Are Your Sons and Daughters Relationship Material? Part 2 of 3

The following post is the second in a series of posts on modern American dating and young people’s inability to form lasting attachments that potentially lead to marriage.

In Part 1 of this three-part series, I wrote that having a successful long-term relationship is the most pressing issue of our time. Generation Z has no clue how to date, and Millennials can’t seem to pull the marriage trigger.

Indeed, over half of 18-34 year olds have no steady partner at all.

This is a massive social transformation with serious ramifications. Almost all of America’s social ills stem from the health and well-being of marriage and family formation. When it breaks down, everything else does too.

The antidote to this social crisis rests with parents.

It’s up to moms and dads to teach their sons and daughters to be relationship material.

Close your eyes for a moment and imagine a country where most parents taught their sons and daughters to put marriage and family first. Imagine these hypothetical parents groomed their children to think in a way that defies pop culture. Even better, imagine they modeled what it looks like to love and commit to another person for life.

It would change everything.

Obviously, that’s a pipe dream. But it would work. It used to work. The problem we have today is that we’ve demonized men and marriage, hailed the rise of women, and normalized divorce.

As for that last one: there is nothing normal about divorce. All it tells kids is that love isn’t sustainable. It can’t be counted on. It doesn’t last. No one’s got your back. You’re all alone in the world, so you might as well keep your guard up and never let love in.

This lesson children of divorce receive is the reason their marriages so often fail, too.

“Growing up in a divorced family greatly increases the chances of ending one’s own marriage, a phenomenon called the divorce cycle or the intergenerational transmission of divorce,” says Nicholas H. Wolfinger, assistant professor in the University of Utah’s Department of Family and Consumer Studies.

For this reason alone, parents owe it to their children to stay married if neither spouse is in harm’s way. The health and well-being of their children’s future family literally depends on it.

But staying married is only half the battle. The other half is this: parents must purposefully undermine the culture every step of the way. If you don’t pay attention to the messages your kids are receiving in schools and from the media—about women, about men, about marriage, about work and family conflict—and specifically teach them another way, they will fail at love. Because nothing they’re taught in either domain is going to help them be successful.

Children who are raised in broken homes and who follow the cultural script are doomed. Doomed. Parents are our last and only hope.

By modeling commitment and by rejecting harmful cultural narratives, your children can become ‘relationship material.’

Many parents believe their words and actions don’t matter. As a former educator and mother of two grown children, I assure you they do matter. To be sure, it is difficult to be the parent who challenges the culture every step of the way. You will lose friends. You may even make a few enemies.

But in exchange, your children will very likely marry and have families of their own.

To me, it’s a slam dunk.

Suzanne Venker

Suzanne Venker is an author, columnist and radio host known as The Feminist Fixer. She helps free women from feminism so they can find lasting love with men. Suzanne's newest book, WOMEN WHO WIN at Love: How to Build a Relationship That Lasts, will be published October 2019.

Reader Interactions


  1. Suzanne, With so many young people “hooking up” on the 1st or 2nd date, girls are getting pregnant and guys aren’t ready to “settle down” . This has caused many single parent homes with no fathers in the picture. Few, if any guys want to be a dad to a kid that isn’t his from a biological view. That kid, especially if he’s a boy, will realize that the new guy isn’t there for the right reason (only to get in Mom’s pants, then he will leave just like good ole Dad!) I’ve been married to my wife for 35 years with 2 grown kids. Those days are over!!!

      • The only way to guide them is example. Even that may not work. Perhaps some low key sentences, like “yeah, I really like your mom/dad, because they are so much better than anyone else I could be with”. And then being so much better than your spouse can find elsewhere. Love is the key.

  2. For the last six years, the prevalence of U.S. children growing up in single-parent families has held steady at 35%. In 2016 — the most recent full year of data on record — this rate translated to more than 24 million kids having just one parent at home.
    Kids are less likely to experience poverty when they grow up with both parents at home. For example: In 2016, 32% of single-parent families with children were living in poverty versus just 7% of two-parent families. The literature documenting the detrimental effects of growing up poor is sweeping and strong. Some of the many challenges identified include: academic deficits, reduced access to safe communities and quality enrichment activities, and a heightened risk of physical, behavioral and emotional issues.
    The absence of the father is the single most important cause of crime.1) In fact, boys who are fatherless from birth are three times as likely to go to jail as peers from intact families, while boys whose fathers do not leave until they are 10 to 14 years old are two times as likely to go to jail as their peers from intact families.2) According to Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation, children without a father are more than twice as likely to be arrested for a juvenile crime and are three times more likely to go to jail by the time they reach age 30 than are children raised in intact families.3) Adolescents who had a positive relationship with their fathers are less likely to be arrested, belong to a gang, damage property, steal, or run away compared to their peers with less positive relationships with their fathers.4) Along with the increased probability of family poverty and heightened risk of delinquency, a father’s absence is associated with a host of other social problems. The three most prominent effects are lower intellectual development, higher levels of illegitimate parenting in the teenage years, and higher levels of welfare dependency.5) According to a 1990 report from the Department of Justice, more often than not, missing and “throwaway” children come from single-parent families, families with step parents, and cohabiting-adult families.

