolutionaries have nothing that can compete with it. Let us say so, and live so, without apology.
Editor’s note: Pictured above is a detail from “Master Bedroom” painted by Andrew Wyeth in 1965.
Posted on: Monday, May 01, 2017
This review was first posted at Tampa Mediations on December 16, 2016.
You can start to change your own marriage today, simply by making a decision to be more generous: by being the first to forgive; by making allowances; by admitting you were wrong. These are an antidote to self-righteousness, the belief that “it’s not my fault”. There are other strategies, such as never using phrases such as “You always” or “You never” in disputes; being prepared to give way on unimportant issues; persevering in keeping the peace whenever possible.
Go out and get this book, “101 Tips for a Happier Marriage”. It is full of sage advice that would have been obvious to previous generations but, like the art of home cooking, seems to have fallen by the wayside in modern society.
Notice that the authors put God before “each other” in the subtitle. The book’s emphasis is on what the person who reads it can do to make a difference for the marital relationship. Growing closer to God will inevitably follow. If we tend to the ways in which God calls us, we will grow closer to Him. Once we’ve said our marriage vows and entered the sacrament of marriage, we can be pretty sure that God is telling us to work on our commitments.
Do not buy this book to change your spouse. Do not give it to your spouse to work on. The tips are effective only when applied to oneself. If you change, your marriage will change. This book is also not for anyone dealing with domestic violence or addictions of any kind. It cannot replace specialized professional assistance.
Posted on: Tuesday, April 25, 2017
by Jennifer Roback Morse
This article was first published at Clash Daily on March 25, 2017.
Representative Matt Krause of Texas has introduced a bill to limit no-fault divorce in that state. it is time to put up or shut up about family breakdown.
The Ruth Institute has a petition that anyone can sign. It just says we support Rep. Krause’s effort to limit no-fault divorce. You do not have to live in Texas to sign it.
Conservatives complain and wring their hands over “losing the culture wars.”
We can’t honestly complain about losing a battle we never even fought.
“Kids need a mom and a dad,” the constant mantra of the pro-marriage movement, is not nearly strong enough. “Kids need their own mom and dad,” is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
I’m sorry to get in your face about this. But children are entitled to a relationship with both parents, unless some unavoidable tragedy takes place to prevent it.
— “I’m tired of your father,” is not an unavoidable tragedy. It is very avoidable.
— “I’m running off to marry my secretary,” is not an unavoidable tragedy. It is a selfish act of injustice to the children of the marriage.
These are the divorces that no-fault protects. When people say, “but we need no-fault divorce because fault is too hard to prove,” adultery and selfishness are sneaking in the backdoor.
Conservative Christians complained about “gay marriage” harming children.
No-fault divorce harms children.
Conservative Christians complained about “gay marriage” being un-Biblical.
No-fault divorce is un-Biblical. See Matthew 19. Don’t whine to me about the so-called “exception clause,” aka “escape hatch big enough to drive a Mac Truck through.”
Why were people against gay marriage? I don’t know about you. But I know why I was. I saw that it would harm children’s legally-recognized rights to have a relationship with both parents.
We at the Ruth Institute were virtually alone in the “Marriage Movement” in arguing this way. And I am pretty sure I know why. Once you say, “Kids have a right to their own parents,” you have to be willing to start talking about divorce, single-parenthood and donor conception. Most of the Marriage Movement bobbed and weaved to avoid these topics.
The Ruth Institute did not. I am grateful to our supporters who have stood by us as we made these arguments. I am not ashamed to say:
— no-fault divorce is an injustice to children.
— single-motherhood by choice is an injustice to children.
— donor conception is an injustice to children.
— gay “marriage” and gay parenting is an injustice to children.
The Gay Lobby accused us of hypocrisy, saying we didn’t really mean it about any of those other topics. We just really hated gay people. Divorce and single-motherhood and all the rest were just window dressing.
Too bad. We talked about children’s rights then. We continue to talk about children’s rights, now, long after the dust has settled on the whole gay “marriage” controversy. We intend to keep talking about it.
