The following is a post from Christopher A. Brown, Executive Vice President of National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI). Interested in blogging for us? Read our guest blog guidelines.
Cohabitation has risen rapidly in the past 40-50 years. In 1965, only 11 percent of couples lived together without being married. By 2010, that proportion had vaulted to 60 percent. Cohabitation is now the pathway of choice to marriage with about 2/3 of women reporting that they lived with their partners first before marrying them. Moreover, more than half of cohabitating couples get married within three years. For those of you who hope for a return to the time when even a majority of couples married first and then moved in together, I’m sorry to say that ship has sailed and sunk.
There are a myriad reasons couples choose to live together before marrying, or simply instead of marrying at all. For those couples considering marriage, one of the primary reasons is that they want to “test the water.” A term that has come into vogue among scholars who study cohabitation is “sliding before deciding.” (I prefer “rent to own,” but more on that later.) If it doesn’t work out, these couples reason, no harm, no foul.
But what happens after these couples move in together? Are they more likely to like the water and jump in with both feet? A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveals that a good chunk of them are. According to the CDC, 40 percent of cohabiting couples between 2006 and 2010 decided to tie the knot with another 32 percent deciding to stay together ostensibly with the potential for marriage. (The rest of the couples split up.)
While sliding before deciding accurately describes the process that leads to a decision to marry among cohabiters, I prefer “rent to own” because it also considers the possible outcomes—marriage, staying together, or splitting up—and the impact of each one. When a couple decides to marry, it’s a decision to own—the couple “buys” marriage. When a couple decides to stay together, it’s a decision to extend the rental agreement. When a couple decides to split up, it’s a decision to either discard the rental or exchange it for another one.
Another reason I like this rather crass analogy is that it facilitates moving beyond the decision to compare the first two outcomes. What happens after someone decides to own (marry) or continue the rental agreement (cohabit)? This is where it gets interesting and illuminating.
The most common way in which scholars have looked at the impact of these outcomes is whether cohabitation is more likely to lead to divorce than when couples don’t live together before marriage. While the impact on divorce is a very important discussion, what’s gained less attention is the impact of rent-to-own decisions on the quality of relationships between cohabiting and married couples. Especially in today’s society where marriage seems to be more about the couple’s satisfaction than any other factor (e.g. raising healthy children), it’s critical to examine the impact of these outcomes on how couples see the quality of their relationships which, after all, has a lot to say about whether couples ultimately stay together.
Married couples consistently report that they are happier/more satisfied with their relationships than are cohabiting couples. Moreover, the proportion of cohabiting couples who are satisfied with their relationships has declined over time even as their numbers have increased. Not so for married couples whose satisfaction level has remained stable. This outcome doesn’t bode well for the couples who renew their rental agreements.
What leads to these different levels of satisfaction? Scholars didn’t really know until a recent study by some smart folks at Texas Tech University shed some light. These scholars focused on the impact that “disillusionment” has on relationships. Disillusionment theory (yes, it’s a theory) suggests that when people date, they engage in a dance to impress each other. (Think of the male peacock and his plume.) Once married, they aren’t as motivated to impress each other. The idealized images they held of each other while they dated start to fade as does attraction, romance, affection, etc. Disillusionment leads to divorce in some couples. Think of disillusionment as depreciation. Just as something you own depreciates in value over time, so too can your view of your partner and the relationship in general.
Until this study, scholars had only looked at the effects of disillusionment among married couples. The smart folks at Tech looked at it for the first time among cohabiting couples, compared their levels of disillusionment to those found in married couples, and examined its impact on perceived break-up (i.e. divorce among married couples and splitting up among cohabiting couples). They found that cohabiting couples were more disillusioned than married couples. Furthermore, disillusionment was a greater predictor of perceived break-up among cohabiting couples than it was among married couples.
While the perception of a break-up doesn’t necessarily mean that a couple will break up, disillusionment helps explain why married couples are, quite simply, more satisfied with their relationships than cohabiting couples. When a couple rents to own and renews their rental agreements, the partners’ view of each other and the relationship depreciates to a greater degree than does a married couple’s. It’s likely that once married, the commitment partners have to each other and their relationship has a protective effect on depreciation. Married partners have a higher ownership stake and place a higher value on each other and their relationship.