  3. The early experience of intense maternal affection is the basis for the development of a conscience and moral compassion for others.6) According to Chuck Smith, a Kansas State University child development expert, “as a child grows and matures, the mother—whether biological or a stepmother—plays an important role in her child’s development, character and attitudes.”7) If a child’s emotional attachment to their mother is disrupted during the first few years, permanent harm can be done to the child’s capacity for emotional attachment to others. The child will be less able to trust others and throughout his or her life will stay more distant emotionally from others. Having many different caretakers during the first few years can lead to a loss of this sense of attachment for life and to antisocial behavior.8) Separation from the mother, especially between six months and three years of age, can lead to long-lasting negative effects on behavior and emotional development. Severe maternal deprivation is a critical ingredient of juvenile delinquency. As John Bowlby, the father of attachment research, puts it, “Theft, like rheumatic fever, is a disease of childhood, and, as in rheumatic fever, attacks in later life are frequently in the nature of recurrences.”9) A child’s emotional attachment to their mother is powerful in other ways. For example, even after a period of juvenile delinquency, a young man’s ability to become emotionally attached to his wife can make it possible for him to turn away from crime.10) This capacity is rooted in the very early attachment to his mother. We also know that a weak marital attachment resulting in separation or divorce accompanies a continuing life of crime.11)
    Many family conditions can weaken a mother’s attachment to her young child. Perhaps the mother herself struggles with emotional detachment.12) The mother could be so lacking in family and emotional support that she cannot fill the emotional needs of the child. She could return to work, or be forced to return to work, too soon after the birth of her child. Or, while she is at work, there could be a change in the personnel responsible for the child’s day care. The more prevalent these conditions, the less likely a child will be securely attached to their mother and the more likely they will be hostile and aggressive.13)

  4. In 2008, there were over 8 million divorced adults in the United States.19) Breakup of a child’s parents’ marriage during the first five years of their life places a child at high risk of becoming a juvenile delinquent.20) This breakup – through either divorce or separation – is most likely to occur three to four years after marriage. Therefore, a large proportion of very young children experience the emotional pain of the early and final stages of marital dissolution at a time when they are most vulnerable to disruptions in their emotional attachment to their parents.21) This instability continues to impact adolescents as they mature. Teens in blended or divorced families tend to have more behavioral problems, like using tobacco, binge drinking, weapon carrying, physical fighting, or sexual activity.22)
    Conflict within “step families” (families where at least one of the married parents is not the biological parent of all the children) also has serious effects. According to the California Youth Authority study of female delinquents, conducted by Jill Leslie Rosenbaum, professor of criminology at California State University, “In the two parent families examined in this study a great deal of conflict was present. Of these parents, 71 percent fought regularly about the children. Since there were often ‘his’, ‘hers’ and ‘theirs’ present, the sources of conflict tended to result from one set of children having a bad influence on the others, the type of punishment invoked, or one particular child receiving too much attention.”23)
    Rates of conflict are much higher outside intact married families.24) The rates of emotional and behavioral problems of children are more than double in step families.25) Given their impact on children, the marriage arrangements of parents have significant effects on the incidence of teenage crime.

