Why Won’t Parents Let Their Kids Be Parents?
The psychologist Erik Erikson famously argued for eight successive and cumulative stages of normal psychosocial development. The highest three are “intimacy” (as opposed to “isolation”), “generativity” (counterposed to “stagnation”), and “ego integrity” (against “despair”). These final stages mirror the Christian call to give yourself for another. Intimacy involves bringing another person into your life. Generativity is taking responsibility for future generations. Ego integrity, arguably, is the wholeness of the human person who is the glory of God and heir of the beatific vision, over against the despair of the isolated who suffer eternal damnation.
Erikson’s stages suggest that much is wrong with young people today.
Marriage, to the extent that it still exists and is not substituted for other arrangements, is increasingly delayed. According to the National Marriage Project, the average age at which American males marry is 30; females, 28. There’s even a term to denote this deferral: it’s called a “capstone” marriage, presumably the point at which — having otherwise “gotten one’s act together” and “sown one’s wild oats” — one can “responsibly” settle into married life.
We have it on the authority of the U.S. Supreme Court (as argued in Obergefell v. Hodges) that there is no intrinsic nexus between marriage and procreation, so marriages that never expand beyond a twosome — even when capable of doing so — must now be considered normal and unproblematic. With no natural expectation that a marriage will evolve into parenthood, couples are also deferring having children, if they have them at all.
A society needs a 2.1 replacement rate just to sustain itself. The American fertility rate is now at an all-time low of 1.64, and it wouldn’t be that high were it not for the 1.94 rate among U.S. Hispanic women pulling it upwards. Data from the National Marriage Project confirms this trend. Since the 1980s, American families with a minor child have become a minority. Today, children are present in only 40 percent of American families.
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