"It's difficult to be what you don't see." —Roland C. Warren, Board Member, National Fatherhood Initiative (on the importance of role models)
Roland Warren was on Oprah’s LifeClass last Sunday to discuss fatherless sons and single moms working to parent their sons. In the video, Roland asks a single mom in the audience, "what kind of father do you want for your son? What kind of father do you want your son to be?"
The show focused on mistakes single moms often make. Single mothers tend to focus on the finances. In the video, Roland explains that finances can't be the primary issue of focus. Watch the video and see Roland share vital advice with a single mom on how she should be raising her fatherless son. He makes it clear that finances aren't as important to your child as you being there physically for your child.
Roland draws a clear distinction in the video between the wallet and the heart. Which one are you chasing after?
This is a guest post by Lori E. Allan. Lori's poem, "Absence" won first place in the Dudley Randall poetry competition at the University of Detroit Mercy. The poem talks about the struggle and disappointment that comes with the absence of a father. Below is the story behind the poem, followed by the first-place poem. You can find Lori here and here. If you are interested in guest blogging for us, send an email.
Many people deal with the absence of their father differently. My parents got divorced when I was four and that was the last time my father was around and was in contact with my siblings and I. My mother was so strong so I never thought of the separation as a bad thing. We were okay. I held on to God and sought him out for guidance, provision, and truth. Surprisingly, it never really hit me until I got older. There are certain things in life that a father should be there for. I was accomplishing so much and doing so well in my endeavors. I was eager to know how much more knowledgeable I would be if my father was around. I made so many decisions based on what I thought a father figure would want me to do and it got me pretty far, but I was missing out on the tangibility of a father.
Most of the people I went to school with in Detroit didn’t have a father around either and it was obvious. People cling to different things to fill that void without knowing it and it’s scary. I definitely saw that things would be easier on my mother if she had someone to raise us with. A father to be there financially, emotionally, and just someone strong to go through life with would have been amazing for her and she deserved it. I do understand that things didn’t work out and he wasn’t the right guy, but I have a hard time understanding how someone wouldn’t want to be the right guy. I co-taught a first grade class and they brought me so much joy! I couldn’t fathom how someone would ever want to miss out on everything you can learn from a child.
The fact that I am becoming the woman God wants me to be and that I am coming out of this situation the way that I am amazes me. I knew that I was in a very vulnerable position as a woman growing up without a father. It made me very cautious when dating. I had a pretty good idea of how I should be treated, but I needed an example from a father. It is so important for a guy to see the relationship you have with your father. I used my relationship with my Heavenly Father to fill that and I wasn’t always a good steward in my relationship with God. God has heard, “you aren’t enough” from me plenty of times. But in the end, He really was and has been. He’s been there through everything: scraped knees, graduations, sick days, performances, and heartbreaks. He’ll be there when I get married and when I have a child one day.
I have no hard feeling towards my dad. I realized that you can’t make someone be a father and everyone isn’t cut out to be one. Who knows, maybe things are better this way. I just really hope that wherever he is, he’s a man and he’s growing. Not for me, but for himself. Though God has done far more than I could ever ask think or imagine, it would have never hurt to have two fathers. My relationship with God is a special one and I couldn’t have asked for a better father.
My poem, "Absence" won first place in the Dudley Randall poetry competition at the University of Detroit Mercy. The poem talks about the struggle and disappointment that comes with the absence of a father. It isn’t about anger; it is about unanswered questions and voids that will linger on. A father will always be thought about and he will always be needed. His absence is more present than anything else in the whole world.
by Lori E. Allan
Empty in the photos
is the shape of a man
who has left a void
The strength of his arms
lifted the glass
apart from the frame
as he climbed out of the situation.
Behind the bars,
I am confined within
the seventy-two percent
of African-American children raised
in single-parent homes.
Struggle is the only thing
that shows up
in the house we live in,
the food we eat,
the look in my mother’s eyes.
Despite the chasm,
I can still hear the way he says my name.
He had a photographer’s urge
to stop and capture a moment
and never developed the photo.
The void is tangible;
I hold it in my hands
and wonder if there is
a significant difference
between who I am
and who I could have been
because of what he could have been—
I house his vacancy in a cautious frame,
passing it by when I have what I need
and climbing inside when I see that I don’t.
It is a black and white photo
that I see in color.