What about you? Will you sign our petition,
supporting Rep. Krause and his divorce reform?
Posted on: Monday, April 17, 2017
A Child of Divorce Speaks Out on the Importance of a Family
Jennifer Johnson is Director of the Children of Divorce Project at the Ruth Institute. She is an author, whose interests include homeschooling (she homeschooled her three children), children’s rights and family structure issues. She has worked full time with the Ruth Institute since 2010, an organization founded by Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse “dedicated to finding Christ-like solutions to the problems of family breakdown.”
Johnson’s most recently published work is “Marriage and Equality: How Natural Marriage Upholds the Ideal of Equality for Children.” She recently talked about divorce and its effect on her life.
What is your own personal experience of divorce?
I have a lot of experience with divorce, far too much to ask of any one person in my opinion. My parents divorced when I was three and went on to subsequent marriages, divorces, different children, a lot of back and forth between “two homes,” and a lot of chaos. By the time I was about 22, I had experienced three divorces: my own parents’ divorce and my dad’s two subsequent divorces. I am divorced as an adult and there is quite a bit of divorce in the rest of my family.
How did it affect you, and how have you been able to recover?
That is a whole story that I tell in my Special Report, “Marriage and Equality: How Natural Marriage Upholds the Ideal of Equality for Children”. The short version is that I did not have a family; I was the lone member of my family. The family experience that I had was shared by no other person. I include diagrams in the report to show what I mean.
That experience taught me to suppress my true thoughts and feelings about the original divorce and the remarriages. That chaotic situation taught me to ignore my own intuitions, taught me that letting my intuitions bubble to the surface of my mind was dangerous. Had I examined and revealed my intuitions about all that to my parents, it would have jeopardized my already-tenuous relationship with them. Learning to ignore my thoughts, feelings and intuitions about things that bothered me made me extremely vulnerable once I became an adult. I joined a cult at the age of 19, had an arranged marriage there, and participated and endorsed some horrific abuse and exploitation of others so that I could fit in and not be thought of as an outsider. The cult appealed to my deep need for belonging, for being a full-fledged member of a family.
Anthropologists have a concept that applies here. It is called “liminality.” Limin is Latin for the threshold of a doorway. The threshold is not one room or the other. It is the in-between place between two rooms, or between the outside of the house and the inside. Liminality is the condition of being between states or statuses. Sometimes it is referred to as being “betwixt and between.” When somebody is in a liminal state, they are no longer what they were and are not yet what they will be. The old rules no longer apply, and the new rules do not apply yet.
When my parents divorced, I ceased to exist as a full-fledged daughter in my family, because my family ceased to exist. I never again entered a full-fledged status with either of them. Their divorce and subsequent remarriages pushed me into a liminal state from which I have never emerged. Joining the cult was my attempt to exit the liminal state, to become initiated as a full-fledged member of a family, even if it was an abusive family.
There have been many studies about the effects of divorce on children. What are some of the findings?
It’s bad. It is worse than the average person wants to realize. Divorce shortens people’s lives. That alone should get people’s attention. Plus it increases the risk factors for addictions, not finishing high school, getting divorced as an adult and losing contact with grandparents. Children of divorce report feeling a lack of empathy from their churches, and don’t go to church as much as kids from intact families.
“No fault” divorce came to California in 1969, and the rest of the country soon after. How do you think divorce has affected society as a whole?
In order to talk about society, we need to talk about the mechanics behind the changes of “no-fault.” No-fault changed an important legal presumption in marriage. A presumption is a starting-point, a place where we say, “Here is where we begin, and we can make adjustments to individual circumstances from this place, but we need a beginning point so we always begin here.” Prior to no-fault, the legal presumption, the legal beginning point, was that marriage is permanent. It was viewed as a truly life-long commitment and the family courts honored this, at least in principle. Of course, there was divorce and separation prior to no-fault, but the presumption of permanence was honored by the courts. In order to get a divorce, that presumption had to be overcome by demonstrating why the marriage had failed. Such circumstances included adultery, addictions and abandonment.
