Love Tips from Kids

Love Tips from Kids


“Eighty-four, Because at that age, you don’t have to work anymore, and you can spend all your time loving each other in your bedroom.”  (Judy, 8)

“Once I’m done with kindergarten, I’m going to find me a wife” (Tom,5)


“On the first date, they just tell each other lies, and that usually gets them interested enough to go for a second date.”   (Mike, 10)


“You should never kiss a girl unless you have enough bucks to buy her a big ring and her own VCR, ’cause she’ll want to have videos of the wedding.” (Jim, 10)

“Never kiss in front of other people. It’s a big embarrassing thing if anybody sees you. But if nobody sees you, I might be willing to try it with a handsome boy, but just for a few hours.” (Kally, 9)


“It’s better for girls to be single but not for boys. Boys need somebody to clean up after them” (Lynette, 9)

“It gives me a headache to think about that stuff. I’m just a kid. I don’t need that kind of trouble.” (Kenny, 7)


“No one is sure why it happens, but I heard it has something to do with how you smell. That’s why perfume and deodorant are so popular.”  (Jan, 9)

“I think you’re supposed to get shot with an arrow or something, but the rest, of it isn’t supposed to be so painful.” (Harlan, 8)


“Like an avalanche where you have to run for your life.” (Roger, 9)

“If falling in love is anything like learning how to spell, I don’t want to do it. It takes too long.” (Leo, 7)


“If you want to be loved by somebody who isn’t already in your family, it doesn’t hurt to be beautiful.” (Jeanne, 8)

“It isn’t always just how you look. Look at me. I’m handsome like anything and I haven’t got anybody to marry me yet.” (Gary, 7)

“Beauty is skin deep. But how rich you are can last a long time.”  (Christine, 9)


“They want to make sure their rings don’t fall off because they paid good money for them.” (Dave, 8)


“I’m in favor of love as long as it doesn’t happen when ‘The Simpsons’ is on television.” (Anita, 6)

“Love will find you, even if you are trying to hide from it. I have been trying to hide from it since I was five, but the girls keep finding me.” (Bobby, 8)

“I’m not rushing into being in love. I’m finding fourth grade hard enough” (Regina, 10)


“One of you should know how to write a check. Because, even if you have tons of love, there is still going to be a lot of bills.” (Ava, 8)


“Tell them that you own a whole bunch of candy stores.” (Del, 6)

“Don’t do things like have smelly, green sneakers. You might get attention, but attention ain’t the same thing as love.” (Alonzo,9)

“One way is to take the girl out to eat. Make sure it’s something she likes to eat. French fries usually works for me.” (Bart, 9)


“Just see if the man picks up the check. That’s how you can tell if he’s in love.” (John, 9)

“Lovers will just be staring at each other and their food will get cold. Other people care more about the food.” (Brad, 8)

“It’s love if they order one of those desserts that are on fire. They like to order those because it’s just like how their hearts are…on fire.” (Christine, 9)


“The person is thinking: Yeah, I really do love him. But I hope he showers at least once a day.” (Michelle, 9)


“You learn it right on the spot when the gooshy feelings get the best of you.” (Doug, 7)

“It might help to watch soap operas all day.” (Carin, 9)


“It’s never okay to kiss a boy. They always slobber all over you…That’s why I stopped doing it.” (Jean, 10)


“Spend most of your time loving instead of going to work.”   (Tom, 7)

“Don’t forget your wife’s name…That will mess up the love.” (Roger, 8)

“Be a good kisser. It might make your wife forget that you never take out the trash.” (Randy, 8)

Divorce Through the Eyes of a Child

Divorce Through the Eyes of a Child

I’m sorry I can’t tell you more than that and give credit where credit is due.  When people are considering divorce they often say arrogant things like “The kids will be fine.”  This is insulting to the children on the one hand and total self-absorbed on the part of the person saying it.  Children go from the security of one home to being totally insecure with nowhere to call home.  They no sooner get settled and then they have to move again.  This gets old very quickly.  Look at it through her eyes….

The Monster

The monster’s here,

The monster’s there,

The monster is just everywhere.

