We’ve all heard the taunting tune. Many of us sang it in kindergarten, ribbing older siblings and starry-eyed lovers with its lyrics:
“—– and —– sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G! First comes love…then comes marriage…then comes the baby in the baby carriage.”
Looking back, it’s amazing how much our simple nursery rhymes taught us about life, including the natural progression of relationships. Intuitively, we knew these axioms to be true and passed them down throughout the generations. But these days, as conventional wisdom is increasingly convoluted, it isn’t surprising that many have rejected the order of romance first, marriage second, and finally childbearing, instead creating their own rules of the game. Indeed, gone are the days of Brady Brunch families and June Cleaver-style households; they have morphed into ABC’s “Modern Family” — a show promoted as “redefining what family means,” and portrayed as “one big straight-gay, multicultural, traditional, happy family.” Hence, every day it seems, a new tide of case studies surfaces on the shores of our Hollywood-esque world of hook-ups, shack-ups, babydaddys, and babymommas, attempting to prove how “liberated” we are, unbound by the shackles of tradition.
Riding on this bandwagon is Russian tennis star and Biggest Loser trainer, Anna Kournikova, who claimed in the latest issue of Women’s Health magazine, “[Marriage] isn’t important to me. I’m in a happy relationship — that’s all that matters.”
While this creed sounds good to some, realistically, it isn’t true. On the contrary, marriage does matter! Social science research and demographic data make the case that marriage matters and has far more impact on adults than most people acknowledge. Researchers indicate that married people have better health, longer and more productive lives, greater general happiness, and better mental health than non-married individuals. Further, they agree that marriage performs a critical function for society.
Cultures globally consider marriage the link that unites parents with their children and families to their communities. In fact, as author Caitlin Flanagan proclaims, “There is no other single force causing as much measurable hardship and human misery in this country as the collapse of marriage.” Marriage provides the context within which the next generation establishes lifelong habits and develops character, preparing young people to become well-adjusted, productive adults and involved, law-abiding citizens.
Still, the overwhelming message for youth today is that marriage can wait or be disregarded entirely, as the Anna Kournikovas of society suggest. It’s time for the reams of research and the common experiences of teachers, social workers, and law enforcement officers, who daily observe the outcomes of family breakdown, to penetrate the media fog to change the attitudes of the public and convince young people that marriage matters — for each of them and for all of us.