Sunday, January 25, 2009

Competent Parenting Doesn’t Require “Traditional Marriage”

I always appreciate reading the perspective of Colleen Kochivar-Baker over at Enlightened Catholicism.

Recently, Colleen shared her thoughts on parenting and “traditional marriage.” Her observations remind me of the following from a 2002 article in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics:

A growing body of scientific literature demonstrates that children who grow up with one or two gay and/or lesbian parents fare as well in emotional, cognitive, social, and sexual functioning as do children whose parents are heterosexual. Children’s optimal development seems to be influenced more by the nature of the relationships and interactions within the family unit than by the particular structural form it takes.*

Following is an excerpt from Colleen’s reflection.


The Church’s current emphasis on “traditional marriage” is poorly conceived in my humble opinion. What worked to support marriages in the idyllic 1950’s has been completely undermined by those very same generations. My parents’ generation, whose lives culminated in large houses and Lincolns and Jaguars, cannot begin to conceive of the fact their children became parents, spouses, and adults in a society which could only support that same concept of family on mobility, isolation, and huge personal debt.

This form of traditional marriage is not only unsustainable, it’s almost destroyed the economic and social fabric of this country. We cannot go back. We must develop a concept of marriage and family which is sustainable, realistic, just, and places equal responsibility on both partners to make the parenting part work.

Marriage might be crucial to the well being of a society, at least in so far as marriages produce future generations, but all kinds of relationships can parent those future generations. Frankly I’m tired of all the rhetoric about traditional marriage. Like the rest of the country seems to be, I'm not particularly vested in the success of individual marriages, but I am vested in what happens to the children in that marriage. I’d much rather the social conversation swirled around competent parenting. Successful parenting is what the future is all about, not traditional marriage.

It’s one of the lessons we should be taking from our current president. He wasn’t the product of a successful traditional marriage, he was the product of successful parenting. Just because we as a society no longer do marriage all that well, doesn’t mean we can’t do parenting well. It’s time we separated the two notions of marriage and parenting. Whether we like it or not, that’s the way society is moving. Adjusting to this is not caving into secularism, it’s realism, and it’s about putting children first.

To read Colleen’s reflection in its entirety, click here.

* Pediatrics, Vol. 109 No. 2 February 2002, pp. 341-344.

Recommended Off-site Link:
The Gospel’s Queer Values - Queering the Church, January 26, 2009.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Celebrating the Presence of God Within All Families
The Changing Face of “Traditional Marriage”
One Catholic Gay Parent Who Isn’t Leaving the Church
Gay Adoption: A Catholic Lawyer’s Perspective


Anonymous said...

When my wife and I prepared to become foster parents, and again (a separate preparatory step) to adopt, the state social workers who taught us were adamant about the 20 years of peer-reviewed, social science research about foster and adoptive children. What was it those children wanted, no matter how badly they were mistreated by their birth parents, and no matter how well they were treated by their foster and/or adoptive parents?

There comes a time when these kids are desparate to see, and if possible to know, their biological mother and father.

I asked the social workers who taught the "Caring for the drug exposed infant and child" class we took where this drive comes from. The response was "We don't know, at least not in a social scientific way. It appears to be more than socialization; maybe its instinct. Who knows?"

Competent parenting doesn't require 'traditional marriage,' but isn't this the exception that proves the rule? Competent parenting and traditional marriage can be (unfortunately are not always but can be) mutually affirming and supporting.

The author of this essay (sorry, her hame escapes me) sounds just like the section on parenting in the Gay Liberation Front's manifesto, circa 1970. I must disagree that traditional parenting is the cause of so much woe; we already have the parenting paradise the author advocates, largely because of the rejection of the union of competent parenting and traditional marriage (and the union of both of those with both openness to children and the creation of those children without myriad forms of external, medical assistance).

Most people, in most places in human existence (and by most I mean 99%) were the product of their mother and father and were raised by the same. The other 1% was the product of their mother's egg and their father's sperm, even if the family they were born into was something other than a nuclear family.

There's a lot of necessary talk about messing with Mother Nature and the causes and effects of global warming. The same concern applies to human ecology, to the creation and nurture of children. We experiment with it at our peril.

Anonymous said...

Is this the road to a happy family? Have a look at

What's their tagline, "Partnering for Parenting?"

CDE said...