In my milk,

In my tea,

Doesn’t it ever think of me?

Mom’s here,

Dad’s there,

And I’m just not anywhere!

How can I say this,

Without any force;

The monster is called


Part Three: Dickens’ David Copperfield on the Family: Birth Children Feeling Lost in Stepfamilies

Part Three: Dickens’ David Copperfield on the Family: Birth Children Feeling Lost in Stepfamilies

They paint this rosy picture of finding the man or wife of their dreams, someone THIS TIME who will actually love them.  I deserve to be happy.  I’m not going to settle.  I don’t want to send a message to my children that it’s Okay to live like this.

Then, when I challenge this fantasy, these clients get mad at me.  “It won’t happen to me,” they say.

There’s a reason almost everyone in jail is from a stepfamily.  There’s a reason almost every child who drops out of school or joins a gang or gets pregnant in high school or gets addicted to drugs and alcohol or sexually abused is from a stepfamily or child of divorce.

And you say, my kids are good kids.  They will be fine.

That’s easy for you to say.  You are the one WANTING the divorce.

And then they tell me they would only pick someone who loved their children just as much as they do!

Right.  Tell me how you are going to do that, you who are smarting from your last marriage and more than likely more broke than you’ve ever been and desperate for some help with these kids and feeling like a failure from your first marriage and struggling with NOT hating your Ex and nursing your wounds and trying to make sense of your world torn asunder and your kids are freaking out because they don’t have a home any more (back and forth between mom and dad means you don’t have a home and after awhile it drives you crazy) and your bed, your bed, is soooo empty.  The loneliness:  Night after night.

And you’re going to make a wise choice THIS time.  THIS time it’s going to work?  When you are reeling from all this despair?  You’ll know this time what you want?  You are wiser now?  Wiser?  Really?  Or just hurting?  Hurting people usually don’t make wise choices.

This is why second marriages breakup quicker and more often than first marriages and third marriages even quicker and more often than second marriages and on and on it goes.

Maybe, before you divorce and remarry, you should look at this whole mess from the eyes of a child.  How does it look through a child’s eyes to see some other man or woman touch mommy or daddy?  How does it feel to have a total stranger come into OUR home and take over?  If you are a stepparent now it would also be good for you to look at these issues through the eyes of your stepson or stepdaughter.  It might give you some compassion for him or her.

Before you lie to yourself and tell yourself the kids will be fine, take a look at how insightful Charles Dickens is looking at a stepfamily through the eyes of a little grade school boy.  In David Copperfield, Dickens tells the story of a stepson, Copperfield, who is sent away to boarding school by his stepfather (We are convinced as readers his loving mother would have never sent him away to school if she hadn’t remarried.  Sending Copperfield away was the evil stepfather’s doing.) and what it feels like to Copperfield coming “home” for the first time after being away at school several months.

Dickens captures the insight that Copperfield’s home is NO LONGER HIS HOME!  Yes, the comforting things are there, his mother, his mother’s maid, Peggoty, all the knickknacks that hold fond memories, but it is as if it all reminds him of a dream world that can never come back.  He is LOST in his own home.  It’s so painful he wants to leave again, to just be gone and to sit with his school buddy, Steerforth:

“Ah, what a strange feeling it was to be going home when it was not home, and to find that every object I looked at, reminded me of the happy old home, which was like a dream I could never dream again!  The days when my mother and I and Peggotty were all in all to one another, and there was no one to come between us, rose up before me so sorrowfully on the road, that I am sure I was glad to be there – not sure but that I would rather have remained away and forgotten it in Steerforth’s company.”*

Do you see the inner conflict he’s having?  He hasn’t seen his mother or his dear Peggotty in months and he misses them so much, but because his new stepfather has absolutely changed his old home forever he DOESN’T EVEN WANT TO GO HOME!

And why would he?  His stepfather is mean and has changed the demeanor of his home from one of tenderness and love and endearment to one of judgment, terror, fear and coldness.

