Dr. Brad Wilcox, a friend and the Director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, recently offered an analysis of federal research that confirms what you and I already know through faith and tradition: children do best when raised in a home with a married mom and dad.
But where do they fare the worst? Or more precisely and practically, where are they in the most danger? The answer might surprise you.
According to Brad’s analysis of the new federal study:
“…children living with their mother and her boyfriend are about 11 times more likely to be sexually, physically, or emotionally abused than children living with their married biological parents. Likewise, children living with their mother and her boyfriend are six times more likely to be physically, emotionally, or educationally neglected than children living with their married biological parents. In other words, one of the most dangerous places for a child in America to find himself in is a home that includes an unrelated male boyfriend–especially when that boyfriend is left to care for a child by himself.”
(A separate but related study concerning fatal child abuse in Missouri determined that children living with their biological mother and her boyfriend were 45 times more likely to be killed than children living with two married parents.)
In an article Dr. Wilcox recently released highlighting the federal findings, he cited a string of tragedies involving children living within a cohabitating environment:
In just one month last year, Tyari Smith Sr. of suburban New Orleans shot and killed his 2-year-old son, Tyari Smith Jr., and his girlfriend, Marie Chavez, because she was considering leaving him and heading back home to California. A week later, 4-month-old Aiden Caro was thrown into a couch by his mother’s boyfriend, Samuel Harris, when Harris could not get him to stop crying. Shortly thereafter, the Louisville baby stopped crying forever. The next week, in Gaston, South Carolina, 5-month-old Joshua Dial was shaken by his mother’s boyfriend “in a manner so violent that the baby immediately lost consciousness and suffered severe brain trauma,” according to local police reports. Joshua died soon thereafter.
These accounts and the broader statistics they represent are, of course, sad, sordid and startling. But they’re especially ominous and disheartening when you consider that cohabitation is rising. There are over 12 million unmarried couples in America. Granted, not all of them have children. And to be sure, just living together outside of marriage doesn’t necessarily lead to child abuse.
But there is something going on here. What is it? Well, when you remove the formal commitment from a relationship, there are often unintended consequences. If more and more couples live together outside of marriage, the research suggests child abuse is likely to rise.
Just think about it: if a man won’t commit to a woman, is it all that surprising that he won’t sacrificially and selflessly give of himself to the children?
So this is where we find ourselves. What can we do about it besides lament and pray? Yes, I believe strongly in prayer, but are there some additional things we can do? Perhaps a few:
- If you’re a single parent and are considering moving in with a boyfriend or girlfriend, don’t do it. Not only is it not what God would want, but according to the research, you’re putting your children in jeopardy on several levels.
- If you do have children and are living together with a boyfriend or girlfriend, I would urge you to pursue counseling and seriously consider whether this person would be a good marriage partner. If so, by “tying the knot” you’ll have something to hang onto when the times get tough or even tougher than they are right now. You’ll also be giving your children the best chance to live safely and thrive as they grow up.
- If you know someone with children who is considering moving in with a girlfriend or boyfriend, offer to talk and pray with them. Share this new federal data with them. Be bold but gracious.
- Sociologists point to the stability and predictability of married two-parent homes as a strong predictor of child wellness. I’ll add one more: God intended children to be raised by a mother and a father. When we play by His rules as opposed to ours, we’re far more likely to lead a productive and joy-filled life.