Family values: The issue really isn't so complicated . . .

Mona Charen

August 24, 1992|By Mona Charen

THE Great Liberal Opinion Machine (GLOM) has announced itself perplexed about "family values." Ever since Dan Quayle chastised the creators of "Murphy Brown," the chattering class has been disingenuously scratching its collective head and asking, "Gee, what are family values, anyway?"

The pretense is that the issue is terribly complicated. One man's family values are another man's straitjacket. And golly, nobody of sound mind

would want to make all those struggling single mothers out there feel bad!

Well, the issue isn't that complicated at all, as the GLOM knows but won't say. Most people understand that the call for a return to family values is a necessary corrective in a society suffering the effects of a 50 percent divorce rate, a 25 percent illegitimacy rate (much higher among some groups) and increasing poverty among children.

There simply isn't any gainsaying the fact that children do much better growing up in two-parent households than in single-parent households. The data on delinquency, suicide, school performance, drug abuse and criminality are unambiguous. One of the most damaging handicaps with which a child can be shackled is the lack of a father or mother. The absence of a parent is more devastating than poverty or bad neighborhoods.

No serious thinker who has looked at the data on family breakdown during the past 25 to 30 years has concluded that the trends are healthy. Nor is it only children who suffer. Women have been badly served by liberalized divorce laws. And, arguably, so have men. Married men live longer and have fewer diseases than bachelors, divorced men or widowers.

Conservatives and liberals have agreed on the need to strengthen and support the family. And yet, when the issue is lobbed into the political arena, defenders of the status quo suddenly spring up everywhere.

The GLOM would have it that those who invoke family values are bashing single moms. Nonsense. Everyone understands that there are different kinds of single parents. There are women (and men, but not as many) who are raising their children alone because they've been abandoned by their spouses or because they are widows. The GLOM would love to pretend that Dan Quayle and his allies are attacking widows and orphans.

But there are other kinds of single mothers. There are those who choose to have children without fathers because they haven't yet met a man worthy of them. And there are those who don't seem to plan at all but just bear child after child, each with a different (but never involved) father.

Family values are not preferences. As someone once said of the Ten Commandments, "They are not the Ten Suggestions." They are binding rules that have stood the test of time for raising happy and secure children. They dictate that, whenever possible, mother and father be married to each other and committed for life. They require a willingness on the part of parents to make sacrifices to forgo, if necessary, personal pleasures like money, leisure and career advancement -- for the sake of children. And they demand that children honor and respect their parents.

Beyond claiming not to know what family values are, the GLOM also denies that anyone is opposed to the traditional family. They claim that everyone aspires to the same goal -- and their insincerity screeches like fingernails on a blackboard.

A recent example from the Los Angeles Times illustrates the point. A story called "Baby Talk" charts a new trend among single, never-married moms in L.A. -- baby showers. "No stickler for tradition" is the way the newspaper labels one woman who, at age 38, decided upon artificial insemination to achieve motherhood. She didn't have a wedding shower, or the finery of a white dress, but she, and many others like her, want full-regalia baby showers. The Times reports all of this approvingly, quoting a professor to the effect that baby showers "publicly celebrate a woman's change of status in society."

This story, nudging America toward full acceptance of unwed motherhood, is brought to you by exactly the same mind-set that created Murphy Brown. Hollywood and the L.A. Times are entitled to their opinions, but they cannot seriously claim to support family values.

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist.

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