Importance of Strong Families Stressed Amid Marriage Challenges

( [email protected] ) Sep 24, 2007 09:58 AM EDT

WASHINGTON – Observance of national Family Day on Monday recognizes the importance of strong families to a better America. But for some, the day also serves as a reminder of the country’s growing marriage problems.

President Bush proclaimed Sept. 24, 2007 as Family Day, crediting families as the “cornerstone of our Nation,” according to the White House.

“Parents and family members are the first and most important influence in a child’s life,” said Bush in a statement. “Families offer a stable and nurturing environment by providing love, guidance, support, and comfort … by caring for and spending time with their children, parents instill lifelong values and help build a better America.”

The latest survey by the Census Bureau, however, paints a portrait of American families different from the one Bush and other pro-family conservatives have envisioned and fought to protect. The “Marriage and Divorce: 2004” report, released last week, revealed disturbing statistics on the state of families in the United States.

According to the report, more than half of American couples who married in the late 1970s did not stay together long enough to see their 25th wedding anniversary, marking the first time since World War II that married people had a less than even chance of still being married 25 years later, as The New York Times noted.

While 74.4 percent of men who married after 1970 stayed married for 10 years, only 46.2 percent were still married after 30 years. Among women, 71.6 percent remained married after 10 years, but only 42.1 percent were still together after 30 years.

By comparison, the majority of men (70 percent) who married between 1955 and 1959 remained married 25 years later. And 61 percent of them were still married by their 40th anniversary.

Moreover, about 79 percent of women first married in the late 1950s marked their 15th anniversary compared to only 57 percent of women who married for the first time from 1985 to 1989.

"Lots of divorces are occurring after the first decade of marriage. It's not the case that if you make it through the first 10 years, your marriage is divorce-proof," commented Andrew Cherlin, a sociology professor at Johns Hopkins University, according to USA Today.

On average, first marriages that end in divorce last about eight years.

The Bush administration said it is working with faith-based and community organizations to promote healthy marriage, responsible fatherhood, and positive youth development.

“When children are connected to family, community, school, and places of worship, they are more likely to make good choices and reach their full potential,” said Bush. “Strong, loving families help young Americans grow into successful adults and build a Nation shining with optimism.”

According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University, which has been promoting the fourth Monday in September as Family Day since 2001, children and teenagers who almost always ate dinner with their parents were 31 percent less likely than average to smoke, drink or use illegal drugs.

Through phone surveys for its 2006 report, CASA also found that teens who never ate dinner with their families were 72 percent more likely than average to delve into alcohol, tobacco or illicit substances.

Furthermore, CASA’s more than 10 years of research have consistently found that children and teens who have three or more dinners at home with their families each week are more likely to do better in school and to say they can confide in their parents.

For Denise Duchesneau, a registered dietitian from Newark, Del., eating together with her family is God’s answer to their prayer before the meal, when they ask God to “Bless us, O Lord.”

“Dinner time together for us is a real blessing,” she said, according to The Dialog newspaper of the Catholic Dioscese of Wilmington, Del.

The positive effects of family meals on the lives of children are why CASA sponsors an annual “Family Day: A Day to Eat Dinner With Your Children.”

Audrey Barrick and Eric Young in Washington D.C. contributed to this report.