No-fault changed the legal presumption. Now marriage is no longer legally presumed permanent by the family courts. The courts get involved in the minutia of family life at the behest of one spouse. One spouse has the power to harness the family court to destroy the family, like wielding a sledge hammer, and the family courts must comply. They no longer side with the family, giving preference to its legitimate claim on wholeness. They side with the person who wants to destroy the family. If the other spouse wants to keep the family together, that person has no legal remedy. The divorce will be enforced in all cases if one spouse wants it.
In this respect, no-fault divorce is like abortion. That might sound like a dramatic claim, so let me spell it out.
In both cases, the State sides with one person (the pregnant mother, the petitioner in a no-fault divorce action) to uphold or enforce the action that the person wants (the abortion, the no-fault divorce), while simultaneously providing no legal defense for the other person (the unborn child, the respondent in the divorce action). The individual who wants the action (of the abortion or to be divorced) must be “freed” from every restraint that he does not explicitly want. Even if he chose the restraint at a point in the past, if he changes his mind, then the State’s duty is to free him from it if this is what the individual wants.
In February, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput published a book called, Strangers in a Strange Land: Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World. He makes this same point when he says: “Without the restrains of some higher moral law, democracy instinctively works against natural marriage, traditional families and any other institution that creates bonds and duties among citizens. It insists on the autonomous individual as its ideal.”
Thus, as a society, we believe that the State’s duty to the individual is to annul or at least modify his familial obligations whenever he chooses in order to free him.
I’ve heard it said divorce may be a necessity when “the 3 A’s” are involved: addiction, abuse and adultery. Do you agree?
This is a complex question since it touches on a variety of issues. We can talk about it from the State’s perspective or the perspective of individual families. Taking the State’s perspective, we might ask: what is the State’s role in divorce? Should the State be involved? If so, at what point? I would say that yes, there is a role for the State, but to restore some semblance of justice in divorce we need to restore the legal presumption of permanence. I do not know how that should be done. Should we go back to some sort of fault-based system that relies on “the 3 A’s”? Should we at least eliminate the unilateral aspect of divorce and require both spouses to consent to it? I would say yes to both of those questions.
We can also consider the perspective of individual families. Perhaps somebody reading this article is experiencing one or more of those things right now. It is difficult to give blanket advice since each case is unique. Even so, I have heard many reports about couples who recovered from adultery. For addiction issues, help can be found through groups such as Al-Anon.
The good thing about the old fault-based system is that somebody was legally culpable. This person was then penalized by the courts. This deterred bad behavior. For example, if the child is not living with that person post-divorce, then this makes sense. Children should not be living with addicts or with abuse, especially when their other parent is not there to serve as a buffer.
What might you say to couples with children considering divorce when less serious issues are involved?
That triad of your family matters a great deal. It matters to your children, to all of the people around you, and to your grandchildren and the rest of your posterity. So try harder to work things out. I know you’re tired and you probably want to go find somebody else. But your kids need you there, at home. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that your situation will beat the odds for your kids. Are you willing to implicitly tell them that you don’t want to live with them for half of their remaining childhood? Because that is what you will be communicating to them if you split up. Do you want to throw away their sense of being your full-fledged child?
You will continue to have a relationship with your spouse even after the divorce, and you will have less say-so in the lives of your children than you do now. Your ex-spouse might bring undesirable people into your children’s lives, and your children will feel pressure to accept and love those people. Some spouses resort to parental alienation tactics, which means that you run the risk of losing all contact with your children for a very long time.
Please do not make the child live in “two homes.” Do not break up their daily life like that. Consider keeping the family home, letting the children live there full time, and getting a small place nearby that you share with your ex-spouse. Each of you takes turns going back and forth between the family home and the other place. If that doesn’t sound appealing to you, then please reconsider making your kids do the same. Apply the same standard to your children that you want applied to you.
What help/advice would you offer children of divorced parents to help them recover?