In his absence,
I see it all.
The following is a post from Christopher A. Brown, Executive Vice President of National Fatherhood Initiative. This post is his response to feedback from his original post The Moral Rationalization of Non-Married Fatherhood.
My most recent blog post titled “The Moral Rationalization of Non-Married Fatherhood” generated a lot of feedback, some positive and some negative. I argued that as a society we have rationalized non-married fatherhood to the point that it is no longer a moral transgression. It has become excusable and, thus, we no longer need to worry about children growing up without their fathers despite reams of data that show when children grow up in single-parent homes—the vast majority of which don’t include fathers—it is detrimental to children and our society.
Several of the responses we received indicated that some non-married fathers—primarily divorced fathers—took the post personally because they thought National Fatherhood Initiative doesn’t appreciate the yeoman’s work they do to be involved in the lives of their children. Nothing could be farther from the truth. NFI recognizes the contributions of and efforts that all fathers make to be involved in whatever circumstances they father.
Consequently, we offer support, guidance, and resources to fathers and the organizations that serve them without discriminating based on marital status. As I remarked in the post, my argument isn’t that a specific non-married dad can’t be a good father to his children. But when viewed through the lens of our culture and population at large, the conclusion that we have rationalized away the morality of non-married fatherhood is undeniable. It has moved us away from our society's need to address father absence in a preventive manner.
To better understand NFI’s position, it’s critical to separate personal experience and the emotion attached to it from the cultural experience and evidence attached to it. Non-married fatherhood results from one of two situations—an out-of-wedlock birth (e.g. a never-married father) or a divorce. From a personal perspective, I’ll wager that if you’re a never-married father you didn’t intend to become one. Likewise if you’re a divorced father you probably didn’t marry with the intent to divorce your wife and face the challenges that brings to raising children. But if you’re an involved, never-married or divorced dad, I’ll also wager that, against all odds, you have moved heaven and earth to remain involved in your children’s lives. Remaining involved requires a lot of hard work and emotion especially when considering the evidence that non-married fathers, on average, are less likely to be involved in their children’s lives as their children age. Therefore, the negative responses we received are understandable because they come from fathers who are not the norm. These fathers are involved in their children’s lives despite the challenges they face. All of us at NFI applaud their (your) efforts.
From a cultural perspective, however, it is undeniable that our society has become more accepting of non-married fatherhood. As an applied anthropologist, I have studied cultures across the globe and, in particular (surprise, surprise), the institutions of fatherhood and marriage and their symbiotic relationship. As noted in my post, marriage arose as an institution (across the globe) for raising children and serves as the primary mechanism societies use to connect fathers to their children. The evidence that fathers are the parent disproportionately separated from their children when they are not married (and not just in the U.S.) underscores the importance of marriage as the institution that undergirds father involvement. And, yet, I can’t tell you the number of people I’ve encountered in my personal and professional life who are perfectly fine with non-married fatherhood (and motherhood) becoming an acceptable circumstance in which to parent (i.e. a norm). They don’t even give it a second thought. The evidence, however, for the symbiotic relationship between these two institutions is overwhelming. Being married to the mother of your children is the single greatest predictor of father involvement. Quite simply it is much harder to be involved in your children’s lives when you don’t live with them. From a preventive standpoint, one of the best strategies we can implement at the cultural level to ensure that children grow up with an involved father is to see that more fathers are married before they have children.
If you’re a non-married father and you’re still struggling to come to grips with NFI’s position on the relationship between marriage and involved fatherhood, I ask you to consider the following question. If your son or daughter comes to you one day and asks whether it is better to be married to the mother or father of their children, what will you say?
This is a guest post by Dave Taylor. If you would like to guest post on this blog, email us here.
The “fantasy divorce” is that you and your partner come to a point in your lives when you realize you're just not happy, things just aren't going very well, and it would be in the best interest of your spouse and child(ren) to get a divorce and split into two separate households. In this “fantasy divorce” you'll still remain friends because you have this big life-long job of parenting that's not going to stop just because one of you leaves the house. As the years go by, you find there are things about the other person you remember you like and admire, and even when there are new partners added, you're all one big happy extended family and the kids grow up surrounded by peace, love and harmony…
…on the other hand, my experience has definitely not fit that “fantasy divorce” image…
By the time my wife and I decided to divorce, we'd been separated for almost a year. We then went through an incredibly difficult and contentious divorce where she had my business audited, we accused each other of being poor parents and various other things that demonstrate just how much we were both hurting -- things that were quite the opposite of the halcyon image suggested above. Mediators threw up their hands and quit on us, lawyers resigned after documents were signed, but we struggled through, trying to convince ourselves that it wasn't going too badly and since we both had the best interests of the children in mind, after all, somehow it would all end well.
