Most of us grew up with a common ditty: “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in a baby carriage.” We jumped rope to it, I think, but my how things have changed. Anyone who is in touch with the popular culture can see the obvious: marriage is entirely negotiable when arranging one’s adult life. It’s not a necessary step either for intimacy or for having children.
Increasingly, these post-Roe v. Wade children have themselves been welcomed into non-marital arrangements and far fewer live with their biological fathers than ever in our history. Gone is the notion of mother, father and child as a mirror of Trinitarian love—such a transcendent understanding of family life is entirely lost on a culture that neither worships God nor understands his inner life as a paradigm for human relationships.
The new narrative is illustrated with a stripping away of modesty, an early introduction to sexual angst, a flurry of suggestive texts, various fleeting hook-ups, not-so-secret trysts and the eventual urgent decisions about single-motherhood vs. abortion. The new slogans concerning “choice” have conquered, and the “story of families” has been undone.
In a recent edition of the Wall Street Journal, Jennifer Moses explains what changed about the women now embarking on motherhood: “We are the first moms in history to have grown up with widely available birth control ... We were also the first not only to be free of old-fashioned fears about our reputations but actually pressured by our peers and the wider culture to find our true womanhood in the bedroom … So here we are, the feminist and postfeminist and postpill generation. We somehow survived our own teen and college years (except for those who didn’t), and now, with the exception of some Mormons, evangelicals and Orthodox Jews, scads of us don’t know how to teach our own sons and daughters not to give away their bodies so readily. We’re embarrassed, and we don’t want to be, God forbid, hypocrites.”
And so the parents wring their hands, standing by as their children approach adulthood with an entirely different view towards chastity and commitment, and the net result is a firm rejection of tradition. Catholics are no different, as Richard Dujardin wrote recently in the Providence Journal, because statistics for church weddings have also plummeted: “While the overall number of marriages slipped by 17 percent in Rhode Island between 1969 and 2009, the number of Catholic weddings in this most heavily Catholic state dropped far more severely. It plunged 71 percent — from 4,452 a year to just 1,300.”
While some priests who were contacted about those numbers danced around the issue–citing “destination weddings,” the economy and other factors—these excuses ring hollow when faced with the actual reasons given in the piece by the very couples who avoided Church weddings. One priest sums it up: “It’s not so much that Catholics are getting married someplace else,” he says. “They are not getting married, period. “In 1965, if a couple was living together, it would have been scandalous. Today, it seems no one blinks an eye.”
We have to face reality: the latest generation has patently rejected the traditional narrative about families. No longer raised to see themselves as the fruit of an exclusive life-long union to which a couple clung for better or worse, these children navigate life without being about to trust in commitments—their own or others.
While many received the news with a shrug, the first item must be to call this crisis what it is: this is our own cultural tsunami that cannot be ignored.