GENERAL ARTICLES

First Aid for the Family

Good old-fashioned family life was the best safeguard against divorce. And it need not be a lost art

PAUL POPENOE May 1 1947
GENERAL ARTICLES

First Aid for the Family

Good old-fashioned family life was the best safeguard against divorce. And it need not be a lost art

PAUL POPENOE May 1 1947

First Aid for the Family

PAUL POPENOE

Good old-fashioned family life was the best safeguard against divorce. And it need not be a lost art

IN SOME parts of Canada the divorce rate is now as high as was that in the United States just before World War II at a time when many Americans were already calling conditions there alarming. Canadians generally are not yet taking to the divorce courts nearly as readily as their American cousins—but the rate at which divorce is increasing in Canada is enough to squelch any smug satisfaction on this side of the border.

The fact that there was “only” one divorce for every 21 Canadian marriages in 1945, as compared to one divorce for every three marriages across the border in 1945, is grounds for little sat isfaction when you dig a little deeper. For after the first world war only one Canadian couple were divorced for every 482 who married.

What is the matter with us? Our grandparents seemed to get along pretty well in marriage—why can’t we? What has happened?

Much has happened, of course, and most of it can be traced back to industrialization, with the accompanying growth of large cities. In them the individual, not the family, becomes the unit. And so far as a simple formula can be suggested to curb divorces it is that the nation must again become family-minded.

When a family moves from farm to city it may take the first long step toward disintegration. Look at Mr. and Mrs. John Smith, for instance, who left the farm last year because Mr. Smith bought a filling station “in town.” Unless they are careful Junior and Sis will become half orphans. Instead of working around the farm with an occasional short trip to the village, Mr. Smith now disappears

on a bus at 7.42 a.m. six days a week. Junior and Sis don’t see him until he returns for a late supper, looking forward to a quiet hour or two with the newspaper and radio after the children have gone to bed.

The next step is to make them full orphans, for Mrs. Smith also leaves home. She spends twice as much time shopping as she did when the family lived in the country. She spends four or five times as much of her average day on movies, bridge parties, clubs, and lectures, because she wants to identify herself with the social life of the community and make up for opportunities previously missed.

Junior and Sis no longer have any parents!

Child Brides—and Grooms

MORE and more the children find that the familiar patterns of home life are being withdrawn from them. Having few chores around the house they spend more time off at play. They, too, try to fill their hours with social life; partly with children they meet at school, partly on the street corner or in the neighborhood juke joint. They learn about human beings and social patterns, not from their elders who have some experience to pass on to them, but from their contemporaries that is, other children, just as immature and ignorant as themselves. They learn haphazardly, by trial and error.

In a few years they will be old enough to marry, legally; but emotionally and socially they will still be children, or, at the most, adolescents. They will have had few opportunities to assume adult

responsibility, or even to see anyone else assume it. Instead of the normal patterns of family lift? they will have picked up the distorted patterns provided by the movies, the radio, and popular songs.

They won’t know what marriage really means, but will believe it means that someone else is going to make them happy forever after. When it doesn’t turn out exactly that way they will exclaim, “I didn’t pick out the right partner,” and head for a lawyer’s office.

These city patterns, these patterns of family disintegration, are of course much more complicated than my illustration suggests. Life in the Machine Age is made up largely of frustrations, which lead to daydreams on the one hand, to pessimism and cynicism on the other. Girls are trained to compete with men instead of to co-operate with them. Overemphasis on material values leads to a decline in spiritual values. Neither home, school, nor church has carried on an educational campaign adequate to offset these conditions.

But there are ways in which society can strengthen family life, if it wants to make the effort. Let me suggest eight of them.

Point One: Young people must be enabled to

grow up, emotionally.

Look at some of the husbands and wives you know. There is Jane, who still fries to get her own way by having tantrums, just as she did when she was two years old. There is Harry, who is st ill t ied to his mother’s apron strings, just as when he was five. He has to stop and see mama on his way to the office every morning; it would break her heart if her darling should Continued on J*/

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First Aid for the Family

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neglect her! But of course he can neglect his wife and children, at mama’s dictation. If his wife has planned something for the evening mama will phone demanding that Harry come over and advise her on her income tax.

“She’ll be hurt if I put it off,” Harry explains to his wife. “And, you know, I’m all she has in the world.”

There is the equally immature husband, who at the age of 32 has not. passed the emotional level of a boy scout. He wants to be with the gang, and is secretly a bit afraid of all females-including his wife. All his spare time is given to the howling team, to fishing trips, and to “conferences” with the fellows at Kelley’s Billiard Parlors.

There is the wife who is still at the adolescent age emotionally—although she is the mother of three children. All men are equally interesting to her, just because they are men. It* was that way when she went to high school. It’s still that way! She likes to appear in public in slacks and a page-boy boh, and flirts with the streetcar conductor, the grocer’s clerk, or any other male in sight.

In almost every divorce it will he found that one party, if not both, failed to grow up emotionally. They are trying to make a child’s game out of the most serious adult responsibility.

