Pull Up Some Chairs Around the Table
Perhaps by this point you think I’m being too optimistic. But I’m also realistic. I know from talking with parents that many are about ready to throw in the towel. They try and try again but don’t feel able to counter the peer pressure and insidious media messages that bombard their kids every day. Many have come to believe that they may be fighting a losing battle. The struggle is just too difficult and exhausting.
Well, I get that. But how hard is it to have dinner with your children?
Let me share with you an amazing statistic discovered by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University. For the past decade and a half, researchers there have been totting up the differences between teens who eat dinner with their parents “frequently” (defined as being at least five nights a week) and those who do it only three times weekly or less. The results of a CASA report published in 2009 were dramatic:
1. Teens who eat dinner infrequently with their families are
as likely to use tobacco and marijuana as those who have family dinners “frequently.”
2. Similarly, they’re one and a half times more likely to use alcohol.
3. And they’re one and a half times more likely to get mostly
s or lower in school. (No one’s saying that infrequent family dinners necessarily
bad grades, but there’s clearly some sort of correlation. Try it!)
“The magic of the family dinner comes not from the food on the plate but from who’s at the table and what’s happening there,” explains Elizabeth Planet, CASA’s vice president. “The emotional and social benefits that come from family dinners are priceless.”
That means the food doesn’t have to be fancy, or organic, or even homemade. What counts, evidently, is the time spent together around the table. Good grades; avoidance of tobacco, alcohol, and drugs; closer and warmer family relationships—it’s a scientific fact (not to mention plain old common sense) that something as simple as sharing take-out pizza is associated with all of them!Whatever Happened to Dad?
I’ve been criticized many times for talking so much about “social issues” when the
issue now, according to some people, is the economy. Well, buckle up, Turbo, because here’s a simple, inarguable fact: Every broken, fatherless family has a tremendous economic impact.
Common sense is clear: The more families can do for themselves, the less they will need from the government. But what happens when there’s no dad in the picture?
Here’s what Robert Rector, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, has to say about that:
The disappearance of marriage in low-income communities is the predominant cause of child poverty in the U.S. today. If poor single mothers were married to the fathers of their children, two-thirds of them would not be poor. . . . When liberals refuse to talk about marriage and the poor in the same breath, they are guilty of willful neglect of the major source of poverty.
Surprise. Liberals are just fine with that, since one of their goals seems to be getting as many people as possible on public assistance.
According to the National Fatherhood Initiative, about one in three American kids lives in a home without a dad on the premises. Are you—like me—stunned to hear that? Allowing for exceptions, as in all things, the typical portrait of these children is grim indeed. These kids are five times more likely to live in poverty than kids living with both parents. They have higher rates of delinquency, alcohol and drug abuse, smoking, and obesity. It gets worse. They have a 125 percent higher risk of suffering from abuse and are twice as likely to drop out of school. You can guess the next stat: Girls raised by a single mother are more likely as teenagers to become pregnant themselves.
Some of you may be inclined to turn away, as if none of this has anything to do with you and your family. In fact, far from affecting only the children directly involved, fatherless families affect all of us and our descendants. The so-called dad deficit added more than $300 billion to the national deficit in 2010 because of welfare payments to moms. Many of these men are responsible—at least, in the biological sense—for two or
single-parent families. Remember Russia in 1917? This is exactly the same problem that the communist regime deliberately created.
Again, a relevant comment from Robert Rector: “[L]iberal politicians . . . have a vested interest in the growth of the welfare state, and nothing grows the welfare state like the disappearance of marriage.” And what happens then? The bigger the welfare state grows, the more powerful it becomes. Beware a government bearing gifts, because every one of them comes with strings attached. Over time, those strings grow into heavy chains.
Basically, the decline of the family is a failure of personal responsibility. The personal rights of each one of us are sacred, a part of our connection to God, but they are linked to our personal responsibilities. If we fail to live up to those responsibilities, we will lose our rights. And the state, following its own agenda, will take over.The Worst of Both Worlds: Out-of-Wedlock Birth and Abortion
If we could hop into our “way-back machine” and travel to Washington in 1965, we might find a young Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then working at the Department of Labor in his presenatorial days, prepared to issue a report about the rate of out-of-wedlock births among African Americans. He is clearly dismayed to report that it’s almost 25 percent. Now let’s zip forward again to 2008 for the latest statistics then: almost 75 percent, or exactly the reverse of the 1965 ratio of illegitimate-to-legitimate births! I can hear Senator Moynihan now from beyond the grave, intoning, “I
you it was getting bad. . . .”
There’s more bad news from 2008. Among whites, out-of-wedlock births were almost 29 percent, higher than the rate among blacks back when Moynihan sounded his alarm. Moreover, at 41 percent, the overall out-of-wedlock birthrate for all Americans was the highest ever, compared with just 5 percent in 1960. So it’s safe to say that
group is moving dramatically in the wrong direction.
What to do? Well, when we compare out-of-wedlock births by state, those with higher incomes and education levels show lower rates. Some observers, as you might imagine, infer that this statistic suggests a socioeconomic problem that can be solved by helping more teens stay in school so that they can go on to college and higher-paying jobs. But wait: It’s not quite so elementary, my dear Watson.
