To Frock or Not to Frock (Marriage vs Cohabiting)

What does this topic have to do with politics? There is an amazing discussion going on over with Ian and co , put that together with our recent discussions here and in the media about the effect that non-traditional households are having on the state of our youth which got me thinking. The fabric of society is wearing thin in so many areas and one of the most threadbare is the state of our young people. As someone on the ground in this area Morag will say (without being patronizing) that there are thousands of wonderful parents and even more wonderful young people out there. But we don’t get the stats on them. The numbers we hear are of those in trouble. It is now being said that children growing up outside of marriage are having more trouble than most. So however much we don’t like it there are some home-truths we might need to face up to.

I came out recently in support/defence of the idea of marriage as something that is preferable for our children. Be assured that of course I don’t mean ‘any old marriage’. And of course a union that is really ‘bad’ is not good for children. However that is another discussion entirely.

Here are a few things we may want to think about.
• Unions where people are cohabiting are more likely to break up than marriages.
• Most such unions last less than 2 years before breaking up (or sometimes changing to marriage)
• Co-habitations with children are more likely to end
• 50% of women who have children in a cohabitating relationship will end up as lone-unmarried mothers
• Looking at children born in 1997 show that 70% of those born into households where their parents are married will spend their entire childhood with both their parents, whereas only 36 % of those children born into cohabiting households will have that experience. (*Civitas.org.uk goes into all this in more detail)

What does any of this mean? Or what difference does it make in the end? More than anything children crave stability. The shenanigans involved in ending a relationship will cause major disruptions. Children, craving stability, sometimes become lost in the ensuing confusion. Also there are often very radical financial consequences which cause additional changes and far-reaching repercussions for a very young child to deal with.

So the purpose of Morag’s musings weren’t/aren’t to tell people what to do re their personal choices. It was to open the discussion about the fact that as much as we now tend to do whatever we want – and then make up reasons why it’s perfectly fine to do it –and often the most vulnerable amongst us suffer for it.

For Morag the mission is to get more people to consider marriage as the preferred choice. And having made that choice to try to get people to make a bigger effort to keep to the commitment and not go running off the first time someone other than your intended winks at you and tells you you’re wonderful.

You have committed to each other, you’ve committed to these children who didn’t ask to be born. If your marriage gets broken at least try to fix it. If you can’t fix it then at least make sure your children don’t get broken as well in the process.

Someone said the other day that I was being smug and to set the record straight that it is probably more of a twisted rather than smug grin. I am not some alice-band wearing, 4 x 4 driving yummy mummy. I am an up at 6.30, getting people whose Latin is better than mine to help with the homework type of yummy mummy. I am a lone parent (from a marriage that ended when my son was 10), and part of my work involves working with families in crisis.

I have walked this path and continue to do so. Morag is just a parent trying to close the distance between what we read in the papers and what we live in our own lives. Trying to turn see what we can do to connect the dots between the stats and our lives. As they say ‘Politics by the people, for the people, of the people’.

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12 Comments

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12 responses to “To Frock or Not to Frock (Marriage vs Cohabiting)

  1. Ian

    Morag, thank you for expanding on your previous post in this way. There is a lot here I would like to engage with, in what I hope will be a constructive manner, but I’ll be away between tomorrow morning and Wednesday – an eternity in blogging terms – and I doubt I’ll have chance to respond in the way I would like before then. Please do not take that silence for a lack of interest.

  2. Hello, Morag. This Blogpower lark is turning up all manner of interesting blogs!

    I’d make two points, I think. First, we forget all too easily that discussions about the desirability or otherwise of marriage can only deal with probabilities; it may well be the case — I think it almost certainly is — that a stable marriage is by far the best environment in which to bring up children. However, that doesn’t alter the fact that it may almost certainly be a catastrophic idea for a particular couple to get married and that, on any rational assessment, she’s better off well rid of him.