Now look:  There are literally millions of stepfamilies, stepfathers and stepmothers that have figured out how to be loving to each other and the new stepparent fits right in and the child is thrilled to have a new “father” or “mother” figure.   But this is NO GUARANTEE.  Just because you love somebody doesn’t mean your new lover will love your child or that your child will love your new lover.  If you have more than one child you are assuming an awful lot that ALL of your children will love the new person you bring home and vice versa.

It is clear from Dickens’ story that David Copperfield’s mother loved him very much.  Nevertheless, she didn’t choose her next husband wisely and it was the undoing of her family and ultimately herself (it’s a sad story!).  Choosing her next spouse led to the biggest tragedy of her life.  David Copperfield’s life was dramatically changed as well and it takes him years to get his bearings.  Dickens is correct to show the down side of stepfamilies.  Love does not conquer all.

When Copperfield arrives home from his boarding school for the first time he’s fortunate that his stepfather and his stepfather’s sister (She came to live with them also and had a profound and sinister hatred of Copperfield.) are gone when he arrives home and he meets his mother and Peggoty along with his new half-brother who was born in his absence.  They spend the day together in bliss, reconnecting.  It was more than Copperfield could have hoped.  It ends way too shortly.

And then his stepfather and his step aunt arrive home and everything changes.  As they come home his mother tells him to go to bed so as not to upset his new family members for being up too late.  As he climbs the stairs to his old bedroom he thinks:

“It appeared to my childish fancy, as I ascended to the bedroom where I had been imprisoned, that they brought a cold blast of air into the house which blew away the old familiar feeling like a feather.”*

With all of them together he no longer feels like this is his home.  He feels distant from his mother, his maid (who remained one of his fondest friends throughout the book) and, even, himself.  He feels nothing but disdain from these new, uninvited (in his view) intruders (NOTE: His stepfather’s name was Murdstone, Dickens’ play on the words murder and heart of stone.  Murstone’s coldness eventually kills Copperfield’s mother.):

“In short, I was not a favorite with Miss Murdstone (his stepfather’s sister).  In short, I was not a favorite there with anybody, not even with myself; for those who did like me could not show it, and those who did not, showed it so plainly that I had a sensitive consciousness of always appearing constrained, boorish, and dull.

I felt that I made them as uncomfortable as they made me.  If I came into the room where they were, and there were talking together and my mother seemed cheerful, an anxious cloud would steal over her face from the moment of my entrance.  If Mr. Murdstone were in his best humor, I checked him.  If Miss Murdstone were in her worst, I intensified it.  I had perception enough to know that my mother was the victim always; that she was afraid to speak to me or be kind to me, lest she should give them some offence by her manner of doing so, and receive a lecture afterwards; that she was not only ceaselessly afraid of her own offending, but of my offending, and uneasily watched their looks if I only moved.  Therefore I resolved to keep myself as much out of their way as I could; and many a wintry hour did I hear the church clock strike, when I was sitting in my cheerless bedroom, wrapped in my little great-coat, poring over a book.*

Copperfield’s attempt to deal with his despair by holing up in his room so as not to have to deal with the constant discomfort is actually a healthy thing.  Reading would be a good pastime and because of his love for books he eventually becomes a famous writer (Copperfield’s life broadly follows Dickens’ own life, although Dickens did NOT grow up in a stepfamily, which makes his insight into the negative side of stepfamily dynamics all the more amazing.).  His stepfather, as is often the case, views Copperfield’s tendency to spend his time alone in his room as an insult and sees it as selfish behavior that must be disciplined.  He accuses Copperfield of being surly which is interpreted as being disrespectful and he will NOT be disrespected!

If you knew how often I have heard stepparents tell me they will NOT be disrespected by their evil stepchildren, you would be shocked.  Stepparents often feel as if their spouses’ birth children run wild without any discipline and they are quite often right about that.  Birth parents, especially after a divorce, have a difficult time disciplining their children because their children are hurting so badly already from the effects of the divorce.  Birth parents bear some guilt about this.  They also want their children to like them more than the other birth parent!  They worry if their children don’t like them they won’t want to stay and would rather be with the other birthparent.  New stepparents can see this pattern and confront it immediately.  Unfortunately, though the stepparent is correct the children need discipline, they are too often harsh and unloving in their approach.