I don’t have any magic words here. Healing is an ongoing process. The first steps were the hardest for me:
I recommend my reading my book for more details about all of these concepts, plus many diagrams that make it easy enough for a child to understand.
Posted on: Friday, April 07, 2017
Despite the predictable flurry of sugary clichés and hedonistic consumerism, Valentine’s Day is as good an opportunity as any to reflect on the nature of human love and consider how we might further it across society.
For those of us interested in the study of economics, or, if you prefer, the study of human action, what drives such action — love or otherwise —is the starting point for everything. For the Christian economist, such questions get a bit more complicated.
Although love is clearly at the center, our understanding of what that looks like is interconnected with and interdependent on the love of God, which persistently yanks our typical economist sensibilities about “prosperity,” “happiness,” and “quality of life” into transcendent territory (never mind those convenient buckets of “self-interest” and “sacrifice”). The marketplace is flooded with worldly spin-offs, as plenty of cockeyed V-Day ditties and run-of-the-mill romantic comedies are quick to demonstrate. At a time when libertine, self-centered approaches appear to be the routine winners in everything from consumerism to self-help to sex, we should be especially careful that our economic thinking doesn’t also fall prey to such distortions.
In her book Love and Economics: It Takes a Family to Raise a Village, Jennifer Roback Morse cautions against such tendencies, pointing us in the right direction and challenging us to reconsider our basic views about human needs and human potential.
Morse begins with a critique of homo economicus (economic man), the understanding of man as Supreme Calculator, capable of number-crunching his way to happiness and fulfillment on the basis of cut-and-dry cost/benefit analysis. Such a view ignores the social and spiritual side of the human person, excusing away our thoughts and affections at the mercy of of a cold, limiting, earthbound order. As Rev. Robert Sirico puts it, “Any man who was only economic man would be a lost soul. And any civilization that produced only homines economici to fill its markets, courts, legislative bodies, and other institutions would soon enough be a lost civilization.”
To demonstrate the inadequacy of the common caricature, Morse points us to human infanthood, a uniquely universal human experience in supreme dependency and irrationality. “We are not born as rational, choosing agents, able to defend ourselves and our property, able to negotiate contracts and exchanges,” she writes. “We are born as dependent babies, utterly incapable of meeting our own needs—or even of knowing what our needs are. As infants, we do not know what is good or safe. We even resist sleep in spite of being so exhausted we cannot hold our heads up. We are completely dependent on others for our very survival.”
As Morse goes on to remind us, the other side of this dependence — a nurturing family environment — is not an automatic given, and our response (or non-response) proves the economic man hypothesis to be dangerously incomplete (while also countering Rousseau’s view of the “state of nature”).
To demonstrate her case, she looks to extreme situations wherein the family has been entirely removed, focusing specifically on child abandonment and the attachment disorder that so often follows:
The classic case of attachment disorder is a child who does not care what anyone thinks of him. The disapproval of others does not deter this child from bad behavior because no other person, even someone who loves him very much, matters to the child. He responds only to physical punishment and to the suspension of privileges. The child does whatever he thinks he can get away with, no matter the cost to others. He does not monitor his own behavior, so authority figures must constantly be wary of him and watch him. He lies if he thinks it is advantageous to life. He steals if he can get away with it. He may go through the motions of offering affection, but people who live with him sense in him a kind of phoniness. He shows no regret at hurting another person, though he may offer perfunctory apologies.
Here we find a peculiar integration of economic man and noble savage, a child “untouched by corrupting adult influences” who seeks only to meet his own temporal human needs, regardless of the social costs. As Morse summarizes, to avoid a society filled with such disorder, we must ground ourselves in something far more powerful and grounded and transcendent than self-centered individualism. “The desperate condition of the abandoned child shows us that we have, all along, been counting on something to hold society together, something more than the mutual interests of autonomous individuals,” she writes. “We have taken that something else for granted, and hence, overlooked it, even though it has been under our noses all along. That missing element is none other than love.”