Colleen sounds like a voice from Huxley's Brave New World.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Clayton,

You're currently promoting on your blog a Roman Catholic campaign that actually supports what Colleen is saying.

Barack Obama achieved his "potential" and became president even though he was not the product of a successful "traditional" marriage.



CDE said...

Barack Obama achieved his "potential" and became president even though he was not the product of a successful "traditional" marriage.

True, but not because of this fact. Human beings may be resilient, but who wouldn't want a child to have all of the resources for human development provided by the creative wisdom of God?

Fatherhood has value, even if many live this vocation poorly or abdicate this role.

kevin57 said...

Although empirical studies on gay families are not "thick," what evidence there is does not endorse any of the fears that cultural traditionalists project. In fact, in some measures, children of gay parents are more well-adjusted and compassionate than most of their peers.

These sorts of decisions should not be based on "values," and under no circumstances should they be theopolitical battles. The social sciences should be the leading light.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Clayton,

I don't think anyone is suggesting that Barack Obama achieved his potential because he was not the product of a successful "traditional" marriage.

But clearly, one can experience competent parenting beyond the parameters of "traditional" marriage. I think the "creative wisdom of God" that you refer to can be found both within and beyond these parameters.

Maybe instead of limiting the parameters of God's presence and action, we should be ever watchful for and responsive to God's presence and "creative wisdom" throughout the diverse arena of human experience.



CDE said...

Maybe instead of limiting the parameters of God's presence and action, we should be ever watchful for and responsive to God's presence and "creative wisdom" throughout the diverse arena of human experience.

I'm all for discernment, but the foundational principle of Christian discernment is the Incarnation.

I don't view particularity / specificity as really restrictive. I mean, the fact that God became incarnate as an infant, and a male one at that, wasn't a restriction, but a particular choice on the part of God, an exercise of creative freedom. The scandal of the Incarnation is that God loves particulars, and exercised freedom precisely in and through submitting to human limitations. The humility of God is one aspect of the divine majesty.

A Gnostic view of reality may scorn the particularities of human existence, but the Christian tradition celebrates it, most especially in the Incarnation, and in the specificity of the sacraments that flow from that mystery. This is no less true of the primordial sacrament of Genesis 1.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hmm, doesn't the Roman hierarchy "scorn" the particularity of homosexuality?

I mean, look at what it's saying about priesthood and homosexuality (i.e., that homosexuality is a disordered behavior, a deviation, that retards human maturity and spiritual development).

How is the Church manifesting God's love of particularities by holding such a disparaging and limiting view?

Also, I've always understood the "primordial sacrament" as Christ - the Spirit of consciousness and compassion, incarnated in its fullness in Jesus, but also present and yearning to be incarnated in and through each one of us.



colkoch said...

Adcontrarium I agree with this statement:

Competent parenting doesn't require 'traditional marriage,' but isn't this the exception that proves the rule? Competent parenting and traditional marriage can be (unfortunately are not always but can be) mutually affirming and supporting.

In fact, they should be mutually supporting and affirming. Unfortunately society no longer operates in a manner which supports traditional notions of spousal and marital complimentary roles.

We've reached a point where both spouses have to work in order to meet the minimal requirements for food, housing, and care. This alone has placed huge stress on families and the traditional roles with in families.

Marriages are failing at a 50% clip. My point in writing the article is that maybe it's time we placed more emphasis on good parenting as a responsibilty which supercedes spousal marital roles.
Marriages may fail, but the parental responsiblities don't go away.

In my opinion the easier road to good parenting is a traditional marriage, but if society is moving away from long term traditional marriages it is incumbent on us to emphasize long term relational parenting, and to support that parenting in any way we can.

I'm not grinding any political axe with regards to gay adoption. If I have a political agenda in that area it's because laws, such as the one just passed in Arkansas, impact far more people than the tiny percentage of gay couples who might want to adopt. People like biological grandparents and other relatives.

As to your point about adopted children wanting to meet their biological parents, I actually think it's a little more than 'instinct', but that's a whole different issue. I don't think Jesus was the only incarnate human who picked His biological parents.

Anonymous said...

"Marriages are failing at a 50% clip." Yep, and what does that do to kids?

I wonder if that 50% divorce rate is becoming the new relational norm? If so, how does the new norm change marraige?

Anonymous said...

Read your comments with much interest.. .