  5. Violent youth often come from violent parents. In 2007, over 1.5 million children had a father in prison, and over 147,000 children had a mother in prison.26) Violent youth are the most likely to have witnessed conflict and violence between their parents.27) They also are the most likely to commit a serious violent crime and to become “versatile” criminals – those engaged in a variety of crimes, including, theft, fraud, and drugs.28) Among these youths, physically or sexually abused boys commit the most violent offenses.29)
    Internal family violence is only one major contributor to adolescent violence in these socially disorganized neighborhoods. The neighborhood itself (which includes the youth’s violent peers, also rooted in their own broken families) is the other powerful contributor,30) especially to violent delinquency,31) and its culture of aggression and violence is imported into the school.
    • 63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes (US Dept. Of Health/Census) – 5 times the average.
    • 90% of all homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes – 32 times the average.
    • 85% of all children who show behavior disorders come from fatherless homes – 20 times the average. (Center for Disease Control)
    • 80% of rapists with anger problems come from fatherless homes –14 times the average. (Justice & Behavior, Vol 14, p. 403-26)
    • 71% of all high school dropouts come from fatherless homes – 9 times the average. (National Principals Association Report)
    Father Factor in Education – Fatherless children are twice as likely to drop out of school.
    • Children with Fathers who are involved are 40% less likely to repeat a grade in school.
    • Children with Fathers who are involved are 70% less likely to drop out of school.
    • Children with Fathers who are involved are more likely to get A’s in school.
    • Children with Fathers who are involved are more likely to enjoy school and engage in extracurricular activities.
    • 75% of all adolescent patients in chemical abuse centers come from fatherless homes – 10 times the average.
    Father Factor in Drug and Alcohol Abuse – Researchers at Columbia University found that children living in two-parent household with a poor relationship with their father are 68% more likely to smoke, drink, or use drugs compared to all teens in two-parent households. Teens in single mother households are at a 30% higher risk than those in two-parent households.
    • 70% of youths in state-operated institutions come from fatherless homes – 9 times the average. (U.S. Dept. of Justice, Sept. 1988)
    • 85% of all youths in prison come from fatherless homes – 20 times the average. (Fulton Co. Georgia, Texas Dept. of Correction)
    Father Factor in Incarceration – Even after controlling for income, youths in father-absent households still had significantly higher odds of incarceration than those in mother-father families. Youths who never had a father in the household experienced the highest odds. A 2002 Department of Justice survey of 7,000 inmates revealed that 39% of jail inmates lived in mother-only households. Approximately forty-six percent of jail inmates in 2002 had a previously incarcerated family member. One-fifth experienced a father in prison or jail.
    Father Factor in Crime – A study of 109 juvenile offenders indicated that family structure significantly predicts delinquency. Adolescents, particularly boys, in single-parent families were at higher risk of status, property and person delinquencies. Moreover, students attending schools with a high proportion of children of single parents are also at risk. A study of 13,986 women in prison showed that more than half grew up without their father. Forty-two percent grew up in a single-mother household and sixteen percent lived with neither parent
    Father Factor in Child Abuse – Compared to living with both parents, living in a single-parent home doubles the risk that a child will suffer physical, emotional, or educational neglect. The overall rate of child abuse and neglect in single-parent households is 27.3 children per 1,000, whereas the rate of overall maltreatment in two-parent households is 15.5 per 1,000.

  6. Daughters of single parents without a Father involved are 53% more likely to marry as teenagers, 711% more likely to have children as teenagers, 164% more likely to have a pre-marital birth and 92% more likely to get divorced themselves.
    Adolescent girls raised in a 2 parent home with involved Fathers are significantly less likely to be sexually active than girls raised without involved Fathers.
    • 43% of US children live without their father [US Department of Census]
    • 90% of homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes. [US D.H.H.S., Bureau of the Census]
    • 80% of rapists motivated with displaced anger come from fatherless homes. [Criminal Justice & Behaviour, Vol 14, pp. 403-26, 1978]
    • 71% of pregnant teenagers lack a father. [U.S. Department of Health and Human Services press release, Friday, March 26, 1999]
    • 63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes. [US D.H.H.S., Bureau of the Census]
    • 85% of children who exhibit behavioral disorders come from fatherless homes. [Center for Disease Control]
    • 90% of adolescent repeat arsonists live with only their mother. [Wray Herbert, “Dousing the Kindlers,” Psychology Today, January, 1985, p. 28]
    • 71% of high school dropouts come from fatherless homes. [National Principals Association Report on the State of High Schools]
    • 75% of adolescent patients in chemical abuse centers come from fatherless homes. [Rainbows for all God’s Children]
    • 70% of juveniles in state operated institutions have no father. [US Department of Justice, Special Report, Sept. 1988]
    • 85% of youths in prisons grew up in a fatherless home. [Fulton County Georgia jail populations, Texas Department of Corrections, 1992]
    • Fatherless boys and girls are: twice as likely to drop out of high school; twice as likely to end up in jail; four times more likely to need help for emotional or behavioral problems. [US D.H.H.S. news release, March 26, 1999]
    Census Fatherhood Statistics
    • 64.3 million: Estimated number of fathers across the nation
    • 26.5 million: Number of fathers who are part of married-couple families with their own children under the age of 18.
    Among these fathers –
    o 22 percent are raising three or more of their own children under 18 years old (among married-couple family households only).
    o 2 percent live in the home of a relative or a non-relative.
    • 2.5 million: Number of single fathers, up from 400,000 in 1970. Currently, among single parents living with their children, 18 percent are men.
    Among these fathers –
    o 8 percent are raising three or more of their own children under 18 years old.
    o 42 percent are divorced, 38 percent have never married, 16 percent are separated and 4 percent are widowed. (The percentages of those divorced and never married are not significantly different from one another.)
    o 16 percent live in the home of a relative or a non-relative.
    o 27 percent have an annual family income of $50,000 or more.
    • 85 percent: Among the 30.2 million fathers living with children younger than 18, the percentage who lived with their biological children only.
    o 11 percent lived with step-children
    o 4 percent with adopted children
    o < 1 percent with foster children

