Wilcox is reviewing Andrew Cherlin's The Marriage-Go-Round, which alleges that Americans "step on and off the carousel of intimate relationships." That is, in Wilcox's words, we "marry and co-habit at younger ages, divorce more quickly and enter into second marriages or co-habiting unions faster than [our] counterparts elsewhere." Yes, Americans are so frivolous, just hopping on and off that carousel while — you guessed it — the children suffer. Wilcox writes,
The biggest problem with this aspect of American family life is that children often do not do well when parents and partners are whirling [again, whee! divorce is so fun] in and out of their lives. Children have difficulty adapting to changes in their routines or to step- parents who are not comfortable acting as authority figures or to nonresidential parents who see children only intermittently. The live-in boyfriend, who may well not have a child's best interests at heart, is an even greater problem. Such a mix of hybrid forms, according to Mr. Cherlin, is part of the reason that family instability is linked to higher rates of teen sex, teen pregnancy, teen drunkenness, truancy and behavioral problems in school.
This language is disturbing in its vagueness. Just try to parse the last sentence — it lays all sorts of problems at the feet of the shadowy "mix of hybrid forms," without really spelling out what this mix is or how it necessarily leads to instability. Then there's the dark suggestion of "the live-in boyfriend," with its whiff of mommy-slut-shaming — what about the live-in girlfriend? Is she fine because women are naturally nurturing? And where in all this are the many parents who, despite upheaval in their own lives, do manage to provide stability for their children? They're a myth, according to Wilcox — we fun-loving Americans only care about ourselves. He writes that Americans "celebrate individualism more than people in other Western societies and so believe that they are entitled to make choices that maximize their personal happiness. When a marriage becomes unsatisfying, difficult or burdensome, according to this model, it can be dissolved — it even should be dissolved."
But here's the creepiest part:
Because Mr. Cherlin is reluctant to challenge the individualistic ethos of our day, the strongest advice he can muster — when he steps back to consider the marriage portrait he has drawn so brilliantly — is that Americans who aspire to be parents should "slow down" when they are entering or exiting a marriage or a co-habiting relationship, bearing in mind that children do best in a stable home. It is not bad advice, certainly. But some of us may wish to do more than put a yellow light in the path of parents who are tempted to hop onto (and off of) America's family merry-go-round. For the sake of the children, a red light may be better.
That's right, a red light. You parents have been enjoying your wild divorce-party-carnival-joyride long enough. It's time to get off the carousel and teach your kids that adulthood is all about dissatisfaction and burdens. And if you don't feel like it, if you think that for some reason you might be able to pursue your own happiness while still safeguarding your child's, well stop! W. Bradford Wilcox knows what's best for you, or rather for your kid, who must be sheltered from all trouble until the moment she has children herself, at which point she must give up all individuality and sacrifice herself totally to the rearing of her brood.
Seriously, of course divorce, blended families — and yes, live-in boyfriends — can be difficult for kids. And yes, parents should consider their children when they make changes to relationships, and do their utmost to provide these children with love and stability through these changes. But what kind of red light is Wilcox talking about? Is he honestly suggesting making divorce illegal? If so, we hope he calls his plan the Defense of Unsatisfying, Burdensome Marriage Initiative. Because we all know how good those are for kids.
To Have, to Hold, For a While [Wall Street Journal]