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Marriage/Family - Ed's journal
So the conservatives are plugging 'family values' as part of their electioneering. I can sort of understand, and appreciate where they're coming from. I just think they've got it wrong.
To my mind, a 'family' doesn't actually need to be a matter of blood kin. Nor does it fall neatly into the 'family unit' of husband, wife, 2.4 children.
Giving tax credits to married couples ... well, it's not much of a credit anyway, but it's just not the right approach - lets face it, if the tax credit makes any difference to your decision to get married, then you're getting married for the wrong reason.

The world has changed, and I think for the better - it's no longer scandalous to be an unmarried couple cohabiting. Divorce isn't the end of the world either.
But it also changes the other way, in that 'community groups' in many cases start to break apart a bit - a 'family' which is husband, wife, 2.4 children isn't actually all that good - children are a lot of effort, and if you have no extended family to call upon, are you really giving them the best possible upbringing?

I think not.

Anyway. The irony is, that with marriage becoming shorter term, and less 'pushed' it actually gives an opportunity to strength it. Am I alone in thinking that if you make a promise like _that_ you'd better mean it? I'm not going to say that divorce is a bad thing, but .... well, I'd much rather have couples not getting married in the first place. Don't make a promise you don't know you can keep.

So anyway, I digress. That's why I think the conservatives have it wrong - not that 'forming a family' is bad, but because their scope is too narrow. I actually think we should be looking at forming larger families - that for every 'breeding pair' there should _always_ be other adults who take up part of the responsibility for the children. Once upon a time, that might be aunts, uncles, grandparents, but there's no real reason there needs to be. Why not have 'uncle in law' and 'aunty-in-law', and actively encourage the overlapping support of children?

Because that's what this boils down to really - a couple can get along quite well, on an ad-hoc basis. The reason that 'family' is considered a good thing, is because it gives children stability in their upbringing. I'm not going to dispute that, but I think that a 'family' is something we should be thinking more:
Mother, Father, Children, and another 4 adults who will pick them up from school, take them to the park, and put them to bed from time to time.

And whilst we're at it, lets look a bit more at what it means when you say 'until death do us part' - I don't think we should be making promises that we can't keep. But that doesn't mean it's either 'promise together forever' or 'promise nothing'. Why not have something inbetween? I mean, we see marriages with pre-nuptial clauses already. That just strikes me as nuts - promise to be with someone forever, but just in case you're not, arrange how to divvy it up afterwards.

Why not instead just look at a 1 year 'exclusive relationship, partnership and cohabitation contract'? Include a rolling renewal - each year on your anniversary, ask each other the question - do you still want me - and then off you go. Carry on. OK, maybe more than a year is better suited - perhaps you want one a bit more focussed on a child's upbringing, so you set the term accordingly. I just sort of liked the resonance with 'a year and a day'.

Why not? Make your promise, keep it, and decide each year if this is still the person you want to be with? That way, if you really do say the words 'until death do us part' you get to do it when you really mean it.
21 comments or Leave a comment
purp1e_magic From: purp1e_magic Date: January 22nd, 2010 11:34 am (UTC) (Link)
Wow! I disagree with so much of this I don't really even know where to start!!

A 'family' in my mind is anything that works. It's got to /really/ work, but it doesn't matter if it's Gran and kids, gay couple with both sets of parents or three step-households melded together. So in that much, I agree. The scope of a family unit should include more possibilities.

But the rest...
Having kids is for life. You can't have them for a year and decide a year later on a rolling contract if you still want to keep them and look after them well. So if you want kids you need to be committed to giving them a sensible, loving family that they can belong to for their whole lives. Yes, things sometimes go wrong, so yes divorce/separation sometimes has to happen. But unless you're committed at the outset and willing to give it your all to make it work you shouldn't bring children into it.

Families need 2 adults. They balance each other, keep each other grounded and sane, take up the slack for one another and bring something of value in combination that wouldn't be there individually. Single parent families are sometimes necessary, but on the whole not as good. It's much harder work, and as a consequence, it's a less nourishing environment.

But more than 2 adults is also generally a bad thing, in my opinion, for many families. It didn't used to be, even 50 years ago. Societal progress was slower paced, people stayed geographically closer to home. They needed to learn to fit in, and it wasn't too much of a problem that you were stumping out the radical generational shifts of attitude. But that's no longer the case. One generation thinks very differently from the next, and lives in quite a different world from the last. While input from other generations can only be a good thing, being bound and constrained by them isn't. This is different family to family. Some thrive with many adults, others struggle with as many as 3.