The harshness of stepparents is the most common complaint of stepchildren that I hear in my office.  It would not be uncommon for a stepchild to escape all this judgment and condemnation in his or her bedroom.  Copperfield’s stepfather interprets Copperfield’s escaping to his bedroom as rebellion and being intentionally in a bad mood to negatively change the demeanor of the home.  The stepfather believes his stepson is the causing the contrary tone!  Dickens makes it very clear, that at least from the eyes of a child, he and mom and the maid were fine for years before this evil stepfather came on the scene.  No doubt the stepfather thought things were fine at home until Copperfield came home for the holidays.

However, Copperfield is genuinely depressed and he’s trying to make the best of a bad situation so he goes to his bedroom and read.   His stepfather interprets Copperfield’s mood as rebellion instead and he’s disciplined accordingly.  His mother does nothing to intervene.  She doesn’t dare.

Mr. Murstone tells David he can no longer hide himself in his bedroom and he has to sit with all of them in the main room.  And he is NOT to look “sullen.”

“’I will have a respectful, prompt, and ready bearing towards myself,’ he continued, ‘and towards Jane Murdstone, and towards your mother.  I will not have this room shunned as if it were infected, at the pleasure of a child.  Sit down.’

He ordered me like a dog, and I obeyed like a dog.*

If you are a stepparent, you have a big job ahead of you.  Your hardest job will be to give your stepchildren some slack.  The temptation will be to write them off and to complain to your wife or husband how terrible your wife or husband’s children are.  A good rule of thumb is not to come between blood.  To the extent you criticize your spouse’s blood children is the extent that you push your spouse away.

Usually the solution to this problem is to encourage the birthparent to be the one who is firm with the birth child and encourage the stepparent to concentrate on befriending the birth child.  There are also jealousies going on here that will need to be continually worked on, namely, that the relationship of the birth child to the birth parent precedes the relationship of the stepparent to the birth parent.  This is ultimately what is behind most animosity of stepparents for birth children.

The animosity of birth children to their stepparents is usually because after the arrival of the stepparent, the birthparent no longer has as much time and energy for the birth children and a birth child can sense immediately the withdrawal of the attention from the birth parent.  The birth parent is largely unaware of this because the birth parent loves the birth child the same.  Nevertheless, a birth child is totally aware that he or she was just demoted by the new stepparent because the stepparent has literally taken time away of the birthparent with the birth child.

These natural jealousies of both the birth child and the stepparent for the birth mother and spouse are often not handled wisely and create many of the problems common in stepfamilies.  Knowing and understanding them is critical in helping to ease animosities and is one of the tasks in therapy around stepfamily issues.

I’m guessing most second marriages that break up (when children are involved) do so because the birth parent feels the stepparent does NOT love the birthparent’s children.  The birthparent thinks: if you don’t love my children, you must not love me.  That’s a common feeling and, sadly for many, this particular feeling is not far from the truth.

The other reason second marriages with children break up is just the opposite feeling on the part of the stepparent.  The  stepparent complains the birth parent lets the birth child get away with murder and the stepparent says he or she will not participate in that any longer.  Inaction on the part of the birthparent, in this case, could drive the stepparent away.

Stepfamilies are dicey!  We work through all these crazy dynamics in therapy, seeking to take the hurt feelings out of it so people can make better choices instead of letting jealousies rule the day.  It’s possible to work out, but a little wisdom along the way sure helps!


*quotes from Chapter 8 of David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens, written 1849-1850.  Kindle edition.