Thus, before we get too deep into all the important Hayekian questions about knowledge and decision-making, proceeding to dichotomize between a centralized governmental Mother Brain and “better,” “morerational” individualistic mini-brains, we should pause and remember that without love properly defined and vigorously pursued, human holes will surely remain.
Whatever form of magical super-rationalism we humans might be able to concoct, whether through governments or markets or otherwise, without the love of God and the corresponding building blocks of relationship and family and community, our stomachs will continue to growl and the social stew will continue to fester. Without transcendent obedience and a willingness to sacrifice our own convenience and temporal, transactional notions about prosperity, happiness, and human fulfillment, society at large will slowly yield to false caricatures about human needs and the corresponding solutions.
“Love is from God,” writes the Apostle John, “and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.” This is what we should strive for: to be born of God and to know God, from the way we respond to a baby’s first breath to the way we cultivate our families and communities to the way we conduct ourselves in our daily work across the economic order.
This Valentine’s Day, let us remember that love is much more than the sentimentality and self-gratification that consumes our culture. Love is what holds society together, and that means fewer self-centered sonnets to faux self-empowerment, and more covenantal worship and service across society. Whether as spouses or parents, neighbors or strangers, we remain children of the King, created in the image of a God who so loved that he gave.
Posted on: Wednesday, March 29, 2017
Found at Fathers for Good
New book outlines Catholic plan for marriage
If the “101 Tips” of this handy little book could be summed up in a few words, they would be: Know thyself. The wisdom of Socrates holds true today, though the modern dating scene may cause him to add: Know the other person, too.
Authors Jennifer Roback Morse and Betsy Kerekes, of the Ruth Institute, have culled a wealth of social science, psychology, common sense and personal insights in 101 Tips for Marrying the Right Person (Ave Maria Press). The book serves as a sort of prequel to their 2013 release, 101 Tips for a Happier Marriage. But it would be simplistic to assume that if you read their latest book on dating you won’t need the earlier one on marriage. We all need help in getting our relationships right.
The authors are clear from the start: “Basically, the young adult Catholic dating scene is horrific.” A brief chat with young Catholics will confirm this statement. There are no rules, even the chaste and faithful are afraid to commit, and parents, parishes and priests – three strong forces for matchmaking in the past – have pretty much left young people to find their own way. Thus, this book is not only for the young Catholic searching for love, it is also for older folks who want to have some ready answers and advice for the young ones in their lives. It would also make a nice Christmas gift for those of dating age.
You can read these 122 pages in one night, skipping around the different topics. Tip No. 8 caught my eye: “Pray for your future spouse.” This is exactly what my future wife’s grade school teacher in the Philippines (a nun) told her class of girls one day. My wife followed the advice and sensed that she was not called to marry a man from her country, and thus was not at all afraid when the opportunity came for her to get a master’s degree in the United States. You never know where God will lead if you give him your heart in prayer.
Under the chapter “Best Practices,” there are these little gems: “Be friends first” and “Ladies: Let him be a man. Gentlemen: Be a man!” Under “Potential Pitfalls,” you will find warnings not to “think you can change him or her into the perfect image of your future spouse,” or “waste your time on someone who won’t commit to you.”
Here are more tips, randomly flipping the pages: “Keep your head. Guard your heart.” “Don’t expect a fairy-tale romance.” “Don’t expect love at first sight.”
There is a helpful section on the common practice of cohabiting that includes research and common sense on why couples should avoid it, and a practical guide on wedding planning if the relationship gets to that point.
This is an excellent, extremely readable book that a dating couple could easily read together, having a few laughs as well as some serious discussions. Fathers could also use this little volume to start a conversation with their son or daughter on some topics they probably should discuss before the kids leave home.
You can also read a Fathers for Good interview with Jennifer Roback Morse on her previous book on a happier marriage.
Posted on: Tuesday, March 28, 2017
by Leslie Fain
First posted on Catholic World Report December 29, 2016
When we think of the “least of these,” whom Jesus exhorted us to defend and aid, several groups easily come to mind: the poor, the unborn, the disabled. One often overlooked group is adult children of family breakdown. The non-profit Ruth Institute is striving to help that group with a new Healing Retreat for Family Breakdown, launched recently in Louisiana.
