Recently, a Focus on the Family newsletter that I receive discussed the current unrest, bearing one another’s burdens, directed us to seek justice, and to address one of the leading causes of anarchy and evil – the overwhelming impact of family breakdown and the absence of role models.
It goes on to say, “Too many of today’s young men and women are lost, unsure of what to do and how to act because there is nobody at home showing them the way. The current crisis cries out for both spiritual revival and a renewal of the family and the critical role it plays in the community”.
And here is yet another perspective on the family: “The strength of a nation derives from the integrity of the home.” –Confucius
From either viewpoint, NFI recognizes that the breakdown of the family, and specifically the role of the father, can greatly impact the family. The father’s role has been deemed “replaceable” in many ways which has an impact and cost to his children and also society. Statistics clearly show the emotional and physical impact that a missing or disengaged father has on his children (see NFI’s Father Facts), along with the associated monetary cost to society (see NFI’s $100 Billion Dollar Man Report).
Yet, there is another factor that impacts children and society which is healthy relationships, and more specifically, marriage!
In NFI’s core programs (24/7 Dad® and InsideOut Dad®) there is emphasis on the father’s role. In session 6 of 24/7 Dad® AM and session 8 in InsideOut Dad® they talk about the “Ideal Father”, and dads assess themselves as to, “What kind of father and partner am I?”
In these sessions we also talk about healthy marriage, and the benefits not only to the father and mother, but the benefits to the children. The sessions contain the content of an NFI brochure called “The 7 Benefits of Marriage for Men”.
We also cover marriage in our Vital Topics for Staff to Discuss with Dads; session 8 focuses on “Building Healthy Marriages and Relationships”.
As practitioners, you may find this topic to be a bit taboo (I have personally met some resistance to even discussing it), but in the perspective of child well-being, a healthy marriage can be the best situation for children to be raised in, so why not talk about it?
The following are some things that can help you to include the topic of marriage in your work.
NFI always recommends that our programs be delivered by 2 facilitators, whenever possible. A married couple or male/female facilitation team provides both a female and male perspective to the program, and in the case of a married couple, their interactions can illustrate a good marriage partnership.
Another help with addressing this topic, may be a study from the Institute of Family Studies (IFS) here that talks about cohabitation as being less stable than marriage. By addressing this with the fathers you serve, you can help them understand their options and that marriage is a decision they might want to consider (even if it isn’t as common in their own family experience or even community). Cohabitation can be easy to “slide into”, whereas marriage takes thought and plans for long-term commitment.
Lastly, my NFI colleague Erik Vecere put together a great, simple chart that illustrates the concept that as the relationship is more committed, the child well-being goes up. Check it out for yourself and use it as a visual tool when you get to this topic.
The chart is designed to show why we should establish healthy relationships as the ideal goal even for at-risk, low income fathers and families and why we should continue to strive for healthy marriages.
In the center column, you will see the four general categories of relationships:
- The bottom category, “no relationship,” references a situation that was a sexual encounter that resulted in a child.
- The next category, “broken relationship,” refers to a situation where there was some relationship initially, but then broke apart after the child was born.
- The next category, “healthy relationship,” refers to a stable relationship outside the marriage commitment.
- Finally, “healthy marriage” is located at the top of the center column. It’s important to understand that these categories are not static.
A couple, for example, could move from a healthy marriage to a broken relationship. Or another couple could move from a broken relationship up the column to a healthy marriage. The arrow on the left side shows how a couple moves from self-centeredness towards selflessness as they move up the relationship column. When a relationship is built solely on a sexual encounter, self-centeredness is highest.
In contrast, a healthy marriage requires each partner to put the other’s needs before his or her own and think outside of him or herself. So, being married prior to having a child helps the couple raise empathy—a key ingredient in becoming a good parent.
This leads to the right side of the diagram where we see the “true north”—child well-being. Research shows, on average, that children’s well-being increases the further up they are in the relationship categories. A child does best in a healthy and stable marriage. So, if that is the “true north,” then we are selling our children (and families) short if we are not discussing marriage as an option and providing couples with skill building tools to attain healthy marriages.
In closing, I encourage you to revisit including marriage as a vital topic to cover in your fatherhood program (if it isn’t already).
For more support on the topic of marriage, checkout the National Association for Relationship & Marriage Education (NARME) website for great articles and resources discussing healthy marriage and healthy relationships.