Effects of Fatherless Children

Effects of Fatherless Children

Living Arrangements For Children 18 Years And Younger From 1960-2010:

  • In 1960, 87.7% of children lived with two parents as opposed to 9.1% only living with only one parent and 3.2% living with relatives (2010 U.S. Census Bureau. Living Arrangements of Children Under 18 Years Old: 1960 to Present; Father Facts, 2011).
  • In 1980, 76.7% of children lived with two parents as opposed to 19.7% only living with only one parent and 3.7% living with relatives (Ibid).
  • In 1990, 72.5% of children lived with two parents as opposed to 24.7% only living with only one parent and 3.1% living with relatives (Ibid).
  • In 2000, 69.1% of children lived with two parents as opposed to 26.7% only living with only one parent and 4.2% living with relatives (Ibid).
  • In 2010, 69.4% of children lived with two parents as opposed to 26.6% only living with only one parent and 4.1% living with relatives (Ibid).
  • In 2010, more children were raised by other relatives (4.1%) than their fathers alone (3.4%) (Ibid)
  • In 2010, 33% of children lived in biological father-absent homes (2010 U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey; Father Facts).
  • 1/3 of Children are expected to live with a non-biological parent before they reach the age of 18 (Fragile Families Research Brief No.46; Father Facts).
  • In 1960, children living only with their mothers, who were never married, was 4.3%, by 1980 it was 15.3%, by 1990 it was 31.5%, by 2000 it was 40.8%, and by 2010 it was 43.6% (2010 US Census Bureau. “Children Under 18 Living with Mother Only, By Marital Status of Mother, 1960 to Present”; Father Facts).
  • In 1960, children living only with their mothers because of divorce was 23.7%, by 1980 it was 41.8%, by 1990 it was 36.9%, by 2000 it was 35.0%, and by 2010 it was 30.8%% (2010 US Census Bureau. “Children Under 18 Living with Mother Only, By Marital Status of Mother, 1960 to Present”; Father Facts).
  • In 1960, 90.9% of white children lived with both parents and 7.1 lived with one parent, by 1990 it was 79.0% with two and 19.2% with one, and by 2010 it was 74.9% with two and 21.8% with one (2010 U.S. Census Bureau. “Living Arrangements of White Children Under 18 Years Old: 1960 to Present”; Father Facts)
  • In 1960, 67.0 of Black children lived with both parents and 21.9 lived with on parent, by 1990 it was 37.7% with two and 54.8% with one, and by 2010 it was 40.8% with two and 51.9% with only one (2010 U.S. Census Bureau. “Living Arrangements of Black Children Under 18 Years Old: 1960 to Present”; Father Facts).

The Consequences of Father Absence For Children

Child Abuse

  • The absence of a biological father contributes to an increase in childhood sexual abuse (Blankenhorn, 1995; Popenoe, 2009; Fragile Families Research Brief No.46; Father Facts).
  • 20% of adult women and 5-10% of adult men have experienced sexual abuse at some time during their childhood (Popenoe).
  • The chances of a daughter being sexually abused by her stepfather are at least seven times higher than by her biological father (Popenoe).
  • In cases of child sexual abuse, when the perpetrator is known, ¼ are cohabiting parents (i.e., boyfriends) (Blankenhorn).
  • In reported cases of nonparental child abuse, ½ are boyfriends (Blankenhorn).
  • About 84% of nonparental child sexual abuse happens in single-parent homes (Blankenhorn).
  • Physical abuse is twice as common as sexual abuse (Popenoe).
  • Mothers are more likely to physically abuse their own children when their partners are stepfathers to the children (Alexandre, Nadanovsky, Moraes, & Reichenheim, 2010; Father Facts).
  • Single mothers have a 71% greater rate of ‘very severe violence’ toward their children than did dual-parent mothers (Popenoe).
  • Single Fathers tend to abuse even more than single mothers (Popenoe).
  • Mother plus stepfather had twice the risk of child abuse than households with two biological parents (Alexandre, Nadanovsky, Moraes, & Reichenheim; Father Facts).
  • Children are far more likely to be physically abused by their stepfather than by their natural father (Popenoe)
  • In 1993, stepparents were 40 times more likely to abuse than children living with two biological parents (Popenoe).
  • Mothers married to the father of their children are at a lower risk for maternal physical abuse (Guterman, Yookyong, Lee, Waldfogel, & Rathouz, 2009; Father Facts).
  • Children with a single parent with a live-in partner have 8 times the rate for maltreatment, 10 times the rate of abuse, and 6 times the rate for neglect (2010 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau; Father Facts)
  • 64% of nonparental abuse is committed by mother’s boyfriends (Popenoe).


