The Magazine

Revenge of the Rugrats

A new generation weighs in on divorce.

Oct 10, 2005, Vol. 11, No. 04 • By MARY EBERSTADT
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Similarly, parents who have long wondered what makes Eminem the bestselling recording artist in America might look no further than these themes, scrawled large on every album he has released: My father left me; my mother neglected me; I'll never abandon my own child the way my parents did me. Of course Eminem's music, like that of most other current balladeers, also plumbs themes of sex, drugs, and rock and roll (to say nothing of date rape, mayhem, and violence). Yet its insistence on the damage done by abdicating adults is also an unmistakable, if backhanded, compliment to the nuclear family. And it affirms along with many other such voices that from the point of view of some significant number of young adults, at least some of the social experimentation of the recent past has gone awry.

As progressive sociologists like to point out, widespread divorce, illegitimacy, dual-income homes, and other changes to the way kids now grow up are indeed here to stay. As they also like to point out, children are in fact resilient, and many will simply thrive no matter what is thrown their way. But what emanates from the popular culture these days is a dissenting point: Some will not. Moreover, in an era when half of all children will live without a biological parent in the home at some point in growing up, when the 2004 statistic for babies born to unwed mothers reached a record 34-plus percent, and when creative minds demand ever more recognition for what are said to be ever braver new experiments in family formation, the unhappy testimonials of these former children have not peaked. They have only just begun.

Mary Eberstadt is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and author of Home-Alone America: Why Today's Kids Are Overmedicated, Overweight, and More Troubled Than Before (Sentinel), just out in paperback.