That's not to say that having close contact with other adults is a bad thing. It's not, it's good. But as visitors and minders and friends, not as others with parental responsibility. Not people who want a heavy input into the raising of that child, as happens in extended families.

Having an extra few pairs of hands around, having someone who can take the kids off your hands for a while... all of that is good, and we find ourselves in the minority to not have family/good friends nearby that we can call upon to do that for us. So in those terms what you say is already pretty much true. When we were in Coventry we had a few friends who could be relied upon to give us that. Since we've moved away we have to rely on childminders and the like, or arrange it well in advance with Peter's parents. But as I said, that's not the norm.
purp1e_magic From: purp1e_magic Date: January 22nd, 2010 11:34 am (UTC) (Link)
As for "till death do us part" that's the bit that seems to have gone wrong. People don't seem to really understand what that term means, the level of commitment and self-sacrifice required to make that happen. It's said too lightly by people who mean it, but without understanding it. Nobody gets married (even those who have a pre-nuptial agreement) who don't fully intend to make that marriage work and last. No one starts it off thinking "this is great, I'll see how it goes." Those people live together but don't get married. Only people who really believe they are ready to make that commitment actually do it, as a rule.

It's not all or nothing either. There are stages of commitment prior to the big "I do". They're just not as formal. There's no contract. There doesn't need to be. Our society, our government etc, recognises cohabiting couples in most things (e.g. financially) equivalent to a married couple.

The problem is that having done this, it undervalues the commitments made in a marriage. A cohabiting couple isn't as likely to stay together, is more likely to need financial assistance as a single parent family later on down the line, and so on. Whereas the couple that's said they fully intend to stay together is generally more stable. However, financial difficulties can often put a huge amount of undue stress and pressure on people, and under stressful conditions a rocky but otherwise survivable relationship is more likely to break up. There's a reward for giving up. If money gets tight enough to be a problem then you start to wonder how much better off you'd be, how much better you could provide for your kids, if you weren't together any more. When you know that breaking up will solve your money worries, it can swing the balance the wrong way. I've done the sums myself, and you wouldn't believe the difference, even with one of us having both kids, but with one each it would be tremendous amounts. Our net income would be more than doubled. So that married couple's tax break might not seem much, but it can make a difference.

Remember, it's not a new thing. My parents used to get it when I was a kid before they took it away. If you work the statistics they've probably found it's cost-efficient to do it that way.
sobrique From: sobrique Date: January 22nd, 2010 12:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
Just want to pick up on one of your points - where society may consider 'cohabitation' the same as being a married couple, there's some definite and notable legal differences. Like for example, that a cohabiting couple can be called to testify against each other legally, where a married couple cannot.
http://www.adviceguide.org.uk/index/your_family/family/cohabitation_and_marriage_legal_differences.htm has a bit more on it.

*shrug*. As you say, there's stages of commitment. I'm just trying to advocate that having more might not be such a bad idea - I mean, you can kind of already draw up 'cohabitation contracts'.

I'm curious though about the finances - you seem to be saying that cohabitation is financially equivalent to married, but separating can put you better off financially? Would you mind clarifying that a little?

If that's so, then I think I would agree somewhat - I don't think there should be 'financial reasons' coming into the equation.
purp1e_magic From: purp1e_magic Date: January 22nd, 2010 01:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well, the biggest source of incoming money at the moment aside from Peter's wages is working/child tax credits. As a single parent the rates/thresholds change, so you get more money. I wouldn't get any working tax credit any more, on account of not working, but because I'm on a disability benefit they'd still pay all the childcare and I'd get quite a bit of child tax credit. Also, at the moment I don't get any money from Employment and Support Allowance because our household income is too high. If Peter is not part of the family then my earned income is zero, so I would get an equivalent amount to jobseekers allowance, worked out for one adult, one under 5 and one under 16 dependent.

As soon as you put the ESA money in you're entitled to lots of extras. Housing benefit would pay the mortgage, council tax benefit. Aside from the basic benefits, there are lots and lots of extras like free milk and veg coupons, free prescriptions, vouchers for opticians and dentists, and a whole lot of other Government schemes to help children living in poverty.

Meanwhile, if Peter took care of one of the children it would be even more money. He'd get single parent rates of child and working tax credit paid, too.

I worked it out a while back, reckon we'd be better off by at least £10k a year. The downside is having to manage 2 households.

But if I were to move in with a friend who was also on benefits then we'd both get more money, because then it's a household with 2 adults not living as a married couple. And they may also get carer's allowance for staying at home with me in the house.