  • Since the 1960, the crime has risen 550%, while the population has grown 41% (Popenoe).
  • Arrest for murders committed by juveniles has gone up by 128% from 1983-1992 (Popenoe).
  • Youth delinquency is 10-15% higher in fatherless homes than intact homes (Popenoe).
  • 90% of adolescents and pre-adolescents in gangs come from single-parent families (Jeynes, 2011).
  • Children raised in fatherless homes have a greater probability to be rapists, murderers, and abuse women and their own children than children raised intact families (Jeynes).
  • 60% of American rapists come from fatherless homes (Popenoe).
  • 72% of adolescent murderers come from fatherless homes (Popenoe).
  • 70% long-term prison inmates come from fatherless homes (Popenoe).
  • Teen violence increases as the number of fathers in a neighborhood decreases (Knoester and Hayne, 2005; Father Facts).
  • There is an increase likelihood for drug and alcohol abuse among children (particularly boys) where the father is absent (Patock-Peckham, Morgan-Lopez, 2007; Mandara and Murray, 2006; Father Facts).

Social Functioning

  • Children raised in fatherless homes have a greater probability to drop out of school (Jeynes).
  • Children raised in fatherless homes have a great probability to be unemployed for longer periods of time (Jeynes).
  • Children raised in fatherless homes have a greater probability to be homeless (Jeynes).
  • There is increase likelihood for depression/withdrawal, antisocial behavior, impulsive/hyperactive behavior, and school behavior problems when a child experiences family transitions (Popenoe).
  • Among all the family processes, the only factor that decreases the odds of engaging in sexual activity is a father’s involvement with his children (Jordahl, & Lohman, 2009; Father Facts).
  • Girls raised without a father have a great proclivity for early sexual activity, adolescent childbearing, divorce, and lack of sexual confidence and orgasmic satisfaction (Blankenhorn).
  • There is a decrease in deviant behavior the longer the father is involved with his children from birth (Antecol, & Bedard, 2007; Father Facts).
  • From 1970-1996 there was a 5% increase in child poverty, which can nearly all be attributed to the rise of single-parent families (Sawhill, 2006; Father Facts; Blankenhorn).


Alexandre, G.C., Nadanovsky, P., Moraes, C.L., & Reichenheim, M. (2010). The presence of a stepfather and child physical abuse, as reported by a sample of Brazilian mothers in Rio de Janeiro. Child Abuse & Neglect, 34, 959–966.

Antecol, H., & Bedard, K. (2007). ‘Does single parenthood increase the probability of teenage promiscuity, substance use, and crime?’ Journal of Popular Economics, 20, 55-71.

Blankenhorn, D. (1995). Fatherless America : confronting our most urgent social problem. New York, BasicBooks.

“CPS Involvement in families with social fathers.” Fragile Families Research Brief No.46. Princeton, NJ and New York, NY: Bendheim- Thomas Center for Research on Child Wellbeing and Social Indicators Survey Center, 2010.

Father Facts, 6th edition, 2011.

Guterman, N.B., Yookyong, L., Lee, S. J., Waldfogel, J., & Rathouz, P. J. (2009). Fathers and maternal risk for physical child abuse. Child Maltreatment, 14, 277-290.

Knoester, C., & Hayne, D. A. (2005). Community context, social integration into family, and youth violence. Journal of Marriage and Family, 67, 767-780.

Mandara, J., & Murray, C. B. (2006). Father’s absence and African American adolescent drug use. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 46, 1-12.

Patock-Peckham, J. A., & Morgan-Lopez, A. A. (2007). College drinking behaviors: Mediational links between parenting styles, parental bonds, depression, and alcohol problems. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 21, 297–306.

Popenoe, D. (2009). Families without fathers : fathers, marriage and children in American society. New Brunswick, N.J., Transaction Publishers.

Sawhill, I.V. (2006). Teenage sex, pregnancy, and nonmaritial birth. Gender Issues, 23, 48-59.

U.S. Census Bureau. “Living Arrangements of Children Under 18 Years Old: 1960 to Present.” Table CH-1. Internet Release Date November, 2010.

