I love this profoundly simple observation from Winston Churchill: “There is no finer investment for any community than putting milk into babies.”
Let’s talk about the place where milk gets put into babies—the family. At least that should be the place. As a solid body of research shows, there is no replacement for the way the family creates and develops healthy human relationships, and family begins with marriage.
American religious and spiritual life, by all accounts, has ebbed, and at the same time, for various reasons, the institutions of family and marriage, meant to provide security, are in decline. Bonds between husband and wife, parents and children, so firmly planted in history and experience, are no longer the norm. Last year, for the first time, more than half of America’s births to mothers under age 30 occurred outside marriage. Churchill, I suspect, would be incredulous.
Reportedly some 44 percent of those in the millennial age group—a whole generation—believe that marriage is becoming “obsolete,” a cynical outlook that I suspect may be one consequence of popular arguments for the redefinition of traditional marriage and family.
While recognizing the existence of such sad statistics, many are not ready to give up on the God-given ideal of stable and happy family life in marriage.
A well-documented Church editorial from Newsroom at lds.org last year noted: “Of course not all families are alike, and it takes mutual commitment and community support for even the best of them to work. While society is blessed by the contributions of virtuous citizens from all walks of life, research indicates that married people tend to be happier, healthier, and more productive, and they provide the best environment for raising children. Children raised by their own married biological parents experience less poverty, less drug and alcohol use and less crime and delinquency; they gain more education; they are more likely to marry; and they have better mental health compared with children from other family arrangements.”
Ronald Reagan said much the same thing in a 1985 address to the nation. “There is no instrument of hard work, savings, and job creation as effective as the family,” he said. “There is no cultural institution as ennobling as family life. And there is no superior, indeed no equal, means to rear the young, protect the weak, or attend the elderly. None.”
Legal marriage, contrary to popular opinion, provides limits and important protections to individuals who marry; benefits not found in mere cohabitation which too often leaves a woman and children in dire economic straits.
While it may appear that family matters are entirely personal and detached from society as a whole, the state of the family has real-life societal consequences, for better or worse. A report on the state of marriage in America put it this way: “Marriage is not merely a private arrangement; it is also a complex social institution. Marriage fosters small cooperative unions — also known as stable families — that enable children to thrive, shore up communities, and help family members to succeed during good times and to weather the bad times. The presence of children in families and societies summons responsibility for their care, encourages productivity, creates an orientation toward the future and pulls individuals outside of their own needs.”
Fortunately, in the United States most children born to married couples will grow up in an intact family. Negative trends will only be reversed by the slow accumulation of individual choices, the usual means of social and cultural recovery. For the sake of our grandchildren, let’s teach our children correct principles. What one spiritual leader said years ago still holds true today: the greatest work we will ever do is within the walls of our home.
Message to the millennial generation: Marriage first, then children and putting milk into babies.On Faith columnist Alfred Gunn, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at Gig Harbor, can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, Newsroom at www.lds.org.