Most little girls I know don’t have a dream of someday settling down to have babies on their own with the dad either out of the picture-or so hopelessly immature that he should be.
Yet, this is the new, dismal solo-parent reality for many women under 30 today, according to new statistics.
According to a recent study by Child Trends nearly three-fifths of children born to women under the age of 30 are born outside of marriage, and nearly half of them are born to co-habitating couples.
Not only does this development mark a change in childbearing for younger generations, it also signifies a change in childrearing and further highlights the impact of the epidemic of Peter Pan men who want all the fun of being grown-ups but none of the responsibility. For the first time in the nation’s history women are more likely to be college educated and contribute to the workforce than men. They’d like to marry and make babies, but the thought of marrying a baby has convinced some women to just skip the marriage part altogether.
According to a recent story in the New York Times, for many of these mothers under 30, the children are an unplanned byproduct of casual sexual relationships with men who aren’t fit to be fathers, let alone husbands.
Amber, a 27-year-old single mother, shares her story of being in “an on-and-off relationship” with a Sears clerk when she got pregnant. A nursing student-turned-bartender, she said the boyfriend was so dependent that he needed her to buy his cigarettes. He was not husband material, to put it one way. “It was like living with another kid,” she says in the article.
As 25-year-old single mother Teresa explains, “Women used to rely on men, but we don’t need to anymore. We support ourselves. We support our kids.”
This is sad news for our culture. These young women desire to have children and raise a family, but they find no young men worthy of the task-so they take it upon themselves, sometimes alone, sometimes with the on-again, off-again help of a co-habitating boyfriend. Both scenarios are tragic, not just from a pastoral perspective, but also culturally.
Studies indicate that children born outside of marriage are more susceptible to poverty, behavioral and psychological problems, reduced academic achievement, and more like to observe the dissolution of their parents’ relationship.
Cohabitation is a mirage, not a marriage. Though our culture wants to make cohabitation and the casual, non-committal sex that comes with it seem normative and healthy, the statistics tell a different reality: it’s a harmful situation for couples and the potential children they produce. The benefits that cohabitation provides are illusory and are typically not real or lasting. If you find this hard to believe, consider the following:
•Annual rates of depression among cohabitators are significantly higher than married couples.
•Couples who cohabitate before marriage report less marital happiness and more conflict when married.
•Studies almost always find that cohabitation is associated with a higher divorce risk, with estimates ranging from 33 percent to 151 percent increased risk of divorce.
The facts tell the story: Cohabitation is generally damaging for couples and for their children.
Dads and moms toghether in a committed marriage are vitally important to the well-being of the children they raise.
Running counter to our culture’s pattern for marriage–hook up, shack up, and break up–God provided a process that has three very different steps as the intended pattern and precedent for marriage, and consequently childbearing and rearing, which both Jesus and Paul draw from in their teaching (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:5; Ephesians 5:31).
First, a guy needs to grow up by moving out of his parents’ house, paying his own bills, worshiping God, and taking care of himself.
Second, a man is then able to pursue a noble woman in a noble way. The truth is that guys want to have sex, but they should not pressure a woman into any sexual contact before marriage or treat any woman as if she is simply a means to sex. The Bible teaches that sex is reserved for a marriage between one husband and one wife and that sex is a God-given gift within marriage, but it’s not the end goal in and of itself.
Finally, as husband and wife, a man and woman are to become “one flesh.” In consummating their marriage, a husband and wife become “one” in a way that is akin to God the Father, Son, and Spirit being “one.”
In Genesis, we are given the beautiful account of a loving, creator God bringing everything into existence. Of his creation, God says it is “good.” But there was one thing that God decided was not good–“that the man should be alone.” So, he created woman and ordained for a man and a women to come together as a husband and wife to be one flesh, to be fruitful (read: have kids), and multiply. They completed each other, and out of that completeness they enjoyed the intimacy and oneness that result in having and raising children together.
This was God’s beautiful plan, and pretty much ever since, we humans, starting with men abdicating their responsibility to love and lead well, have been messing with it–with devastating consequences.
As a pastor, I see daily the negative effects of taking God’s good plan for marriage and parenting and replacing it with our own plan. Few things bring me to tears, but I have often wept at the pain that divorce, single-parenthood, and unplanned pregnancy have brought to people who’ve come to our church hurting and broken.
Thankfully, there is Jesus, who came to take away our hurt, pain, devastation, and brokenness by bearing those things himself on the cross, in our place. Through Jesus there is redemption and all the broken things in this world can be fixed. All the families can be fixed, all the marriages can be fixed, and all hearts can be made whole in him.
To the women who have given up hope that they will ever find a man worth marrying and building a family with, I personally know hundreds of women who suffered at the hands of some loser boyfriend who’ve since found healing and hope in Jesus. And I’ve seen many of them also find and marry great men in the church by God’s grace.
To the men who are living like children, it’s time to grow up. Stop taking advantage of women and letting them take care of your children on their own and start honoring and respecting them by being responsible to them and your children. The good news is that you don’t have to do it yourself. Jesus can change your heart, your mind, and your desires. Rather than be a joke, you can be a man who works hard, provides, loves, and leads well by God’s grace. Our society needs you to do so. Your wife and kids need you to do so, whether you have them now or in the future.
Regardless of where you find yourself today, there is hope and healing for you, your children, and your relationships in Jesus. Over the years, we’ve seen thousands of singles come to Mars Hill, become Christians, find healing from past abuse, trust Jesus, start dating a godly guy or gal, get married, and have kids to the glory of God.
All it takes in this world scarred by cynicism is a little bit of childlike faith in Jesus.
Photographer: Will Foster
Mark Driscoll is author, most recently, of “Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship, and Life Together.” He is pastor at Mars Hill Church, in Seattle, Washington.