U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, “Living Arrangements of Children Under 18 Years/1 and Marital Status of Parents, by Age, Sex, Race, and Hispanic Origin/2 and Selected Characteristics of the Child for All Children: 2010”. Table C3. Internet Release Date November, 2010.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau. (2010). Child Maltreatment 2009. Available from: stats_research/index.htm#can

US Census Bureau. “Children Under 18 Living with Mother Only, By Marital Status of Mother, 1960 to Present” Table CH-5. Internet Release Date November, 2010.

U.S. Census Bureau. “Living Arrangements of White Children Under 18 Years Old: 1960 to Present.” Table CH-2. Internet Release Date November, 2010.

U.S. Census Bureau. “Living Arrangements of Black Children Under 18 Years Old: 1960 to Present.” Table CH-3. Internet Release Date November, 2010.

William Jeynes. ‘The Two-Biological-Parent Family and Economic Prosperity: What’s Gone Wrong,’ The Public Discourse, July 20, 2011


Brandon Wall is a Counselor in Cedar Rapids, Iowa:

Effects of Fatherless Children

Families Without Fathers

Since many of you are coming to this website because your marriage is needing some readjusting or because you are thinking your marriage is heading for the chopping block, we thought it pertinent to remind all of you how important fathers are to their children.  To do this, we thought it best to review David Popenoe’s book Families Without Fathers.

The main thesis of this book ‘is that as marriage declines, fatherhood will inevitably weaken and children will be hurt . . .’ (p.vii).  While many of us are used to the notion of children being raised without a father, it was not always so. As Popenoe, writes, ‘the decline of fatherhood is one of the most basic, unexpected, and extraordinary social trends of our time” (p.2). Consider the percentage of children living apart from their biological fathers from 1960 to 1990 went from 17% to 36%. As such, Popenoe wants to show through this book that a father’s absence ‘is a major force lying behind many of the attention-grabbing issues that dominate the news: crime and delinquency; premature sexuality and out-of-wedlock teen births; deteriorating educational achievement; depression, substance abuse, and alienation among teenagers; and the growing number of women and children in poverty’ (p.3).  If this is true, is it any wonder that ‘some experts have suggested . . . that the current generation of children and youth is the first in our nation’s history to be less well-off—psychological, socially, economically, and morally—than their parents were at the same age’ (p. 2)?  Popenoe’s book not only aims to prove this, but also gives suggestions on how to reverse the effects of fatherlessness.

Surprisingly, this book in not just filled with statistic about how children without fathers are deprived (though there is plenty of this), for Popenoe wishes to go deeper by addressing key cultural assumptions and objections about fatherhood, family structure, and marriage as a whole. On of the major assumption and objection that he addresses is the popular notion that fatherhood is merely a social construction that any women can do. In other words, to women that think they can raise their children on their own, Popenoe wants to say, first, not without serious difficulty, and, secondly, not really.

Certainly, a growing number of mother’s have the ability to provide financially, and most mothers give emotionally to her children. However, the biological father brings a different emotional, psychological, and biological element to the children’s needs that women just can’t give very well, if at all.  Popenoe argues, then, that there is something fundamentally inherent in the biology of a man that predisposes him to be the best fit to care and educate (both intellectual and morally) for his own children when he is within a married state. That is to say, a married man is the best father.

In an age that promotes sexual equality, some of you might want a few examples of what men bring that women don’t bring without difficulty or at all.  While Popenoe dedicates all of chapter five to this question, we will just provided a few examples. The obvious is a role model. As Popenoe writes, ‘sons learn from their fathers about male responsibility and achievement, about how to be suitably assertive and independent, and how to relate acceptably to the opposite sex’ (p. 142).  The father helps the boy make the shift from boyhood to manhood by assisting him in ‘braking away from the comforting female arena of their mothers’ (p. 142). Also, fathers are essential in curbing teenage boys behavior and aggression (p. 142). Likewise, girls learn how to relate to other men. They learn that some men can be trusted and are not always seeking sexual gain. It is well documented that girls without fathers tend to experiment with sexual behavior and have more out of wedlocked children than girls with an in-homed father.