“There is a wealth of social science data that people can turn to to see what happens to individuals as a result of family breakdown,” said Jennifer Johnson, associate director of the Ruth Institute. “Let’s take one—divorce. We know that children of divorce are more likely to grow up and experience their own divorce as adults, [compared to] kids raised with their own married mother and father. We know that kids of divorce suffer academically in a variety of ways, they lose contact with grandparents, they feel a lack of compassion from their churches. We know that divorced men have a higher rate of suicide than men who’ve never been divorced.”
“Divorce impacts the Church because children of divorce are more likely to be non-religious when they grow up,” Johnson continued. “Family breakdown is expensive for society, since intact families reduce the risks for so many negative outcomes, for both the children and the adults.”
The Healing Family Breakdown Retreat is a half-day program featuring presentations by Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, founder of the Ruth Institute, and Johnson, as well as small-group breakout sessions, meditations, and prayers. It debuted in the Diocese of Lake Charles in October to a full house, which included several priests and religious. Thanks to the success of this retreat, the Ruth Institute will offer a second retreat in the diocese in February.
The Healing Family Breakdown Retreat focuses on those who have suffered from various forms of family breakdown, including divorce, growing up with a single parent or cohabitating parents, and third-party reproduction, among others. Participants are encouraged to look at family breakdown from the child’s perspective. The goal, according to remarks made by Morse at the retreat, is to create a “lasting and Christ-like movement to end the agony and injustice of family breakdown.”
Father D.B. Thompson, a priest for the Diocese of Lake Charles and retreat attendee, said outside of this program or private counseling, he has not encountered any services, groups, or retreats for children of divorce, adult or otherwise. He said this was unfortunate, as children tend to be the most impacted group in a divorce.
“Divorce creates a wound in a child’s heart, even an adult child’s heart, because it breaks apart a foundation for that child,” said Thompson, himself an adult child of divorce. As a Catholic priest, he said, he believes ministering to adult children of divorce is important because Christ wants to bring healing to every heart.
Johnson said the pain of family breakdown can be misunderstood by those who haven’t experienced it. “I have reason to believe that many people think silence equals approval,” said Johnson, who herself experienced family breakdown as a child.
“When kids grow up outside an intact family, and they don’t speak out about it, people around them seem to think that the kids’ silence means that they approve of it. I’ve found that speaking about my dismembered natal family has been extraordinarily difficult as it creates a double bind.”
Johnson said she didn’t want to hurt her parents, “so I remained silent as a self-protective mechanism, even though I really needed the freedom to speak to them about how hard it was to live as I did.”
As a result, one challenge Johnson and Morse had in creating the retreat was to pre-emptively tackle any defensive reactions some of those participating might have.
“Much of our legal system and culture is set up to promote a view of freedom that is at odds with family obligations,” said Johnson. “When somebody has been tempted to embrace that view of freedom, and has built their life around it, they can feel defensive when they hear that their ‘freedom’ has negatively impacted other people, in particular their children. At the Ruth Institute we call this ‘the guilty conscience problem,’ since it blocks people from understanding what is happening, from making amends, and from moving on to promoting a more just view of freedom.”
“We don’t want people to feel defensive, and so we make it clear that it’s not entirely the individual’s fault,” Johnson added. “The legal system, culture, and prior family experiences play a role. ‘No man is an island,’ and this adage certainly applies to our issue. Speaking for myself, I am a child of divorce—multiple divorces, in fact—and am also divorced as an adult. It is true that I am culpable to a certain extent, perhaps even a large extent, but it’s also true that the deck was stacked against me, so to speak. I made many mistakes, but in some respects I was doing the best I could with what I had. I’m sure this is true in many, many cases. Nobody needs to feel defensive, but they do need to be willing to see their own role in what happened.”