Let’s look more closely at the situation. While red states do indeed have more out-of-wedlock babies, the blue states have—perhaps you’ve already guessed it—more abortions. In fact, pregnancy rates do not differ all that much; it’s abortion rates that do. As compiled by the Guttmacher Institute (using 2005 statistics, the most recent available), the abortion rate is 6 percent in Mississippi and Utah and 9 percent in Arkansas. But it’s 24 percent in Connecticut, 30 percent in New Jersey, and 33 percent in New York. Shockingly, the nation as a whole aborts about 1.2 million babies each year. So no matter what you may have read or heard elsewhere (perhaps from abortion activists), higher education and income levels are not stopping young women from getting pregnant: They’re just turning to a different “solution.” Of course, my view is that abortion, rather than actually providing a solution, is instead an even more awful problem.
So while we should be disturbed by the huge number of out-of-wedlock births, we should be even more disturbed that abortions are so common. As hard as it can be to grow up without a dad, there’s a far worse fate: not growing up at all because one’s life was snuffed out in the womb.Abstinence for Kids Is the True Freedom
It is clear to me that these two epidemics—out-of-wedlock births and on-demand abortions—are sapping America’s moral strength. We have two challenges. On the one hand, we need to reduce the number of pregnancies that so often lead to sad, unstable homes and eventual divorce (assuming that marriage ever had any role to play in the situation in the first place). On the other, the answer to the likelihood that children will grow up in a fatherless home is not to abort them. The strong families this country needs are always built on two shared societal beliefs: the value of marriage and the value of human life.
“Grief still treads upon the heels of pleasure,” wrote English playwright William Congreve in 1693. “Married in haste, we repent at leisure.” That’s certainly still true all these years later, as many young people pressured to marry in response to an unplanned pregnancy will attest. But even those who decide not to marry may eventually have reason to “repent,” because the other choices can be equally dismal. As a pastor, I often saw women who suffered wrenching guilt and/or depression after having an abortion or giving a baby up for adoption. I believe these women will feel their loss and anguish for the rest of their lives. As for single mothers, they typically have to interrupt their education, entrust their children to the care of strangers, and marginally support their households on a meager income. (It’s then, of course, that the kindly federal government steps in to “help.”)
Kids exposed to mass culture—TV, movies, music, the Internet—are incessantly told that everybody who’s “cool” has sex before marriage. What’s the prob? Sex is no more consequential than a handshake, dude, so “hook up” any time you want, and with anybody. After all, doing what you want, what you feel like in the moment—that’s what “freedom” is, right? Too bad our culture doesn’t bother to explain that it is abstinence that is the true freedom. Only abstinence ensures that our children don’t have to take on adult roles before they’re ready. It’s only abstinence, too, that protects their options to pursue their dreams, marry the one they love at the time that’s right, and feel joyful about the choices they’ve madeGay Parenthood: A Social Experiment
along the way.
I have often been criticized for my outspoken views on gay marriage and homosexuality, so let me be clear. I have no doubt at all that homosexual men and women love their children deeply. Just as deeply as heterosexuals love theirs.
But love alone cannot always provide what children need. If that sounds harsh, bear with me for a moment. My main concern here is that the children, most of whom are heterosexual, will not, and really cannot, get critical early-life lessons in how a heterosexual family functions successfully. In general, men and women bring different outlooks and temperaments to the task of parenting. Those male/female dynamics that make themselves evident in parenting—including even the conflicts and inconsistencies that are likely to arise—teach a child about how men and women relate to each other. In the home with two gay parents, where is that learning going to come from? It’s already challenging enough to grow up, even when the parents are more conventional role models.
Of course, I’m certainly not saying that all heterosexual parents provide, or are even able to provide, a good example to their children. I know that very well from years of conversations in my pastoral study, if not from just walking through a mall. Still, I believe that we’re in denial about potential problems as we see more and more homosexual couples raising families. Essentially, these are experiments to see how well children will fare in such same-sex households. It will be years before we know whether or not our little guinea pigs turn out to be good at marriage and parenthood.Government Breakfast: A Symptom, Not a Solution
Each year, our friends in Washington decide how much to increase the budget to subsidize school breakfasts. We may disagree among ourselves on the dollar amounts, but few ask why the government is at all responsible for this program. What does it say about our society that so many parents apparently can’t get it together enough to give their children a bowl of cereal and a glass of juice? It is that they just assume, after years of the practice, that it’s the government’s job to pay for school breakfasts? We need to look closely at this program.
After all, the government already has plenty of jobs to do—for example, fighting terrorists (sorry . . . I believe I should have written “man-made-disaster facilitators”). Feeding our kids some breakfast? Our job. Our pioneer forebears—who grew the wheat for their toast and the apples for their juice, who raised the cow for their milk—would be appalled at how pathetic many of us have become.
Let me make clear that I am in no way suggesting that we should stop school breakfasts. Having often seen firsthand the impact of poverty and hunger among American children, I know that if we did, many kids would not get breakfast at all. In a perfect world, the government wouldn’t have to feed children a breakfast because their parents would be doing the job. But as you may have noticed, we don’t live in a perfect world. My own church is actively involved in going beyond the government program, conducting what we call the “backpack” ministry: It ensures that kids leave school on Fridays with a backpack filled with food for the weekend. We use backpacks so that the child does not suffer the added embarrassment of being seen carrying charitable food donations home.
Result: The child has food for the weekend and returns the empty backpack to school on Monday. The government does not pay for any of this: The people of my church do. This is closer to the ideal, I think. What a family can’t do, friends and neighbors can. Government is not at all in the picture. What the friends and neighbors can’t do, the church does. If this model were followed all over the country, there would no longer be a need for the government to do the things it’s doing—many of which add to the problem instead of solving it. I have long said, and you may have heard me say so on the air, that if all Christians in America actually gave a dime out of each dollar to help “the poor, the widows, and the orphans,” we wouldn’t have fifty cents of every dollar confiscated by various levels of government, which will probably mess it up.