Our situation is a bit more extreme than most because of the disability aspect, but the money's about the same as a family with 3 kids splitting up. The more kids there are, the larger the financial gain from splitting. A single parent with 5 kids can live really quite comfortably, whereas a married couple with 5 kids would struggle.
sobrique From: sobrique Date: January 22nd, 2010 01:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
Ah that's great. Thnks for that. I wasn't quite sure how the various support mechanisms interacted there. That does indeed seem quite a .... well, not bizarre, but ... just not the way it should be.

I guess that's from the assumption of the difference between household income, vs. individual income? Hmm.

That's given me something to think about - as far as I'm concerned marrying someone _should_ be about that lifetime commitment, and have no 'strings' attached, financially speaking. But that means you should neither be better off, or worse off as a result.

Although I guess on the flip side, I do think that 'raising a family' should be based on some kind of longer term arrangement - whether it's marriage, a contract or a mortgage.

But I guess that comes back to interaction of benefit system with taxation system which is altogether more complicated.

Thanks for that.
purp1e_magic From: purp1e_magic Date: January 22nd, 2010 02:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
Working tax credit and child tax credit aren't part of the taxation system, they're part of the benefits system, despite the name. It's not run by Job Centre Plus, as most others are, but it's a benefit - an amount of money paid into your bank based on your circumstances. It doesn't interact with taxes at all, really.

I guess that's from the assumption of the difference between household income, vs. individual income?
Partly. It's also based on household expenditure. As a single parent your household expenditure will be nearly as high with or without a partner. And, if the working tax credits for a single parent taper appropriately it encourages single mums to work, which they would otherwise find very difficult. For some reason the Government is big on getting kids into childcare and parents to work rather than making it easy for parents to raise their own kids. But that's another rant entirely...

I'm not saying that marriage is the /only/ way to commit to a long term relationship. That can be done as informally as just saying so to your partner. There needn't be an outward sign of it at all. But it does need to be there.

Although kids usually move out of the parental home at about age 18, I don't think having an 18 year agreement would work. If a marriage is breaking down it needs support and advice and commitment and hard work and respect to keep it together. If those things are not there, simply having a shorter term agreement on the matter won't help. It's one thing to decide, "This till death thing isn't working, so lets re-think this and make a new agreement." It's quite another to start out that way.

You're right that a family is still a family without any children in it. But if the intention or willingness to raise kids is there I would put it under the same category. But then you'd have to distinguish between couples who want kids but can't right now and couples who don't want kids. The only way to be fair on it is to ask "have you made a commitment to stay together for the length of time it would take to raise children if you had them?" An 18 year contract would do the job, but like I said, don't think that would be too popular. So marriage is the obvious way, and "are you living together in the way a married couple lives?" is another, for those people who don't value marriage as an institution.
sobrique From: sobrique Date: January 22nd, 2010 11:51 am (UTC) (Link)
Well, yes. I agree entirely that if you're looking to have children, you need to be working on a longer term basis. It's just not fair to a child if you're looking shorter term. I was just trying to sort of reflect that not every 'family' automatically includes children - a yearly renewed 'marriage' (I use the term loosely) wouldn't be appropriate there, but an 18 year arrangement?
I mean, I know of situations where they stayed together for the sake of the children, and broke up when they left home.

I'm agreeing, I think, that in order to bring up children you need the stability - I'm just not so sure that it needs to be 'forever' when 'the next 18 years' might be a more appropriate sort of a timeframe.
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 22nd, 2010 06:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
Can I just clarify one thing - working tax credits are part of the tax system rather than benefits and are administered by HMRC. They are therefore linked to earnings and annualised so if your income changes substantially during the year they will be adjusted accordingly (and you may even have to pay them back - so claimants beware).

Child tax credit is also administered by HMRC and is to some extent income linked, although in practice this operates more like a benefit. It is however still annualised and you could in principle have to pay it back although it is much less likely as some elements are not income assessed.

Both can affect how much other benefits you receive.

It's all very complicated!
hedya From: hedya Date: January 22nd, 2010 09:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
purp1e_magic already covered a lot of what I would have wanted to say, probably articulating it much better than I would have, given that, whilst I am rather opinionated myself, I have always found it difficult to sustain a debate defending them, not because I do not research a matter before forming an opinion but mostly because once an opinion is synthesised from the available facts I loose the detail of the process by which I got there, until something makes me question the opinion and start the process again.

This is by way of a long preamble to add something about commitment from my own experience, if I manage, and an explanation of why there will be a lot of gut feelings in here but maybe less argumentation than you'd like to see.

