When I reflect on my favorite memories as a child, I think of climbing up on my dad’s knees and doing back flips off his lap or practicing volleyball skills with him in our yard. My most comforting memories of my mom were of her reading stories to me at night and private girl talks with her while we sat on the edge of her bed. Although none of these activities are exclusively gender specific, I appreciated that I could ask my dad for help when I needed a tight jar opened or my bike fixed, and I could go to my mom when I ran out of tampons or needed specific types of emotional support. Two parent households are decreasing in number and many parents are left alone trying to nurture all of the emotional, physical, spiritual, intellectual and social needs of their growing children or are searching outside the home for help to meet all of their needs.
Mothers and fathers have some innately different parenting styles that contribute valuable skills in child development. Beginning in infancy, babies respond differently to each parent and learn from their unique styles. “Harvard pediatrician Michael Yogman demonstrated that by six weeks of age, babies respond differently to each parent. In his research, babies would partially close their eyes, slow their heart rates, and relax their shoulders as their mothers approached to pick them up, as if they were sighing, ‘Ahhh, Mom.’ When fathers approached, the babies hunched their shoulders, their heart rates rose higher and they opened their eyes wider as if to say, ‘It’s Dad…party time!’ (Pruett & Pruett, Partnership Parenting, 2009, p. 18)). Infants also learn different approaches to life by the unique way they are held by their mother or father. “A mother tends to approach and pick up her baby in a predictable fashion. Nine times in ten, she puts both hands under the baby’s upper back and shoulders, cradling the child in her hands and arms as she lifts the baby to her upper chest and into the crook of her neck. The baby’s face [is] turned inward [which] gives the baby more ready access to the mother’s face and body, but less to the world beyond this…. When fathers go to pick up their children, their approach is unpredictable, They may hold the baby at arm’s length, look the baby in the eye, or activate the baby physically by rolling the baby over in their arms. And when a man does (finally) bring the baby to his body, it is less often into he crook of his neck than against his upper chest or thorax, supporting the baby’s weight on the upturned palm of his hand…The father’s position…gives the baby a different view of the world—the same view that the father has. They are approaching the world together head on.” (Pruett & Pruett, 2009, pp.22-23). These different parenting traits are similar to how my husband and I play board games with our children. I do all I can to help them win so they feel protected and safe, and my husband tries as hard as he can to beat them in order to prepare them for the real world.
I thought about these diverse parenting styles this week as I studied the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court decision (https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/14pdf/14-556_3204.pdf) legalizing same-sex marriage in all states. I read the opinion of the court led by the bare majority (5 justices) and also all of the dissenting views written and supported by the other 4 justices. It was incredible and enlightening! It also made me much more aware (and somewhat wary) of the power of our Supreme Court. After reading the opinion of the court I have greater understanding and empathy for their reasoning behind their decision due to statements such as “it is the enduring importance of marriage that underlies the petitioners’ contentions. This, they say, is their whole point. Far from seeking to devalue marriage, the petitioners seek it for themselves because of their respect—and need—for its privileges and responsibilities. And their immutable nature dictates that same-sex marriage is their only real path to this profound commitment.” However I agree with Chief Justice Roberts that “The majority’s decision is an act of will, not legal judgment. The right it announces has no basis in the Constitution or this Court’s precedent.”
One of my greatest concerns with this decision is the possible threat to religious liberty. Chief Justice Roberts stated, “Today’s decision, for example, creates serious questions about religious liberty. Many good and decent people oppose same-sex marriage as a tenet of faith, and their freedom to exercise religion is—unlike the right imagined by the majority— actually spelled out in the Constitution. The majority graciously suggests that religious believers may continue to ‘advocate’ and ‘teach’ their views of marriage. The First Amendment guarantees, however, the freedom to ‘exercise’ religion. Ominously, that is not a word the majority uses.” Justice Thomas noted in his dissenting view that “Numerous amici (impartial advisors to the court)—even some not supporting the States—have cautioned the Court that its decision here will ‘have unavoidable and wide-ranging implications for religious liberty.’”
Another concern is how this might affect traditional marriage and especially how it might affect children over time. Chief Justice Roberts shared his concerns regarding traditional marriage and the family in his dissent, “As the majority acknowledges, marriage ‘has existed for millennia and across civilizations.’ For all those millennia, across all those civilizations, ‘marriage’ referred to only one relationship: the union of a man and a woman… This universal definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman is no historical coincidence. Marriage did not come about as a result of a political movement, discovery, disease, war, religious doctrine, or any other moving force of world history—and certainly not as a result of a prehistoric decision to exclude gays and lesbians. It arose in the nature of things to meet a vital need: ensuring that children are conceived by a mother and father committed to raising them in the stable conditions of a lifelong relationship. The premises supporting this concept of marriage are so fundamental that they rarely require articulation. The human race must procreate to survive. Procreation occurs through sexual relations between a man and a woman. When sexual relations result in the conception of a child, that child’s prospects are generally better if the mother and father stay together rather than going their separate ways. Therefore, for the good of children and society, sexual relations that can lead to procreation should occur only between a man and a woman committed to a lasting bond. Society has recognized that bond as marriage. And by bestowing a respected status and material benefits on married couples, society encourages men and women to conduct sexual relations within marriage rather than without. As one prominent scholar put it, ‘Marriage is a socially arranged solution for the problem of getting people to stay together and care for children that the mere desire for children, and the sex that makes children possible, does not solve”.
My greatest concern, going back to my opening paragraph, is how this decision will impact families, particularly children. Will it mean more children being raised without a mother or a father in the home? I am certain that many same-sex parents have exceptional parenting skills and create a loving environment for their children. There are still those who state they wished that they had been raised by a mother and a father. For example, Heather Barwick, raised by two mothers said, “I loved my mom’s partner, but another mom could never have replaced the father I lost…I’m not saying that you can’t be good parents…but by and large, the best and most successful family structure is one in which kids are being raised by both their mother and father…It’s only now, as I watch my children loving and being loved by their father each day, that I can see the beauty and wisdom in traditional marriage and parenting” (Barwick, Dear Gay Community…Your Kids are Hurting, 2015).
The Divine Institution of Marriage states that “Strong stable families, headed by a father and mother, are the anchor of society. When marriage is undermined by gender confusion and by distortions of its God-given meaning, the rising generation of children and youth will find it increasingly difficult to develop their natural identities as man or women. Some will find it more difficult to engage in wholesome courtships, form stable marriages, and raise another generation imbued with moral strength and purpose.” In The Family A Proclamation to the world it states, “We warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.” Only time will tell the true effect of the decision by the Supreme Court to legalize same-sex marriage across the county. My hope is that in an atmosphere of love and kindness we all learn together how our country can better assist parents in strengthening their families and meeting the needs of their precious children.
Stay tuned for future posts on creating an emotionally intimate marriage. My posts each week are based on what we are learning in my Marriage 300 class and there is some incredible information on emotional intimacy ahead. Thanks!