Over at Feministing, Samhita writes about recent survey data on “Millennials'” (that’s 19 to 29 year olds’) attitudes toward marriage and parenting.  She notes that most Millennials rank “being a good parent” as a more important goal than having a successful marriage, with over half ranking being a good parent as “one of the most important things” in life, compared to just 20 percent who felt that way about having a good marriage.

What these Millennials might be missing–and what Samhita certainly does–is that these aren’t mutually exclusive goals, and in fact one of the most important aspects of being a good parent is to work on maintaining your marriage. When you look at the data on what affects kids’ life prospects, the presence of two parents is among the most powerful.

This certainly doesn’t mean that single parents can’t be good parents, or that being a good parent shouldn’t be a top goal. But Samhita implies that it’s great news that the next generation is more focused on the goal of parenting than on that tired old institution of marriage, writing “so much for the argument that the death of traditional marriage is pointing to the decline of family values.”
But really, if you are concerned about parenting, you should also be very concerned about the relationship you have with the kid’s other parent.

Personally, I remember soon after having my first child, reading a parenting book or article (I wish I could remember exactly what it was to give the author due credit…) that argued that if your goals is to raise a secure, happy, successful child and you are wondering where to invest your marginal dollar or hour, you should use those resources to improve your marriage. Hire a babysitter and go out on a date once a week so that you have time alone together.

It’s a temptation among new parents is to focus exclusively on the new project of cultivating baby, while putting your marriage on the back burner. But in fact, having a healthy marriage partnership will be the most important gift you ever give your child. This author suggested that rather than it being bad for baby to occasionally leave him or her to do something on your own as a couple, it’s actually a comforting message to send, that mom and dad like to do things together sometimes. I hadn’t thought about it that way before, and have appreciated and tried to make use of the advice.

More bizarrely in Samhita’s feministing piece, she seems to suggest that providing for a child is somehow an easier job as a single parent than as a couple. She writes: “A decade or so ago, you may have thought you could still get married and have a family, but the financial reality of it in the millenium is a different story.” Providing for children can certainly be a challenge, but obviously it is significantly easier when there are two people making provisions, and who are able to cut down on expenses, by sharing a home, making joint investments, spend time with the child, and so on.

Marriage and parenting aren’t and shouldn’t be an “either or” proposition.