So, commitment. When people ask me why I chose mavnn I often reply: "he was the only one who had the guts to propose", and mostly it's a misunderstood answer. People think that I jest, but I was coming from a loooooong sequence of "serious" or "committed" relationships you see. It started when I was about 16, I met mavnn when I was 33, and in between every single relationship I was involved in lasted 2/3 years, in one case got to the living together stage, and in each of those there was some measure of commitment, there was faithfulness, but also of "let's see how it goes", "if we work out together" and an idea of further, definitive commitment to come at a later stage after we had seen how it went and if we worked out together.

Except than it then never happened, because in every relationship there will be a (first) point when it really hits the fan, and if your mindset is one of testing the waters (let's see how it goes) that's when you let go because you conclude that the shit you've hit is the signal that you don't work out and it doesn't go that well.

And you are right, marriage is not an insurance against this anymore, because divorce is now an easy way out, and as both you and purp1e_magic have pointed out in different ways, people say "till death doth us part" without fully understanding, or meaning it because of the mental reserve "if this is a cock up I still have a get out clause".

Don't get me wrong, even coming from a Christian point of view there are situations in which a get out clause might be necessary: an abusive relationship, unfaithfulness or other drastic cases. I am not wanting to argue about divorce here, I am just focussing on the effect it seems to have had on commitment.

Anyway, I derailed a bit. I was trying to make the point that in most cases a so called "serious" relationship, or even one when there is already quite a lot of commitment going on, there isn't total commitment, and this regardless of it having the form of a co-habitation, a one-year rolling contract, a marriage like most you see these days. In our 5 years of marriage (few, but the initial ones can be the hardest) we've already hit a few points when all that kept us together was that promise, the fact that we had given our word and would not be oath breakers, and so, against all of our feelings, of the impressions of having made a big mistake, of thinking we would die lonely, frustrated and mad in spite of being married, we worked at it and have come out the other side of it. Because when you fall out of being in love, that's when you test if you have what it takes to grow another kind of love, the one that gives a stable family environment to the kids and takes you to your diamond wedding anniversary if you live that long.

But you never get there without total commitment, and that's why my many many previous relationships all failed. And why when mavnn, sight unseen and having stated in a credible manner the value he placed on family and kids, had the guts to propose rather than starting another "let's see how we work out", I knew he was committed, not messing about, willing to risk it all, not keeping reserves, and so I said yes. And it is also the reason why, in spite of being a mum of many at heart since ever, I waited so long, nearly too late, to have Newt and I am struggling to have more: I wasn't prepared to bring children in a less than solid family given my own experience.
hedya From: hedya Date: January 22nd, 2010 09:15 pm (UTC) (Link)
Which brings me to the final comment: extended families. Love them or hate them they are your blood families, so, except in extreme cases, you are going to end up having some kind of link and relation with them. I am however with purp1e_magic: it takes two parents to bring up a brood, to balance each other and to be a team in a rather hard job. Other significant adults can give input and suggestions and practical help, but the ultimate responsibility is always exclusively with the parents, to the extent of selecting the other significant adults who have access to their children! And yes, you do need other adults to lend a practical hand. At the moment we would be quite at a loss without lins_arosa, fishrgreat, phual and the_wood_gnome.

Notice thought that these are the people who live close by, have a similar approach to handling and relating to Newt, and have the time and the resources to give away some help or at least with whom it's practical and feasible to exchange practical,day to day type kind of help, and with whom I fully expect to return the favour once the time comes. Once upon a time this was the extended family, now... it's the family you choose.
stgpcm From: stgpcm Date: January 26th, 2010 12:02 am (UTC) (Link)
It's quite sad that you had to have a public promise to keep you together when the going got tough.
mavnn From: mavnn Date: January 26th, 2010 12:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
If you go back and read the post, you'll see that it doesn't mention the promise being public once.

Because that wasn't the point.

The whole post is about total commitment. I agree with hedya (my wife) that marriage is the best way to go about that - we have religious convictions that lead us to believe that. But go read the post again: it's all about the fact that a vast majority of people do not commit to relationships even if they do make that public promise. Not that the public promise kept us 'together when the going got tough.'
hedya From: hedya Date: January 26th, 2010 01:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
thank you - was waiting for Newt down for his nap to deal with this one, but you got there first.
stgpcm From: stgpcm Date: January 26th, 2010 02:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
A marriage is a public promise.

I find it sad (as in an unhappy situation, not socially inadequate people) that things got so bad that it was only a promise that held things together long enough for you to work things through. I'm glad that you managed to.
hedya From: hedya Date: January 26th, 2010 01:41 pm (UTC) (Link)
In addition to what mavnn said:

It's quite sad that you had to have a comment implying personal insult to try make your point, whatever that was.

My point was indeed about attitudes and levels of commitment, however I will say that there is at least one merit to going formally public, in whatever format and independently of religious or philosophical convictions: sanity checks.