I am one of those parents in a non-traditional partnership although I do not follow the catholic faith (much to my mother's disappointment.. but another story!)

I and my partner have been together for 12 years.. brought up three children. Despite some opposition from other family members and some outright obstruction. We now have three inclusive well balanced young women who are in their late teens.

I have always believed it is the relationship you have with your children and support for them that is the basis for their achieving their potential.. . not if they are in a traditional or even heterosexual family..

Being a parent is more than biology,religion,sexuality, culture or income bracket.. it is understanding their right to be individuals separate from their parents, whether biological or not.. children learn by example and trust, with the knowledge they are allowed to 'fail' and learn.. not by gender specific role models who impose upon them 'what and how they should live'.


Michael J. Bayly said...

Going through some old papers, here's what I found I wrote about Jesus as the "primordial sacrament" for my 1996 thesis.


The concept of Church as sacrament presupposes Jesus in his humanity as "the sacrament, the primordial sacrament" (Osborne, An Introduction to Sacramental Theology, p. 11). Accordingly, it can be declared that it is in the humanity of Jesus that the definition of sacrament is found. Such a radical statement liberates human experience from centuries of devaluation of the bodily human. Whereas, for example, human sexuality as a means of grace posed problems for theologies of the past (marriage, for instance, though a ritual, was not considered a sacrament prior to the Middle Ages), modern sacramental theology's understanding of the humanity of Jesus as primordial sacrament resolves these dilemmas by defining expressions of human-being, including sexuality, as the locus of communication between the human and the Divine. In short, the "bodily aspects" of the "incarnation of the divine life" (Schillebeeckx, Christ the Sacrament of the Encounter with God, p. 15) are to be claimed and celebrated

. . . This thesis seeks to demonstrate that growth in awareness of one's homosexuality has the potential to be experienced sacramentally. Implied in this is the belief that for some individuals, homosexual expressions of physical intimacy will provide an appropriate way of experiencing the sacred through the locus of human sexuality. Given the premise that Jesus is the primordial sacrament, does it follow that he experienced such homoerotic feelings and expressions? To insist that he did, or to argue that if he didn't then the premise of the humanity of Jesus as primordial sacrament is invalidated, reflects the patristic period's insistence that the sacraments must be "instituted" by Christ. A modern theology of sacrament would, on the other hand, state that the historical Jesus, like all humans, was open to the potential for sacramentality through the locus of human experience as they applied to his social/historical context, his personality, his sexuality, and his relationship with God.

CDE said...

How is the Church manifesting God's love of particularities by holding such a disparaging and limiting view [of homosexuality]?

I was thinking of particularities in terms of what is attributed in the Christian tradition to the will/creative action of God. From past posts/discussion, I am guessing that you consider homosexual genital relations to be part of God's will and design from the beginning, rather than one of many symptoms of the Fall, alongside other cultural realities such as polygamy.

I've always understood the "primordial sacrament" as Christ

Interesting. I was referring to something else.

But returning to the point I was trying to make about sacraments... each sacrament has a particular shape. For example, the matter of the sacrament of the Eucharist is bread and wine, rather than other foods. Why? Simply because Christ used bread and wine. This particularity doesn't imply a denigration of other foods.

colkoch said...

I would have gotten back to you earlier adcontrarium, but I've been a little busy.

I've thought a lot about the 50% divorce rate. At the risk of being considered a traditional religious conservative, I think we need to come up with a much better concept of relationship and sex with in relatioships. As I recently posted, I think the Jewish tradition has it's priorities about these issues far better organized than Catholicism.

But sex is only one issue. The others have more to do with our understandings of the work which goes into long term commitments and how important prioritising communication between spouses is in the furthering of that commitment.

People change with unbelievable rapidity in this culture, if only because of the availability of other points of view. Blogs are one example of this. This places enormous importance on open communication as one partner may begin to 'evolve' at a different rate than the other.

I wish things would stay in place for longer than they do--I'm on my fifth computer or something-- but they don't, and neither do people. Keeping open all lines of communication is critical and takes effort. I think the effort part is where things are breaking down. Effort takes energy and how many of us actually have the energy it takes?

Compare the stress levels of Americans with other western nations and one can begin to wonder why any relationships actually last. It's not the ones that fail that suprise me, it's the one's that last and that's a very sad statement.