Presented without comment, at first:
The elective spinster: making a life of one’s own
The decline of marriage isn’t a problem
It’s not the economic inequality, it’s the economic immobility
In Silicon Valley, perks for some workers but struggles for parents
Does your time as a parent make any difference?
The Answer Is Never: Rewriting the false narrative of childlessness
Sixteen writers defend their decision not to have kids
Sex education in Europe turns to urging more births
After the Saturday morning session of General Conference, with its focus on traditional family forms and formation, a wave of indignation washed through my social media, which leans noticeably left. Some felt marginalized by the focus on families. Some were bored or annoyed with the repetitive message. Some were straight up angry. And some were scornful of the very idea that traditional families need defense or shoring up of any kind.
I do understand these responses, even if I can’t fully inhabit them from my privileged subject positions. All except for the last one. It seems to me that there is a clear case to be made that traditional routes to family formation as they have developed in the modern West — by which I mean couples marrying and bearing and raising children within marriage — have been deconstructed quite purposefully by elite culture. (The much-observed irony, of course, is that elites largely continue to use marriage and family as vehicles to pass on their material and social resources, even as they erode and deride the cultural moorings of the institution, leaving it moribund for others.)
So I sat down at my computer for ten minutes and gathered a bunch of links from the last couple of weeks that I believe illustrates the point. I didn’t have to dig deep for these — most of these stories were among the “most read” at the media outlets I frequent. Now, I don’t defend every dire prediction or hand-wringing claim advanced in these articles. No doubt most readers will find at least some of the articles unpersuasive or irrelevant. And I am certain that I am wrong about at least some of the socially conservative convictions and fears I currently hold; only time will tell which, however.
Nevertheless, I think my short, cranky list makes a decent case that the view that traditional family formation needs shoring up and revitalizing is not laughable on its face. That there has indeed been a broad erosion of the once-shared consensus that men and women should seek interdependence in lasting relationship and marriage. That bearing and raising children is a personally worthy and socially valuable endeavor, an investment of hope and love in the future. And that the erosion of this consensus has sown and will continue to sow unexpected social disruption.
I don’t defend every word of every Saturday morning talk — I haven’t even listened to them all, for one thing! — and it’s true that often the DEFENDING THE FAMILY rhetoric is repetitive and unsophisticated. Many of us live in an online milieu of long-form think pieces, sophisticated rhetoric and data-wielding, and literary ruminations. General Conference addresses can’t and don’t need to meet this standard, and I’m not claiming that they do. Their authority, rather, comes from their prophetic character . Prophetic not in the sense of making dire predictions of the future — indeed, I suspect that most dire predictions about the erosion of the family are likely to be off on the specifics. They are prophetic in the sense of a rough, naive voice calling from the margins of society an unpopular, even scandalous, message.
It’s only recently that a voice in support of traditional families could be considered remotely “prophetic,” of course — and there are still many environments, including most LDS wards, in which such a message may be met with unreflective back-slapping and demonization of the other. But I am persuaded that the message of traditional family formation will become increasingly prophetic as the cultural momentum of the present moment carries into the future. I’ve been paying attention to these issues for most of my adult life, about twenty years — since the Family Proclamation was issued in 1995, in fact, the anniversary which inspired many of the pro-family messages we heard this spring. I was deeply skeptical of the conservative pro-family message at the time — even though I, like a typical educated white American, sought marriage and traditional childrearing for myself — but over the years I have become more, not less, persuaded that the message is necessary. Again, this is not to say that every eventuality has played out exactly as predicted, nor to claim that I know exactly what’s coming next.
So there’s my defense of the defense of the family. DEFENDING THE DEFENSE OF THE FAMILY. It’s catchy, you have to admit.