Zoom forward three more years and I'm the statistically unlikely divorced dad who is highly involved with my children and we've settled on a schedule where our three kids are with me more than they are with their mom. There's still a lot of water flowing under the bridge, and there are still things we dislike about each other both as people and as parents, but we're trying to make it work.
So how the heck do we co-parent, and how do we keep the lines of communication open so we can have important discussions about our teen daughter, or our tween son's desire to be treated as if he's a high school senior, or our youngest (almost 9) and her fears around bedtime, not to mention the million day-to-day issues that crop up?
For us, it's worked out that we rarely if ever talk face-to-face, even at pick up/drop off, but instead use text messaging for immediate logistics -- "be there in five!" "do you know where their bike helmets are?" -- and email for more involved discussions, trying our very best to not judge each other, not criticize each other, and just stay focused on the topic at hand.
The myth of "walking away" from a relationship and moving to the next one, the lovely image of "turning a page" to a "new chapter" in your life, is great intention, but the reality is there are a lot of shared experiences with your former spouse, experiences that are expanded each and every time you have to communicate about your children and your co-parenting strategy, something that for us happens about every 2-3 days, and even more frequently during the school year.
With that much communication, I have no expectation that it'll be perfect and I'm not surprised when snark or petty criticism creeps in the messages I get from my ex. I expect I do the same. We're getting better, almost five years after we went our separate ways, but it's a long journey and I think it's important to recognize that our all-too-human foibles and weaknesses are just part of being an adult, a parent, and that if we have best intention and can endeavor to forgive the other person for being who they are - for better or worse - then we can proceed with the incredibly important job of co-parenting our beautiful children and making new lives for ourselves, without the ex being an invisible ball and chain around our ankles.
I don't have a perfect solution for communicating with your ex about your children; or how to create a healthy and mature arms-length partnership with them. There are reasons you got divorced, after all, and there's nothing more difficult than parenting, except perhaps parenting when the kids bounce between two households that are inevitably going to be different in rules, schedules and expectations.
Perhaps the real secret? Keep your attention on your children and keep a sense of humor about everything. Those wee ones are surprisingly resilient and odds are very good they'll grow up to be lovely adults so long as they grow up with an involved father.
What’s the best advice you ever received about communicating with your spouse/former spouse about parenting?
Visit Gold Medal Dads…Communicate with Mom for tips on how you can connect with your wife and/or the mother of your children. Remember to share and connect with other dads this week of The Dad Games on the blog, Facebook and Twitter (#DadGames12).
This is a guest post by Dave Taylor. Dave writes about life as a single father when he's not mired in the chaotic lives of his three children. Read Dave’s blog and follow him on Twitter. If you would like to guest post on this blog, email us here.
photo credit: Manu gomi
There are still many unanswered questions about the tragic death of former NFL player Junior Seau. From our perspective here at NFI, many of the most important questions surround his family life.
While many people in the sports world gush about how great a player he was and all the good he did for "the community," things are much less clear when it comes to what he did, or didn't do, for his own family.
We do know that the day before he apparently took his own life, he sent text messages to his ex-wife and three children telling them he loved them. The fact that he texted his kids, and did not see them face-to-face before his death, raises questions. How often was he seeing his children? What was the extent of the estrangement since his divorce in 2002? Indeed, it was his girlfriend, not his ex-wife or children, who found him dead.
I also find it interesting that Seau never officially retired from football. Was his life so locked up, his identity so inseparable, from his role as an NFL player that he just could never bring himself to let go? Because of his divorce, was he not able to pour his life into his family, especially his children, in a way that would have saved him from what looks like an identity crisis? While he was too old to continue playing on the football field, couldn't he have continued playing with his children?
