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Opinion & Essays - Jun, 1993 Issue #22 

"Dan Quayle Was Right,"
Whitehead, Barbara Dafoe,
THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY
April, 1993, p. 47+.
Reviewed by: Lon Woodbury

"The social-science evidence is in: though it may benefit the adults involved, the dissolution of intact two-parent families is harmful to large numbers of children."

The bulk of the article traces research and historical attitudes on families and child rearing, with the conclusion that "Divorce and Out-Of-Wedlock childbirth are transforming the lives of American children," to their detriment.

To me, the heart of the article was an identification of a change in society's attitudes toward families and children that occurred in the seventies. Prior to the seventies, it was generally accepted that by far the best arrangement for raising children was a family comprised of the married biological parents and their children, the so called traditional nuclear family. According to that view, any other arrangement, even though sometimes necessary because of death or divorce, deprived the children.

The author explains this traditional attitude was successfully overturned in the seventies by three new assumptions that became generally accepted. l.) "A Woman could now afford to be a mother without also being a wife." 2.) "...family disruption would not cause lasting harm to children and could actually enrich their lives." 3.) "...the new diversity in family structure would make America a better place."

There was some evidence making these assumptions plausible, but specific social-science research had not been done on these attitudes. Now, in 1993, the research results are in. l.) "For the vast majority of single mothers, the economic spectrum turns out to be narrow, running between precarious and desperate." 2.) "...children from disrupted families have a harder time achieving intimacy in a relationship, forming a stable marriage, or even holding a steady job." 3.) The increase in the numbers of single parents, step-families, etc. "...dramatically weakens and undermines society, placing new burdens on schools, courts, prisons and the welfare system...." Additionally, "All this evidence gives rise to an obvious conclusion: growing up in an intact two-parent family is an important source of advantage for American children." "Over the past two and a half decades Americans have been conducting what is tantamount to a vast natural experiment in family life. Many would argue that this experiment was necessary, worthwhile, and long overdue. The results of the experiment are coming in, and they are clear. Adults have benefited from the changes in family life in important ways, but the same cannot be said for children. Indeed, this is the first generation in the nation's history to do worse psychologically, socially, and economically than its parents. Most poignantly, in survey after survey the children of broken families confess deep longings for an intact family."

This article suggests two observations. The first is for parents to honestly accept the maxim that becoming a parent will change his or her life forever.

The other observation is that the change in society's attitudes toward family and child rearing partly explains the explosion in the numbers of Special Purpose Schools and Programs that occurred in the eighties and continues today. Although these schools and programs often have some element of therapy to cure children with more serious psychological problems, the real need they meet is to serve children who missed the basic lessons of childhood vital to responsible adulthood. In other words, Special Purpose Schools and Programs largely came into existence to provide the structure to help children grow up for a society that seems to be forgetting how to raise children.

Copyright 1993, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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