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Ethics & Religion
Column #1,968
May 9, 2019
How Many Happy Mothers?
By Mike McManus

How many moms can honestly say they are happy on Mother's Day?

The good news is that single motherhood is at its lowest point in more than 50 years.

However, the bad news is that the share of children living in a two-parent household is also at its lowest point in a half century. How can both facts be true simultaneously?

Approximately 69% of children are in two-parent families vs. 73% in 2000 and 87% in 1960. The share of children living in one-parent homes is 26% of households, which is a sharp increase from previous years.

The decline of solo motherhood has been entirely offset by increases of cohabiting parents. In 1968, nine of ten unmarried parents were unmarried mothers living alone. By 2017, the share of solo mothers fell to 53% because most unmarried mothers were cohabiting. Most unmarried parents are living with a partner.

Is this progress? I don't think so.

In my book, Living Together: Myths, Risks & Answers, I report that one widely believed myth is that cohabitation is a step toward marriage. However, only 40% of cohabitants marry. And they are much more likely to divorce than couples who never lived together.

Compared to couples planning to marry, cohabiting couples have a relationship of poorer quality. There tends to be more fighting and violence and many are unhappy. They are also more apt to experience infidelity. That's why the breakup rate of cohabiting couples is high.

Few cohabiting mothers will be able to honestly report a "Happy Mother's Day."

Cohabiting couples are more likely to have no high school diploma or GED. They earn less money and are less wealthy than their married peers. Cohabiting couples are also more likely to be depressed and to have substance abuse problems.

Yet what does your pastor say about how couples can build lasting marriages, or why couples should avoid cohabitation?

Have you heard anything along these lines? I bet not.

By contrast, my church will not marry a couple who is cohabiting. They must separate for several months while they are preparing for marriage. I encourage all churches to adopt that standard.

In the 1990s, my wife and I trained two dozen couples in healthy marriages in our church to be Mentor Couples who met with premarital couples six times to talk through issues in their relationship. All premarital couples had to take PREPARE-ENRICH, a premarital inventory in which couples had to indicate whether they agreed or disagreed with 150 statements like these:

  • My partner sometimes makes comments that put me down.
  • I go out of my way to avoid conflict with my partner.
  • Sometimes I wish my partner were more careful about spending money.

Over a decade in a fairly large church, we prepared 288 couples for marriage. Of that number, 58 decided not to marry. But of the 230 couples who did marry, we knew of only 20 divorces after 20 years. That's a divorce rate of under 10%.

Another church with even better results is Christ Church in Overland Park, Kansas where my wife and I trained Mentor Couples. Pastor Jeff Meyers says that he knows of only three divorces of more than 100 couples he has prepared for marriage in the last 20 years.

Probably all of the married couples at my home church and at Christ Church who have children will hear "Happy Mother's Day" on Sunday.

Mothers lovingly work for years to help their children be successful. They do so whether they are married, single or cohabiting. They invest the time and passion to help their kids be successful. They deserve our applause and encouragement.

However, despite their love and commitment to their children, a mother's love is not enough to insure their children's future success. The mothers must marry the fathers of their children to give their kids the best opportunity for a successful life.

Children need to grow up in homes with married parents, who love, challenge and motivate them to become successful men and women.

The best mother is a married mother.

Finally, mothers and fathers should be active in a church which helps them be successful parents.

If these steps are taken, every mother will hear her children exclaim, "Happy Mother's Day."


Copyright (c) 2018 Michael J. McManus, President of Marriage Savers and a syndicated columnist. To read past columns, go to Hit Search for any topic.


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