Another example is children thrive with the different parenting styles that each mother and father brings.  A counterintuitive example is play. The father tends to emphasize play more than care-taking (p. 143). More often than not, the father’s play is physically stimulating and exciting.  It turns out that this sort of play is essential for children (both boys and girls) to learn self-control. They learn not to bite, hit, or scratch. ‘Children learn critical lessons about how to recognize and deal with highly charged emotions in the context of playing with their fathers. Fathers, in effect, give children practice in regulating their own emotions and recognizing other’s emotional clues’  (p. 144).

For more examples, you’ll have to buy and read the book.

The book is divided into four parts with seven total chapters.  Part one (chapters 1 and 2) deals with fatherlessness and its effects.  Chapter one reports the decline of fatherhood in America with chapter two giving the ‘carnage of fatherlessness.’  These two chapters have the heaviest statistical feel.  I personally found these two chapter the most depressing. These two chapters will be of most people’s interest.

The second part (chapters 3 and 4) ‘looks back at fatherhood, marriage, and family life in American history’ (p. 15).  Its main focus is the rise and fall of the modern nuclear family. By far this was the most interesting part of the book for me.  I love reading about the history of the family and how our cultural understanding plays into shaping our opinions about how the world should work.  There are several important facts that Popenoe brings out in these two chapters, but two of the most salient are the decline of the father in the house due to becoming the primary bread winner and with such a decline the father’s role of the primary discipliner and education shifted to the mothers role.  This section will interest mostly historians, specialist, people who enjoy cultural studies, and social philosophers and theologians. Yet, I do recommend all to read it.

The third part (chapters 5 and 6) deals with why fathers matter. Basically, ‘the social science evidence is analyzed to find out what fathers actually do that makes them so important and how they differ from mothers’ (p. 15).  Chapter five just radials what Popenoe believes the evidence suggest. In chapter six he uses evolutionary psychology to explain why men have these character traits. The basic point of chapter six is to show that fatherhood is not merely a social construction but somewhat essential to manhood. I for one think one can show this without appealing to evolutionary psychology, but that debate is for another day.  I strongly recommend chapter five to all readers and chapter six to specialist and philosophers.

Part four (chapter 7) ‘summarizes the main thinking of the book and deals with how fatherhood and marriage can be reclaimed’ (p. 15).  After several pages of summarizing the book, Popenoe shifts to listing five key social propositions and two action implications that need to be embraced if fatherhood is going to thrive again.

The first proposition is that ‘fathers have a unique and irreplaceable role to play in child development’ (p. 197). The second proposition is that ‘children need a committed male and female couple to provide them with dependable and enduring love and attention . . .’ (p. 197). The third proposition is that for men, marriage and parenthood are strongly interlinked’ (p. 198).  In other words, without marriage, men have a hard time staying involved with their children. The fourth proposition is children need to feel recognized and accepted by their fathers; they need to feel that they are special’ (p. 198).  The fifth proposition is that biological fathers are more likely to be committed to the upbringing of their own children than are nonbiological fathers.

The first actions implication is ‘marriage must be reestablished as a strong social institution.”  To achieve this Popenoe summarizes the suggestions of ‘The Council of Families in America’ document entitled, Marriage in America: A Report to the Nations. The document gives suggestions to employers, religious leaders, organizations, social-worker, health-care and other human service professionals, marriage counselors, family therapist, family-life educators, pregnancy health-care providers, teachers, principals, leaders in education, family scholars, entertainment industry, print and broadcast media journalists and editors, civic leaders and community organizers as to how to foster a society strong on marriage.

The second action implication is ‘redefining the father’s role’ (p.209). Popenoe first gives several reasons why we can’t go back to the ‘traditional view of the family (husband works and the wife stays home).  He then lays out what he says the new father should do. However, to get this information, once again, you’ll have to buy and read the book.  I strongly suggest this part to all readers.

Overall, the book is great. Thriving Couples does not endorse all of Popenoe’s suggestions or views (particularly his view on cohabitation), but compared to what else is out there right now on fatherhood, this books gives some a breath of fresh air.