Did you think I'd say because it's in the best interest of children? And besides, that's just one reason, isn't it?
There's no doubt that growing up with married parents provides benefits to children. That's a vital reason indeed to promote marriage to dads.
But let's face it. Humans are motivated by self-interest. So it's important to appeal to dads' self-interest when it comes to marriage.
Here's the good news in that regard. Marriage is great for men! A recent brief from the Institute for Family Studies highlights marriage's benefits for men and, consequently, dads. Specifically, compared to single men, married men realize the following four benefits. They:
- Make more money--about $16,000 a year, to be exact. Marriage increases men's earning power.
- Have better sex--quality sex, that is. While married men might not have sex as often as, say, cohabiting men, the quality of the sex is superior.
- Have better physical and emotional health. Compared to singles, married couples do a better job dealing with sickness, monitoring health, and adopting healthier lifestyles.
So if marriage is so great for men, why have we seen a decline in the rate of marriage? Massive culture change that's not in men's best interest (or their children's).
I've seen this change play out in the reactions of some facilitators to the marriage content in National Fatherhood Initiative® (NFI) programs. (NFI's 24/7 Dad® and InsideOut Dad® programs cover the benefits of marriage for men and their children.) One facilitator of a NFI program I interviewed, for example, simply doesn't include that content in the delivery of the program. When I asked why, the facilitator pointed to four reasons:
- Marriage isn't important to dads.
- Dads are scared of it.
- Marriage isn't common in their communities.
- Fear that dads will stop participating in the program if the facilitator addressed marriage.
And that's the problem. Too many of us who seek to strengthen families and communities, and improve the lives of children, have acquiesced to a change in family structure--not to mention our own fear of how dads might react to mention of it--that has had a devastating impact on communities across the country. Despite the evidence that marriage is good for families and communities, we've thrown up our hands and said, "When in Rome..."
This acquiescence leads to a tacit discrimination against marriage by virtue of never addressing it. As a result, dads are denied the opportunity to learn and decide for themselves whether marriage is in their own and their children's best interest. To address the lack of comfort some facilitators have with addressing marriage, I stress the following points when I train them:
- Focus on the reason you do this work--strengthening families and communities, and improving the lives of children.If you fear addressing marriage, feel the fear, but address marriage anyway.
- The evidence for the benefits of marriage is overwhelming. If you want to make a difference in your community, rely on this evidence.
- When you address marriage, do so from a place of compassion. Acknowledge that a marriage between two individuals is not always in the best interest of either person or their children. In some cases (e.g. unresolved domestic violence or child abuse), a marriage should end or never take place. Show compassion for every dad you work with given his individual circumstance, but don't conflate what's good for an individual with what's good for families and communities generally.
- Don't assume that marriage isn't in the best interest of an unmarried or married dad (e.g. one who is on the precipice of divorce). After considering the evidence for its benefits, let the dad decide whether he should marry or stay married.
How do you feel about addressing marriage with dads? Focus on what you feel, not on what you think. If your feelings have caused you to discriminate against marriage in your work, can you move past them?
Did you know that there are seven distinct benefits of marriage for men?
Check out NFI's 7 Benefits of Marriage for Men brochure (in English and Spanish). Share it with the dads you serve!