By their very nature, the institution of matrimony itself and conjugal love are ordained for the procreation and education of children, and find in them their ultimate crown.
–Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes (1965), no. 48[i]
How are marriage and life connected?
Everyone knows “where babies come from” and that marriage, commitment, or really any knowledge of the other person is not strictly necessary. So why is “Life” (or “Children”) one of the four themes for the Marriage: Unique for a Reason initiative? To answer this question, it’s necessary to answer a couple of other questions first:
- What are human beings?
- What do human beings require to flourish?
What are we? There are many helpful definitions of the human being out there that get at our unique constitution: rational animals, ensouled bodies or embodied souls, individuals-in-relation, or, to be a bit more technical about it: “A man, woman, or child of the species Homo sapiens, distinguished from other animals by superior mental development, power of articulate speech, and upright stance.”[ii] We are at the “top of the food chain” even though we are by no means the strongest of animals, and we are the only animals able to consider our own being and destiny. And yet, despite these inherent capacities, we are, at the same time, the most helpless of all animals when we are infants. We take the longest time to become “self-sufficient” and require other creatures to care for us and educate us for years. We cannot survive without our parents or some other adult human being who is willing to step into the place of a parent. And since our senses develop in utero, we know the smell of our mother[iii] and the sound of her voice[iv] and can recognize her when we are born. Our mother’s physical presence can calm us down as infants. There is also evidence that the presence of an involved father during pregnancy reduces the risk of death for the infant for the first year[v] and his physical or mental status can affect his baby’s health.[vi]
In view of these facts, what do human beings need in order to flourish? We need a mother and a father—and not only when we are infants, but all the way through adulthood![vii] If this is how we have been created, it makes sense that in God’s plan, a new human being would come-to-be within a relationship that would (at least attempt to) guarantee that this human being would be cared for by his or her mother and father for all of life. Marriage—the permanent, faithful, fruitful union of one man and one woman—is God’s first and primary way of taking care of each and every one of us from the beginning of our existence. We come-to-be in an act of sexual intercourse between a man and a woman; if that man and woman are married, we end up in the situation best suited to our human development.[viii] “Marriage as fundamentally pro-child, protecting the gift of the child and preserving the vital roles of mothers and fathers.”[ix] So that’s why “Children” is one of our considerations when we talk about the uniqueness of marriage.
The series we are beginning on the MUR blog accompanies short segments of the video Made for Life. In this video, married couples discuss the importance of openness to life to their marriages, and why children do best in homes with married mothers and fathers. During the next six weeks, we will explore these themes a bit more. Much of the posts will contain text found in the Viewer’s Guide of Made for Life. The questions provided can be used for personal reflection or for group discussion.
[i] Second Vatican Council. Gaudium et Spes. http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19651207_gaudium-et-spes_en.html
[ii] Oxford Living Dictionaries. “Human being”. https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/human_being
[iii] There are a number of places to read about this, including: https://www.womenshealth.gov/itsonlynatural/addressing-myths/incredible-facts-about-babies-breast-milk.html and http://www.parenting.com/article/your-babys-sense-of-smell
[iv] Similarly, there are any number of articles on this, including: http://www.parenting.com/article/what-babies-learn-in-the-womb
[v] “Father Involvement in Preganancy Could Reduce Infant Mortality,” EurekAlert, June 17, 2010, www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2010-06/uosf-fii061710.php, as referenced in Paul Raeburn, Do Fathers Matter? (New York: Scientific American, 2014).
[vi] Prakesh S. Shah and Knowledge Synthesis Group, “Parental Factors and Low Birthweight, Preterm, and Small for Gestational Age Births: A Systematic Review,” American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology 202, no. 2 (2010): 103-23, as referenced in Paul Raeburn, Do Fathers Matter? (New York: Scientific American, 2014).
[vii] So-called “grey divorce” has dramatically risen in the last decade, and adult children struggle when their parents split up. See one of these articles: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/24/fashion/weddings/never-too-old-to-hurt-from-parents-divorce.html?_r=0; http://www.huffingtonpost.com/terry-gaspard-msw-licsw/how-to-move-on-from-your-grey-divorce_b_5242932.html; https://www.hg.org/article.asp?id=32532
[viii] See, for example, W. Bradford Wilcox, “Even for Rich Kids, Marriage Matters,” Family Studies, December 19, 2013;“Why Marriage Matters: Thirty Conclusions from the Social Sciences,” Institute for American Values, 2011. Robin Wilson and W. Bradford Wilcox, “Bringing up Baby: Adoption, Marriage, and the Best Interests of the Child,” William and Mary Bill of Rights Journal. Vol. 14, No. 3, pp. 883-908, February 2006. David Ribar, “Why Marriage Matters for Child Wellbeing,” The Future of Children. Vol. 25, No. 2, Fall 2015. Paula Fomby and Andrew Cherlin, “Family Instability and Child Well-Being,” American Sociological Review. Vol. 72 (2007): 181–204, doi: 10.1177/000312240707200203. Wendy Manning, Pamela Smock, and Debarun Majumdar, “The Relative Stability of Cohabiting and Marital Unions for Children,” Population Research and Policy Review. Vol. 23 (2004): 135–59, doi:10.1023/B:POPU.0000019916.29156.a7. Kathleen Ziol-Guest and Rachel Dunifon, “Complex Living Arrangements and Child Health: Examining Family Structure Linkages with Children’s Health Outcomes,” Family Relations. Vol. 63 (2014): 424–37, doi:10.1111/fare.12071.
[ix] USCCB, Made For Life Viewer’s Guide, p. vii.