Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Bernardi, Families, Sense and Nonsense

Jan 6, 2014

South Australian Senator Cory Bernardi is a conservative who is not afraid to share his convictions in the public arena. For daring to do so, he of course becomes the object of huge doses of hate, derision and intolerance – mainly by those who shout ‘tolerance’ the loudest of course.

He has just released a new book and predictably all hell is breaking loose. In the book The Conservative Revolution he courageously seeks to speak the truth. For example, he dares to speak against the slaughter of the unborn. He dares to be concerned about creeping sharia. He dares to want to see children protected by living with their own mother and father.

Every lefty secularist in the country by now has already called for his head on a platter. If crucifixion were still in, they would be calling for that as well. And as usual, some spineless wonders in his own party have been distancing themselves from him. But we expect all that.

Now I don’t happen to have a copy of his book as yet (hint, publisher!). But I know Cory and I know what he stands for so I can imagine pretty well the sort of stuff he says in his book. Let me look at just one area he has focused on: the importance of intact, two-parent families. He said in part:

“Given the increasing number of ‘non-traditional’ families, there is a temptation to equate all family structures as being equal or relative. Why then the levels of criminality among boys and promiscuity among girls who are brought up in single-parent families, more often than not headed by a single mother?

“What is missing in the push for human cloning, in vitro fertilisation and surrogacy, for example, is the understanding that children come into families as gifts, not commodities. It is perfectly reasonable and rational therefore for the state, if it is to have a role in social policy and the affairs of marriage, to reinforce and entrench those aspects of traditional marriage that work, not undermine them and promote ‘alternatives’ which have led to social chaos.”

As I say, when I get the book I will be able to better speak to all this, but there is nothing he is saying here that is not solidly buttressed by over fifty years of social science research. The evidence is perfectly clear: children do best when raised by their own biological parents, preferably cemented by marriage.

The data on this is simply overwhelming. Yet we already have all the usual suspects coming out and blasting him for this. For example, Labor’s Anthony Albanese said, “He says he’s pro-family, but he’s against any family that doesn’t resemble his depiction of what a family is.”

Um no, he is not against all sorts of families. Rather, he is for the one proven family structure that we know without a shadow of a doubt is the best thing we can ever offer to our children. Family structure really does matter, and children will do best when raised by their own biological parents. This is simple social science fact.

And yet we already have some unhelpful Christian feminists bashing Cory Bernardi for his quite correct comments on two-parent families. They quite wrongly claim he is attacking single mothers and is being antagonistic to single-parent families.

These foolish critics are absolutely missing the point here of course. It is not picking on single mums to state the very clear empirical facts that children raised in single parent homes do perform, generally speaking, worse by every social indicator.

Whether we talk about educational performance, likelihood of suicide, the risk of getting involved in drug use, criminal involvement, and so on, children in any other family structure, including single-parent families, are at much greater risk in these and other areas. The research here is just unmistakeable.

Indeed, that simply happens to be the clear findings of the international social science data from some five decades now. To point out these basic truths is of course not about attacking single mums. The truth is, as Cory and other social conservatives certainly recognise, single mums – or dads – of course need all the help they can get.

They are obviously dealing with a double load of responsibilities while having only half the resources. So all the pro-family organisations around have plenty of help and resources available for single parents and single families. James Dobson’s Focus on the Family is one such example.

So no one is bagging single parents here. They need our help. But the point that Cory, I and others are making is rather different. It has to do with public policy and the like. What are the ideal policies when it comes to families that governments should seek to implement here?

It is one thing to find yourself a single parent through no fault of your own (because of the desertion of a spouse, the death of a spouse, etc). It is quite another thing to deliberately become a single mum, and deprive kids of one of the two most important people in their lives.

If it is true that children thrive, generally speaking, in a married household with their own mother and father, then anyone who really loves children will seek to see that outcome replicated as much as possible. We should make it part of our social policy to encourage things so that as many children as possible are raised in this ideal environment – the “gold standard” as Bernardi calls the married, two-parent home.

So Christians especially should not foolishly shoot the messenger here. What Bernardi is saying is 100 per cent correct. Any household – whether homosexual, or one with live-in boyfriends, etc. – should be at the very least frowned upon and not encouraged, given the very real impact such structures have on the wellbeing of children.

Pointing these truths out is not being intolerant, hateful, or narrow-minded. It is called following the evidence where it leads, and putting the wellbeing and priority of children ahead of trendy social experiments and radical alternative lifestyles.

To repeat, the simple and vital point Cory Bernardi is trying to make here is that children have a fundamental right to be raised by two, married, biological parents as much as possible. This is being denied them in so many cases nowadays: homosexual households, deliberate single-parent households, blended families, live-ins, etc.

The truth is, from a public policy point of view, we should seek to so arrange things so as to have as many children as possible raised in intact two-parent homes, and discourage these alternative lifestyle homes which so often can disadvantage if not damage children in so many ways.

Cory is quite right to put the interests of children ahead of various activist minority groups and social engineering schemes. Let me conclude with three summaries of the evidence just mentioned. The first comes from Sara McLanahan (herself a single mother) and Gary Sandefur:

“We reject the claim that children raised by only one parent do just as well as children raised by both parents. We have been studying this question for ten years, and in our opinion the evidence is quite clear: Children who grow up in a household with only one biological parent are worse off, on average, than children who grow up in a household with both of their biological parents, regardless of the parents’ race or educational background, regardless of whether the parents are married when the child is born, and regardless of whether the resident parent remarries.”

The second is from William Galston of the University of Maryland: “A substantial body of research suggests that family structure is an independent factor influencing the well-being of children. Even after correcting for variables such as family income, parental education, and prior family history, children from single-parent families tend on average to fare less well economically, educationally, and emotionally, and encounter more difficulties on the road to becoming self-sustaining adults.”

The third one comes from family expert Dr Paul Amato: “Research clearly demonstrates that children growing up with two continuously married parents are less likely than other children to experience a wide range of cognitive, emotional, and social problems, not only during childhood, but also in adulthood.”

So stop shooting the messenger already.

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