Recently I was in a physician’s waiting room with several other patients including a very loud and needy young boy. With nervous smiles around everyone settled in to make the best of flying crayons and toys and magazines strewn throughout.
As a woman entered the waiting area from an examination room, the receptionist announced to the young boy, “Here’s your mother now.” To which the boy replied, “She is not my mother; I don’t know what she is.”
Certainly there are many possible reasons for the way this young boy was acting and why he said what he said. Was the woman that appeared a step-mom, his dad’s fiancé, or just another in a string of his father’s girlfriends? Most parents have experienced the embarrassment of an ill-timed public tantrum, or a painfully revealing public declaration from a young child. At the same time children are sometimes capable of glaringly accurate pronouncements unfettered by political correctness or cultural custom.
Knowing our place within the context of the people around us is a basic human need. Traditional familial attachments, however imperfect, form an important environmental foundation that allows us to know that we belong to something that will endure beyond immediate challenges and difficulties.
Advocates of alternative “family” configurations designed to accommodate sexual preferences and lifestyle practices of consenting adults want us to believe that children are pliable and resilient. Yes, to a degree. However, studies universally show that the ideal environment for a child is within a nuclear family with a married biological mother and father within the same home. Anything less is just that, less.
Without the ideal environment of a married intact family the young boy in the waiting room will likely face some combination of the following statistical outcomes:
- 60 percent higher probability of living in poverty[i]
- More than three times the risk of being incarceration[ii]
- Significantly higher rate of behavioral problems[iii]
- More than twice as likely to drop out of high school[iv]
- More than double the risk of psychiatric disease[v]
- A 120 percent greater risk of being endangered by some type of child abuse or neglect.[vi]
Statistical probabilities can seem empty, detached from and more than a little irrelevant to the real world in which we live. But for children left to sort out “the who and the what” regarding the adults who might cycle into and out of their lives, statistics become reality.
Perhaps we should throw something a little more substantial than a crayon in the direction of fathers and mothers before we, as a society, stop deconstructing and redefining the family to meet the selfish wants and desires of adults, whomever they might be.
[ii] Cynthia C. Harper and Sara S. McLanahan, “Father Absence and Youth Incarceration,” (2004) Journal of Research on Adolescence, 14(3): 369-397.
[iii] Marcia Carlson, “Family Structure, Father Involvement and Adolescent Outcomes,” (2006) Journal of Marriage and Family 68: 137-154.
[iv] Sara McLanahan and Gary Sandefur, Growing up with a Single Parent: What Hurts, What Helps (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1994): 2, 37, 41, 46, 47, 50, 52, 53, 60.
[v] Gunilla Ringback Weitoft, Anders Hjern, Bengt Haglund and.Mans Rosen, “Mortality, Severe Morbidity, and Injury in Children Living with Single Parents in Sweden: A Population-Based Study,” The Lancet 361 (January 2003): 289-295.
[vi] Andrea Sedlak and Diane Broadhurst, The National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. (1996): xviii, 5-19.