As human beings we are far too good at playing (mind) games with ourselves, no matter how hard we try to be self aware and honest. So if today I am stating A, but three years down the line I have convinced myself that I really meant B and that's what I always communicated, if there are other people that witnessed me saying A formally and publicly, making a statement of it, than those people can, three years down the line, turn around and point out my inconsistency and try give me pause for thought. It will not prevent me sticking to my changed mind, but it will at least provide enough accountability to enhance the likelihood that I will at least be clear and honest about it.

Oh, and that's a principle that really applies to most things, not just couple relationships.
stgpcm From: stgpcm Date: January 26th, 2010 02:14 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm sorry you felt the need to perceive an insult where there was none.

csi_ellie From: csi_ellie Date: January 26th, 2010 10:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think the married people (http://purp1e-magic.livejournal.com/ and http://hedya.livejournal.com/) who have commented have beautifully summarised what a marriage commitment is. Some days I love you, some days I am indifferent, On Mondays you make me laugh, when I'm apart from you I miss you terribly, at times you frustrate me so much I could scream and want to throw you out of the window. I am a bag of emotions and I am your committed wife, who promises to keep trying, not to save our marriage, but to preserve it, no matter how hard it gets because we chose to be together, until death parts us.

This is as true of our commitment to each other as it is to our being parents.

I think it is sad you feel the way you do about marriage. I hope though that you can find a level of commitment that you're both happy with and that you don't fear the other giving up in a tough situation.

'That just strikes me as nuts - promise to be with someone forever, but just in case you're not, arrange how to divvy it up afterwards.' - On this I agree, how can you go into a lifelong committment whilst setting yourself up for failure, if it doesn't work we'll give up, is not the mantra for a commitment.

Love you
sobrique From: sobrique Date: January 26th, 2010 10:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
Why does the getting married part correlate to the commitment part?
Are you trying to say that the marriage vow is somehow stronger than how much you care for each other?
Or is it the other way around? That you care for each other, and that's that?

In the former case... I don't agree with the idea, and in the latter case then it's a moot point surely?
csi_ellie From: csi_ellie Date: January 28th, 2010 09:31 am (UTC) (Link)
The marriage part IS the commitment part it is a declaration of how much you care for each other,

Sometimes the declaration is stronger than how much you care for each other. As is the case in many relationships some days you care less for someone than others but the point is you're still married/ related.

Sometimes I love you, others I think your not so great but I can't absolve our relationship. That is the same with my husband and child because of my marriage.

And surely its a moo point!!?

'a cow's opinion, it doesnt matter

Joey: All right, Rach. The big question is, "does he like you?" All right? Because if he doesn't like you, this is all a moo point.
Rachel: Huh. A moo point?
Joey: Yeah, it's like a cow's opinion. It just doesn't matter. It's moo'
sobrique From: sobrique Date: January 28th, 2010 10:23 am (UTC) (Link)
Well, a marriage is basically a promise to another person, that you'll stick with them. But in my opinion you should only be getting married to a person you have every intention of doing that with anyway. Someone you care for enough, that you're already both quite happy with the notion of being together for the rest of your lives.

At which point the 'getting married' part is just sort of a public acknowlegement of what's already there.

Same with relationships - some days people are annoying, some days they're not. But whatever your relationship is, there's some love mixed in there (the word is inadequate, because it means so many different things in different contexts - the ancient greeks had several words for different kinds, but I digress) and that's not something that turns on and off - a friend is still a friend, even when they're wrong, or doing something that annoys you. A friend isn't a person who's perfect, because no one is. A friend is someone you are prepared to forgive their foibles, and let go of the resentment that can breed.

And it's pretty much the same thing with a partner - someone who fairly basically you care for enough to be able to share closely everything in your life, and work together as a team. Someone you care enough about that you're prepared to accept the things you don't understand or necessarily agree with, and who it's easy to be tolerant of the things that might annoy you. You put aside the sort of inherent selfishness of humanity, and both end up with a better situation as a result.

That doesn't mean they don't annoy you, nor does it mean they can't hurt you - indeed it's the opposite - it's _only_ the people you really trust and care for that can betray you. I thought I'd never find someone who I felt that way about - I've spent the longest time being introverted and wary, and yet... well, that's not really been brushed aside, so much as been made utterly irrelevant. Whatever happens, it will have been worth it.
csi_ellie From: csi_ellie Date: January 28th, 2010 10:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
Your conclusion makes me smile for you. I know we differ on the how to get there but I'm glad for you. To be able to be yourself (wholely) in the presence of someone else without any fear is truely the best thing.

21 comments or Leave a comment