I don't pretend to know the answers to these questions. But having been around this fatherhood thing for as long as I've been, there are certain patterns that you start to notice. I think of the murder of former NFL quarterback Steve McNair in 2009, which we blogged about here.
I think of all the research I've read on what happens to men's health, and father-child relationships in particular, after divorce. In short, they disintegrate over time. Many men tend to view "the wife and kids" as a single "package," and when their marriages end, their relationships with their children often become strained. And often, the legal system and our culture make it more difficult for them to stay connected to their children over time. Also, men are more likely than women to remarry after divorce, and when they start new families, the old ones often get left behind.
More answers are certainly going to come in the next few weeks as to what happened with Junior Seau. We can only hope and pray that his children will be ok. We will continue to follow the story as it unfolds.
With the addition of LeBron James and Chris Bosh, Dwayne Wade and the Miami Heat are favored by many to win the NBA Championship this year. Wade is ranked as one of the top 5 basketball players, was contracted with the Heat for $14 million, and has over 750,000 Twitter followers. He certainly has a lot of pressure and high expectations riding on him. However, off the court Wade has much more on his shoulders -- the future of two little boys.
Wade has two sons and is in the middle of an extremely public and messy divorce. More important than any championship or million dollar salary, Wade has a responsibility to teach his boys about being good dads, good men, and about treating the most important woman in their lives with respect.
When asked about divorce, 76% of children think it should be harder to obtain. It comes as no surprise when you look at the impact of divorce on children. Financial status aside, children who are the product of divorce are three times more likely to divorce themselves in their adult lives. Additionally, children of divorce suffer from increased emotional and behavioral problems.
Dwayne Wades $14 million salary will not be a solution for the future of his sons. More importantly, he has to model what an involved, responsible, and committed father looks like, and he has to treat his sons mother with respect, regardless of what they may think of each other. How both mothers and fathers model their parenting and relationships before, during, and after divorce is what their children will learn and pass on themselves.
Parents owe it to their children to treat each other with respect and to cooperate in the best interests of their children. With that task ahead of him, Dwayne Wade has something more important than an NBA championship to focus on.
Today, NFI is launching The Thankful Campaign to celebrate fathers and families. We're asking daddy bloggers, prominent fathers, and everyday dads to share what they're thankful for and how they're raising grateful kids. We're kicking off our campaign with a guest post from Dave Taylor. Dave is a single dad to three kids, based in Boulder, Colorado. Dave blogs about parenting and fatherhood at The Attachment Parenting Blog, and you can find him just about everywhere online. Start here to make your journey easier, though: DaveTaylorOnline.com.This is going to sound weird in this season of Thanksgiving, but I want to share how I am thankful for pretty much everything that's happened in my life, good and bad. I'm a single dad in a world where moms are lionized and us guys are deadbeats or just plain idiots, according to contemporary culture, so I see a lot of the good and bad around us. Am I thankful for that? Well, that's another story, but I will say that it's helpful in that I get a lot of positive feedback about what a great, attentive Dad I am because it's portrayed as atypical.
Look, guys, it's easy to be thankful for good things, but what about the bad? What about those experiences that, yeah, truthfully, it'd be better if you hadn't gone through them? I'm thankful for those, too.
The reason I'm thankful for everything is because I like where I am now in my life. I have a successful business, three great kids who are growing up just fine and who love me -- and whom I love immensely -- and I have the freedom to create a life for us in a way that I wasn't able to do when I was married or prior to my marriage (when I didn't have kids, for one thing).
I don't know if this is some sort of Zen thing or what, but we are all the product of our journeys and none of us would be exactly who we are today if we hadn't experienced everything in our lives, both good and bad. Life is about trade offs, after all. I had a difficult marriage that was more characterized by disagreement and unsatisfying interaction than warm fuzzies, but I got three amazing children out of the experience, in a way that was completely transformative for me as a man, so I will forever be thankful for my ex and our continued mostly smooth co-parenting efforts to raise three fun, happy, productive members of society.
Not too many people know this, but as a kid I was pretty darn shy and didn't go to my senior prom because I was too gawky and clueless to ask a girl to the dance. Am I thankful for that? Yes, because it gave me the motivation to become an outgoing extrovert when I got to college, and that was a great experience that really set me on the path I'm on now, with tons of friends, a vast social circle, and party invites every weekend.