    That rather leads to my second thought, which is that couples who are well-suited and who want a caring, committed relationship and are prepared to work at it are more likely to get married than those who aren’t so well-suited or committed? That is, that it’s not so much that marriage is a better environment for children as that couples who want to get married are rather likely to provide a better environment than are those who don’t see the point?

    Back in the old Soviet Union, or so I was told by Russians, state policy — whether by accident or design — provided young people in particular with strong incentives to get married (for one thing, it was about the only way not to have to live with your parents) and provided strong disincentives for women to have children before marriage. Result: lots of marriages, but also lots of divorces and lots of abortions.

  3. I’m delighted to see a post like this – it’s a long time since anyone posted something rational on the topic. I’m going to post about this now. Incidentally, I did one on breastfeeding which might interest you.

  4. Dear Ian – I know what you mean. I am just learning to tell time by blog-clock. Who knew there was so much interesting stuff going on at 3.45am?

  5. Dear James – Thanks for directing me to your breastfeeding and apologies for the 14 page response :)

  6. Dear Notsaussure – Very intersting thoughts there. There is actually a caveat that belongs aside my exhortions towards marriage. It isn’t only about getting married, it’s also about working at it. There are still people getting married but very few working at it, hence our astronomical divorce rate. But I think I’ll save the ‘reasons to stay married’ post for another time :)

  7. I wholeheartedly support marriage, especially when there are children, but I do worry if a child is damaged by witnessing two warring parents who refuse to behave considerately towards each other.

    I believe single parents now outnumber married families, what will this figure be in another 20 or 30 years?

  8. Dear Ellee – There are actually three points that need to be addressed simultaneously (not in order of importance). One is reintroducing marriage as the most viable option. Two is getting people to think properly before they get married in the first place then once the committment has been made working at it. People now treat marriage like a plant they’ve bought at the B&Q. They bring it home and stick it on the back porch expecting it grow. They don’t put it in the soil, they don’t water it, they just leave it in the plastic bag and somehow expect that miraculously a tree is going to appear. Hey, they bought the plant isn’t that enough? And thirdly and most importantly is the welfare of the children. Of course warring parents damage children but as someone on the frontline I can tell you that the damage that parents create during a divorce tends to be much more damaging and lost lasting. We need to show people that it is possible to be civilised during a divorce. Yes it is more difficult. Yes it is bloody hard – but it’s got to be done. Society needs to remember/understand that having a child is not like crocheting – you take it up you don’t like it you put it to one side. It is a lifelong committment not to be entered into lightly.

  9. Ian

    And now, when I come back to it, I find that Not Saussure has made many of the points I wanted to, and much more elegantly than I could have managed.

    In particular, I would agree that it is the people that make the institution, and not the other way around. But this implies to me that if two individuals are able to make a long-term commitment work, and thereby create a stable, loving environment for their children, isn’t that independent of whether or not they are married? And that’s the question I came in with.

    Some of the statistics you cite are phrased interestingly. If 50% of cohabiting mothers are fated to become single mothers, that suggests that 50% are not. Conversely, if this BBC report means what I thinks it does, then 70% of marriages between people who had never been previously married will fail.

    The questions you raise about the frequency with which relationships break down, and the effects of those breakdowns on any children involved, are thought-provoking. Ever since I began to think about it, which strangely coincides with the time my daughter was born, I’ve understood that modern society places great pressures on parents. I believe that we need to widen this discussion to take account of those pressures, but if ever there was a proverbial “another post”, then that is it. I had a go in a previous incarnation, but I don’t think that covered everything I wanted to say…

  10. Morag, we’re all waiting with bated breath for your next venture now. I’ll check back tomorrow.

  11. dolbyn

    I think the key in your post is a single word – vital i think to both marriage and parenthood – commitment. The other 2 words that i think are key but that you dont mention are respect and communication. Maybe the whole concept of family is just the best way to ensure that those 3 words are best carried though example from generation to generation.

  12. Thank all of you for these insightful remarks on partnerships, cohabiting, marriage. You’ve given me, and hopefully each other, a lot to think about. I’m certain we will visit this topic again.

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