  7. Recent policies encourage the development of programs designed to improve the economic status of low-income nonresident fathers and the financial and emotional support provided to their children. This brief provides ten key lessons from several important early responsible fatherhood initiatives that were developed and implemented during the 1990s and early 2000s. Formal evaluations of these earlier fatherhood efforts have been completed making this an opportune time to step back and assess what has been learned and how to build on the early programs’ successes and challenges. While the following statistics are formidable, the Responsible Fatherhood research literature generally supports the claim that a loving and nurturing father improves outcomes for children, families and communities.
    • Children with involved, loving fathers are significantly more likely to do well in school, have healthy self-esteem, exhibit empathy and pro-social behavior, and avoid high-risk behaviors such as drug use, truancy, and criminal activity compared to children who have uninvolved fathers.
    • Studies on parent-child relationships and child wellbeing show that father love is an important factor in predicting the social, emotional, and cognitive development and functioning of children and young adults.
    • 24 million children (34 percent) live absent their biological father.
    • Nearly 20 million children (27 percent) live in single-parent homes.
    • 43 percent of first marriages dissolve within fifteen years; about 60 percent of divorcing couples have children; and approximately one million children each year experience the divorce of their parents.
    • Fathers who live with their children are more likely to have a close, enduring relationship with their children than those who do not.
    • Compared to children born within marriage, children born to cohabiting parents are three times as likely to experience father absence, and children born to unmarried, non-cohabiting parents are four times as likely to live in a father-absent home.
    • About 40 percent of children in father-absent homes have not seen their father at all during the past year; 26 percent of absent fathers live in a different state than their children; and 50 percent of children living absent their father have never set foot in their father’s home.
    • Children who live absent their biological fathers are, on average, at least two to three times more likely to be poor, to use drugs, to experience educational, health, emotional and behavioral problems, to be victims of child abuse, and to engage in criminal behavior than their peers who live with their married, biological (or adoptive) parents.
    • From 1995 to 2000, the proportion of children living in single-parent homes slightly declined, while the proportion of children living with two married parents remained stable.

  8. Monkey see, monkey do. “One good father is worth 100 teachers” – Spanish proverb. When you go deep, to your spiritual core, and model excellence- people start copying you, because most people don’t do that.

    My choice in spouses was bad. Two alcoholics I had to divorce. My first born daughter saw how I handled everything, and learned from my mistakes. She is very well matched, now, to a great guy. She learned that actions have consequences, the single more useful lesson in life, and of course in marriage.

    • People live out of the images in their minds. Being a parent has a lot of discipline. Children mostly will not do what you say. No. They *copy* your behavior.

      Children make their own paths. Sometimes they mess up. 80% of subconscious programming is in place by the age of 5. Who do you want programming your child’s guidance system in life… you, or some overworked child care person? And they copy you.

  9. Let us imagine a boy. His parents get divorced. The message he sees clearly acted out, is that if there are problems, just leave. Divorced Ken doesn’t visit Barbie, very much, if at all, for several reasons. The boy missed out on father and son activities. Guidance from older men matters, but our boy doesn’t get much. He has no model for how to behave. He has a fire burning in his midsection, so he’ll seek out girls. My child knew many boys in high school, that had the most violent rap lyrics memorized. So the young man learns that women are only for satisfying his one demanding need. Sure, mom can talk, but mom has never been a man, or a father. She doesn’t know. Having a father around is a living model, of commitment. But our boy doesn’t have that. He doesn’t know how to love a woman. He’s never seen it modelled. He might have heard fairy tales, but they are fairy tales.

    Single moms rarely sing opera songs about the joys of marriage. They can get a man for a night, maybe a weekend, but rarely into a committed relationship. And the revolving door “uncles” aren’t really models of responsibility. There is no tie of blood. Sure, there are single moms who marry again. And there are people who win the lottery. That’s not the way to cast your bets. Why do young black men in challenged neighborhoods so angry? Angry enough to kill each other? Get them talking. They will tell you they bitterly resent not having a dad. It’s not just blacks. Listen to Eminem talking about his absent father.