This difficulty can be avoided if young people have closer contact with their own parents, especially their fathers, and if, while still adolescent, they are given a part in the work of the world alongside adults. The school system is unfavorable to emotional

development because it provides too few adult patterns and keeps the young too much separated from the : workaday world. A closer tie-up ! between schooling and life is necessary, j

More Dates Needed

Two: Young people should make a wider range of social contacts if they are to develop normal personalities and pick out their life partners successfully.

“Where can I meet any young men j worth knowing?” is the stock question asked by a majority of the unmarried girls in every city. In the United States the school system hag become the principal matrimonial bureau. One of its limitations lies in the fact that hoys and girls tend to associate with fellow classmates—those of their own age. But marriage is not based on sameness of age. The average man married a girl three years younger than himself. Girls should therefore have the opportunity to associate with boys a few years older than themselves.

“When our class gives a party,” said the teacher of Sunday school girls about 16 years old, “we invite the Í men from the YMCA. They are some years older than the girls. The girls think these fellows are just wonderful, and that makes it unanimous! Everybody is satisfied!”

More dates are needed, and dates with more persons. The American Institute of Family Relations, questioning thousands of men discharged j from the Navy, found that the average j man, up to the normal age of marriage, j had “gone with" not more than six girls, and some of those only once or i twice. Sociologists say a young person I should know 25 or 50 of the other sex ; fairly well, in order to choose a mate j wisely. j

Three: Rural life should be made

more attractive.

“1 have been watching two areas in one of the prairie provinces,” a Dominion educator reports. “In one of 1 hese nothing has been provided for the young people. Organized activities that they can enjoy are almost nonexistent. The churches are feeble. The one motion picture theatre usually presents films four or five years old. Not only is there a high rate of juvenile delinquency in that area, but the* young people leave the farms as soon as they can, and go to the cities. Family life in this part of the province is deteriorating each year.

Training for Marriage

“Only a few hundred miles away is another area, no more fertile but much more prosperous. The country high schools are social centres for their neighborhoods.. The rural churches are rich in ideas to interest youth There are more organizations for young people than I have seen anywhere else. There is little juvenile delinquency, but a wholesome and democratic family life, lots of reasonably early marriages, and the young couples are gradually taking over the farms on the edges of their home district and spreading these patterns. There is mighty little divorce in that part of the province!”

Four: Specific education for marriage and parenthood are particularly needed because as life becomes more complicated each year, marriage becomes correspondingly more difficult.

Surveys by the Canadian Youth Commission, the Gallup Poll, and other agencies, show young people complaining that the schools have failed them more at this point than at any other. They agree with Dr. William Line of the University of Toronto: “We could do with a little more instruction in parenthood in our high schools and a little less algebra.”

“In our high school,” one young woman complained, “there was never the slightest suggestion that we might marry and have homes of our own. We were always told that we should prepare ourselves to be ‘independent.’ Most of the girls in my class still are! And they blame the school for it.”

Probably more harm than good resulted, however, in a high school where a class in family living was introduced -and put in charge of an unmarried teacher whom everyone considered the most warped individual on the staff. Making no such fatal error, another school introduced a similar course, taught by a woman who was herself happily married. Everyone knew she was doing a good job bringing up her own children and this inspired confidence.

“We couldn’t ask a question that was too much for her,” one of her students enthused. The wholesome attitude and fund of information that she gave us has made the difference between success and failure for several girls I know.”

Scores of schools, doing a good job in this Way, prove that it can be done. All that is needed is to bring the other schools up to the level of the present best. But only a determined demand by parents and taxpayers will ensure this.

Follow-up Help

Five: Every community should provide special counseling services to help those individuals who meet unexpected problems in marriage and family life.

In larger cities, from Halifax to Vancouver, groups of citizens are already working on this need. Roman Catholic authorities have set up a Family Centre in Montreal with num-

erous other facilities in different parts ! of the Province of Quebec.

Other countries will watch with interest developments in Great Britain, where the Marriage Guidance Council, a voluntary agency, has already established representatives in a hundred cities. The Catholic Marriage Advisory Council is paralleling it on a smaller scale. A report to Parliament in February of this year urged, support of these services by the Treasury and the additional appointment of xriarriage welfare officers to serve with every court in the kingdom.

Toronto’s family court has long performed similar services. Each year some 3,000 couples lay their troubles before Judge H. S. Mott and his staff, who report that in three quarters of the cases they bring about an improvement in family relations. A few cities in the United States have staffed their courts in this way, while the American Institute of Family Relations has for the past 18 years offered help on a nonprofit basis.

Competent observation in the highdivorce areas indicates that an actual majority of all divorced persons would have been better off without the divorce if given help along other lines at the right time. There is nothing new about family counseling — what is needed is to make such services more general.

■Community’s Job

Six: The community should encourage family life by giving active support, not merely lip service, to the building of sound marriages.

“The family is the foundation of civilization,” the local board of education may solemnly declaim. “Every normal person should look forward to successful marriage and parenthood . . .” But this means worse than nothing if the same school board refuses to tolerate a married woman in the school system, promptly dismissing any woman teacher who dares to marry.