Johnson said the Ruth Institute is patterning their movement after the pro-life movement. She points out that some of the strongest advocates for life are those women who have had abortions but who now regret it and warn others of the consequences of abortion. Along the same lines, Johnson said the goal of their organization is to educate those who have been affected by the Sexual Revolution so they can find healing and repent of any part they had to play in family breakdown. Then those who have experienced the pain of family breakdown can also help others find healing.
Three phrases were shared with retreat attendees at the beginning of the event: “I am sorry this happened to you”; “You are not alone”; and “This is not all your fault.”
Andrew Casteel, who is discerning a vocation to the priesthood and is an adult child of divorce, said those phrases were the most important things he took away from the retreat. “It’s like an opening conversation we can have with our family,” he said.
Johnson said focusing on the three phrases also helps retreatants to look at their situations more objectively, and less defensively.
Felicia Borel, who works for Our Lady Queen of Heaven Church in Lake Charles, said the retreat helped her see how growing up in a home where there was divorce and remarriage shaped her future. Family breakdown in her childhood led to single parenting, divorce, and remarriage, as well as combining families in her adult life, she said. Family breakdown in childhood “affected choices I made, and that, in turn, affected how I parented my children,” she said. “So, without being able to go back and change the past, how do I help my adult children make better choices?”
Borel said the retreat helped her to understand challenges in her adult children’s lives. “It helped me put things in perspective as far as how I parented them and what’s happening now. It’s easier to begin to work on a relationship with a little bit more knowledge,” she said. “It’s given me a new perspective on how I can approach healing a relationship with an adult child. Knowing the things my adult child is going through, I can see I’ve participated.”Keep reading.
Posted on: Monday, March 27, 2017
Dear Dr. J,
What do I say to a same-sex married lesbian niece whose mother (my sister-in-law) just left a phone message saying they “are expecting twins”? Congratulations just doesn’t seem right but it’s not the children’s faults. It doesn’t seem right to create a family rift over this but neither can I be happy about it. I have no idea who the father is, which of the females in the relationship is carrying the children, whose eggs were used, etc. Nor do I know if I will ever be told because the family knows I do not believe in gay ‘marriage’. I can’t just ignore this, but do I say nothing? What do I say when the children are born? Any kind of congratulatory words would come out as fake, & they would be falsely said.
Your problem is becoming increasingly common. We are all figuring this out on the fly. So, let me offer a few suggestions for you to consider.
In general: keep your powder dry. Save it for when you really need it. There is absolutely nothing you can do right now to prevent this situation from unfolding. A time will come when you may be able to make a truly unique and valuable contribution. Prepare yourself for that time, through prayer and charity. Who knows? Maybe your preparation will allow you to help someone outside your family.
Do you have a question for me? Send an email to email@example.com.
Posted on: Thursday, March 23, 2017
A book review from TampaMeditations.com on 12/21/2016
you can start to change your own marriage today, simply by making a decision to be more generous: by being the first to forgive; by making allowances; by admitting you were wrong. These are an antidote to self-righteousness, the belief that “it’s not my fault”. There are other strategies, such as never using phrases such as “You always” or “You never” in disputes; being prepared to give way on unimportant issues; persevering in keeping the peace whenever possible.
Go out and get this book, “101 Tips for a Happier Marriage”, written by Jennifer Roback Morse and Betsy Kerekes. It is full of sage advice that would have been obvious to previous generations but, like the art of home cooking, seems to have fallen by the wayside in modern society.
Notice that the authors put God before “each other” in the subtitle. The book’s emphasis is on what the person who reads it can do to make a difference for the marital relationship. Growing closer to God will inevitably follow. If we tend to the ways in which God calls us, we will grow closer to Him. Once we’ve said our marriage vows and entered the sacrament of marriage, we can be pretty sure that God is telling us to work on our commitments.
Do not buy this book to change your spouse. Do not give it to your spouse to work on. The tips are effective only when applied to oneself. If you change,
your marriage will change. This book is also not for anyone dealing with domestic violence or addictions of any kind. It cannot replace specialized
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