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The Thoroughly Modern Marriage?

4:51 PM, Mar 4, 2014 • By PETER AUGUSTINE LAWLER
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Reeves’s thought almost seems to be that the contemporary high-end job is so fulfilling that spending time with kids is drudgery by comparison.  But is it really so hard to explain the choice to be not only a productive (or productive and romantic) but a caregiving being?  The latter choice might actually involve fewer constraints on who we are as free and relational beings. Spending time with your kids surely is infinitely more enjoyable than your day spent “networking” with your “colleagues.” The libertarian economist Glenn Reynolds recently wrote that nobody cares about your kids as much as you do, and that caring—that love—isn’t of course captured by the cold words “commitment” and “investment.” I gather Reeves neglects those bonds of love because they would undermine his general thesis that the contemporary marriage is based on “independence” and not “dependence.” But like Locke, he falls short in defending that thesis with the facts on the ground. All you need is love might be silly, but just as silly is the thought that you don’t need—aren’t bound by—love (and not, of course, just romantic love) at all. 

So I’m far from thinking that the sophisticated invention of the co-parenting contract is some kind of solution to the problem of sustaining places for love, marriage, and children in a free society. Studies actually seem to show that happiest are people who choose to have no children and those who have four or more. In both cases, apparently, we find a clear understanding of who I am as primarily either a productive/romantic/hedonic or parental being. Those who choose in the middle really do have to juggle conflicting self-understandings, and maybe the result is being more harried and confused than people are really supposed to be. It’s understandable, of course, why people would want all the goods—the whole menu of choice—that our world offers.  But that doesn’t mean they can work really hard to have them all without lots of emotional cost. 

There are other problems too. If people only have one or two kids (and it’s really tough—both in terms of time and money—to have the third in the co-parenting contract between two professionals without being really wealthy), then we still aren’t doing quite enough to replace ourselves as citizens and members of a species.  As Reeves does get around to explaining, this understanding of marriage is only available to a creative minority of highly educated and prosperous Americans.  For less fortunate or able Americans, marriage is floundering more than ever. That means, for one thing, as more is being invested is some of children, less—in both money and quality time—is being invested in others. From one point of view, “who’s your daddy?” is less important in our productive meritocracy, where people are ranked according to their personal accomplishments and not according to their racial, religious, or class backgrounds.  From another, the answer to that question is more important than ever, given the need for the personal investment of both of your parents to have much of a chance to succeed in our productive meritocracy.

Let's close by returning to the problem—which can, for example, be alleviated by the religious view that we are, deep down, relational creature—that what Reeves calls the post-feminist understanding of who we are as autonomous beings doesn’t seem to be completely true.

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