Every thoughtful person ought to watch conditions in his own community, to find out whether successful marriage is being presented as an evidence of superior personal qualifications and social status, or whether it is being disparaged and penalized. He might ask, for instance:

“Are we discouraging public entertainment that ridicules and sneers at marriage, and are we encouraging everything that treats marriage realistically and respectfully?”

“Are we encouraging our schools to employ teachers who are married—and half of them men, who in their own lives offer the young people good examples of what a husband and father should be?”

“Are we supporting any social services which try to substitute for the family, instead of strengthening the family?”

“Are we discouraging newspapers and speakers from referring to a divorcee as ‘gaining her freedom,’ and so on, as if marriage were a prison from which one would naturally try to escape?”

“Are we calling the attention of young people to the fact that, in a majority of cases, divorce essentially represents a failure to live successfully at the normal adult level?”

The establishment of sound patterns in public opinion will be far more important in reducing divorce than will any possible tinkering with the laws.

Seven: A great deal should be done to make childbearing more fashionable, since it is not merely necessary to national survival but one of the strongest factors for marital happiness.

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A professor’s wife tells of receiving a call from a Society woman who learned that she had a child in arms and another on the way. “How interesting!” exclaimed the visitor, “Just like the slums!”

At the bottom of society there is always a rotten layer that is a source of trouble and expense; but the social and biological decay that is most dangerous is that which begins at the top. Among the “social elite” and the climbers the birth rate has been falling, and marriage has been deteriorating, for a couple of centuries.

The Canadian Youth Commission found that a large proportion of the unmarried women are those “with advanced education.” A survey by the U. S. Office of Education reported that the divorce rate among college graduate women is four times as high as that of college graduate men. In virtually every large city on the North American continent the white-collar class is not having enough children to reproduce itself.

Unfortunately it is the rich who tend to set the styles for the rest of the population. When they set the style of divorce they are imitated in that respect as well as in dress, entertainment and sports. Hence divorce becomes “fashionable.” When they set the style of a one-child or two-child family, the small family becomes “fashionable.”

Can childbearing be made more “fashionable”? There are already some interesting changes in public opinion, as reflected, for example, by the present willingness of stars of the entertainment world to be known as parents. When Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., married, his father and stepmother—so the story went at the time, and it was at least symbolically true—exacted a promise that he have no children for an indefinite time: Douglas Fairbanks

and Mary Pickford thought it would be fatal to their own careers to be grandparents. When Marlene Dietrich first

came to America she was said to have gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal the fact that she had a child—it was supposed that a woman could have no glamour if she were a mother! By contrast Hedy Lamarr, Betty Grable, Deanna Durbin, Rita Hayworth, and a hundred others who have or aspire to have glamour, are now advertising to all the continents, for months ahead of time, that they are “infanticipating” !

This tendency can be encouraged; but to make childbearing more desirable society will not merely have to give recognition to mothers; it will also have to give them opportunities to take a more active part in the work of the world. Can you imagine a woman with the ability and energy of Eleanor Roosevelt, staying at home and devoting herself entirely to housekeeping? There are a million other women, less conspicuously endowed, but no less determined to find selfexpression outside the home. More part-time jobs, more opportunities for fruitful volunteer work, will have to be provided for them.

Money Helps, Too

Eight: There should be further

equalization of the financial burdens of parenthood-—a need already widely recognized to be necessary.

Canada, Great Britain, and a score of other nations have taken a first step in this direction through family allowances. But while the small monthly allotment for each child may be a real incentive to the low-income family, it has little relation to the cost of rearing children in the middle-class family where the parents wish their offspring to be well educated. Yet these higher levels equally need help, the more so as they produce a disproportionate part of the nation’s leadership.

Researchers of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. have calculated that the family with an annual income of $2,500 will pay out $9,886 to bring one

child up to the age of 18. And his most expensive years will come after that, if he goes to college! On an income of not much more than $5,000, they show, a father would be out of pocket $100,000 for the privilege of bringing up four children and sending them through the university. Is it any wonder that the birth rate is low in that strat um of the population?

The proportional family wage, a system by which a man’s salary is augmented, not by a fixed amount but by a percentage of his basic wage for each child, seems to be the only measure far-reaching enough to meet this need. It has been tried with success in France for nearly 30 years. Jean Dufour and Pierre Boyer work side by side on the same job with the same degree of competence; but Jean, with a wife and five children, gets a pay cheque twice as large as that of Pierre, a bachelor. This merely means that the two are getting approximately the same “real wage,” as the economists use the phrase—that is, they can maintain the same standard of living. People will be more willing to have children if they do not have to lower their standard of living with each addition to the family.

The present increase in the divorce rate cannot be laughed off. The situation is bad and getting worse all the time. It is fatuous to pretend that this is a mere postwar episode which will soon pass. The divorce rate has its ups and downs but the trend has been upward for some generations in the United States and for some decades in Canada. It is not going to be changed by eloquent resolutions or pious sermons. Only a careful analysis and application of the findings of science will change the picture. American society has attempted to base itself on the individual. The attempt has been a tragic failure. Only as society is based on the family, and unes all its powers to maintain and strengthen the family, can modern society hope to survive, if