Here's another thing I'm thankful for too: computers and social networks. Yes, if it wasn't for Twitter and Facebook, the last few years would have been far more difficult, as I found myself sitting around in a barely-furnished townhouse wondering where my domestic life and my kids had gone. Being able to connect with others and make online friends to shoot the breeze with made it much more tolerable and gave me plenty to laugh at and appreciate -- glimmers of light in a long, dark tunnel that I'm also thankful to have finally escaped.
My point with this article is to be thoughtful on this season of thanksgiving about how it's more than our friends and family that we can be thankful for. I am, of course, thankful for my friends and family, but I think that my life is a journey, along which it's my challenge to make the best of it, to find happiness, love, humor, fun, etc., and that it's the sum total of all my experiences along this road that make me who I am. And for that, I'm thankful.
To join the campaign, visit www.fatherhood.org/thethankfulcampaign or tweet with the hashtag #thanksdad.
The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect those of National Fatherhood Initiative.
Few are surprised that Sandra Bullock filed for divorce last Friday from Jesse James, who admitted to having an affair while Bullock was filming The Blind Side. It's ironic and sad that Bullock's husband abandoned his marriage vows while she won an Academy Award for a movie about a strong, intact family. As we’ve said numerous times on The Father Factor related to Tiger Woods
, Jon Gosselin
, and Steve McNair
, when celebrities violate their marriage vows, it’s not only publicly humiliating, but it leaves a hurtful legacy for their children.
What makes the Bullock-James divorce unique from other celebrity splits is that they were in the process of adopting a 3 ½-month-old boy from New Orleans named Louis, whom Bullock will now raise as a single mom. James has said that losing Louis has "left a huge hole in [his] heart."
Interesting choice of words… NFI President Roland C. Warren often says that children have a hole in their soul in their shape of their dad, and when their dad is not able or willing to fill that hole it leaves wounds that aren’t easily healed.
Little Louis will now join the ranks of the 24 million children growing up without their fathers, and, given the actions of the man who almost was his adoptive father, the hole in his heart could bring some unique pain.
New York Times columnist David Brooks addresses Bullock’s simultaneous cinematic success and relational troubles, and more specifically what family breakdown says about our culture’s priorities, in an article titled "The Sandra Bullock Trade."
Brooks connects the dots between marital happiness and overall well-being – a connection that he says our culture doesn’t make very well in how we educate our youth, where we focus more on preparing for careers than preparing to make social decisions.
NFI agrees with Brooks that we need to invest more time in preparing youth to make good decisions – and we think marriage is one of the most important ones. Thus we created Why Knot?™
, a marriage-readiness program designed to prepare young men to make the decision to get married and subsequently to be good husbands to their wives (and by extension, good fathers to their kids). For pre-teen boys, we created Boyz2Dads™
, an interactive CD-ROM that helps boys prepare to make good choices related to relationships and peer pressure.
Jesse James’s behavior has not provided a good example of a husband and father to his children, but he seems to be on the right road toward fixing that by admitting his faults and seeking help. Meanwhile, NFI is working to promote a culture that prepares youth for the important responsibilities of being a husband and father – a mission we take seriously when so many children like Louis lack that role model. We don’t want to see other families, as Brooks puts it, “getting sacked from the spiritual blind side.”
I just read this on "Motherlode," the parenting blog of The New York Times: "A recent poll
in Great Britain found that one in 10 adults speak by phone with his or her mother just once every four weeks... Why are grown children so absent?"
If grown children speak so infrequently to their moms, think about how little they speak to their dads! After all, we know that in both Great Britain and the United States, it is more often fathers who are absent from their children's lives than mothers.
So, at least with fathers, my guess is that absent fathers breed "absent" children. Makes sense. But what is the explanation for children being "absent" from their moms' lives?
Interestingly, we know from research that father absence can also play a role. Bear with me...
Studies have found that children whose parents are married, have, on average, better relationships with both
their mothers and their fathers. Further, children of divorce, when they become adults, are less close to both their parents than children whose parents remained married. How about elder care? Yep - children whose parents divorced are less likely to offer their elderly parents co-residence.
So, it seems that at least part of the issue with children absent from their moms' lives is that their fathers were absent from theirs (in the case of my illustration, as a result of divorce, which impacts about 1 million children per year).
This may sound like a stretch. What do you think?