That’s marriage and children. The “A Good Childhood” report – which we have discussed here and here – tells us that divorce, along with the results of single parenting or having a step parent, is a really bad thing for children. So parents need to be married, think less about themselves, spend more time and energy on their children, and then children will be happier and the state will be better and…
Well, who knows where it could end. But maybe it is all much more complicated. We cited one article that pointed to research into the correlations between the economics of some single parenting and childhood stress. Now Stephanie Coontz, a highly-regarded historian of marriage, has an article in the NY Times that supports the following theses:
- Married parents today are spending more time with their children than they did some decades ago.**
- Children are not necessarily all that keen on spending hours and hours hanging out with parents.
- Married parents who devote a lot of time and attention to their children may neglect their marriages, thus inviting divorce, etc.
I have to say that I like the idea that this line of reasoning leads to the PARADOX OF MARRIAGE AND CHILDREN, or perhaps the antinomy of traditional families. You have to neglect one or the other and either way, misery results. But since the conclusion is false, and misery is not an inevitable result, perhaps we should revisit the idea that simple directives can guide complicated social arrangement to an optimal state.
Or, to put it another way, Coontz’ line of reasearch does not actually lead to a paradox or antinomy. Rather, it is the simplistic reasoning of “A Good Childhood” that would leave us with the idea that vague injunctions should shape one’s life.
Some virtue ethicists, such as Philippa Foot, have emphasize that virtue ethics should not be seen as giving us easily applied rules for life. One conclusion we might draw from our discussion of the report is that such general decrees about modern life fail importantly to connect with the moral needs of individuals.
**Though the article is about marriage, it may of course be that the parents generally are spending more time with their children. Certainly, the reasons and pressures hardly apply just to married parents.