    Our boy hears mom hating on his absent father. He worships and misses his dad. Dr. Wayne Dyer’s dad left town, early on in his life. It took him a long time to forgive his father. Our boy will tell himself that he never wants to make anyone that angry. What’s the best way for that? Not getting married.

    And of course mom finds a boyfriend. He moves in. Now our boy sees a new guy walking around in his underwear, like dad did. Then he does something unforgivable, and mom throws him out. And a month or two later, another boyfriend moves in. And so on. What lesson does our boy learn? Rather than getting all the hate and pain his father got, he will just date bitches and hoes. He has some powerful images in his mind, not of loving parents, but of getting all his needs met, without having to commit. People act out the images in their heads.

    Smart women want to keep the “job interviews” with a prospective mate to a minimum. Because not doing so devalues committed relationships.

    But wait- our boy is now 18, and he has a job. What does hear hear from other guys, who are married? “Your so lucky you are single! I wish I had never gotten married. If you’re thinking about marriage, be sure she kisses you first, because she is going to screw you.” Maybe he does get to meet dad. What opinions does divorced Ken have about marriage? Would you like to lay odds that he doesn’t have much nice to say about it?

    Men listen, even if it’s the old guys at the barbershop. What do they hear? “I got some great lawn care tools, only paid $900. And my wife garage saled them, for $80, and never asked my permission.” (this is a real story). Men who are frustrated in marriage do unburden- to other men. Single men get told almost daily how lucky they are to be single. Because most American men are not very happy in their marriages- and they are the ones who talk to young single guys.

    Were you ever on the bus, and you hears a man say, “I have the most wonderful wife, marriage is just pure pleasure, every day. Her smile makes my heart sing!” The other guy says, “So, how long you been married?” The first guy says, “20 fantastic years! You should find a good woman, man, your life will be so much better!” The other guy says, “You’re right, I’ve heard a lot of men tell me how fantastic life is, with their wonderful wives. They jump out of bed in the morning, saying “Thank GOD I am married to such a wonderful woman! I wonder how many ways I can put joy in her heart today?”

    I have never, ever heard a man say that. Not even once. I have seen five really good marriages, where the husband always had a smile on his face, as did his wife, and it was clear their energies were often mixed. Men don’t talk as much as women. Satisfied men don’t talk too much, they are in too much bliss.

    Men do hear from divorced men. What do divorced men say? “Yeah, after the first kid, she turned into Godzilla. She took everything I had, made a false police report, got the house I built with my own hands, and I don’t even get to see my kids. I live in a rathole, because that’s all I can afford, and I had to live in my car for five years. I don’t want anything to do with women.” And our now grown young man has 20 or more stories like this in his head. He has been told by people like him- men- that he trusts- that marriage is worse than any torture ever invented, and to stay away from it.

    Why share this? Because it is reality. My uncle Will had a woman who did all of the above to him, in the 1940’s. But he was a different generation. He did remarry, to a very nice woman.

    Smart women, like smart men, are patient. They stay in their hearts, in their dealings with people. They are patient. They know that when they are totally in their hearts, people just feel really good about them. I have seen a few women, less than 10, who were so fantastic that even right after my first divorce, I’d have married them on the spot. Life with them would have been sheer bliss. They were attached, and I don’t violate vows. But they exist. That is useful to know.

    I spoke with a woman in NY City, whose husband had a child with a woman, when he was an 18 year old Marine. There are high school girls who get a one way bus ticket to the town outside Camp Lejeune, to get pregnant with a lonely marine. This woman told me her husband was still paying child support. When she got married, his child support went up- based now on her income. And it won’t go back down. Some women understand that when women hurt men, that men may pass it on to other women. Just as when men hurt women, it gets passed on to others. And the chain of violence grows, at each passing of the pain.

    A Buddhist would ask how we break the chain of violence. It is simple. Resolve the hurt, and don’t pass it on. But that takes a lot. Remember our boy? He is now 40. He has had some fantastic sex, and he has three women on the line now. One might just be wife material. Maybe. He is getting those urges to settle down. And each time he gets that urge, the stories he has been told by other men come up. What would your decision be?


  10. The two most powerful hypnotists in the world, are Mom and Dad. and of course example. If you want good kids, model good behavior, and joy in same.

  11. Should your sons be assuming that relationships and marriage are something they should actually be seeking? Should this not be something where she has proven herself of worth – before they even consider it in today’s world?

    Should he not be ensuring that she will pull her weight, and not be expecting him to do so, before he even examines her? Given that she was handed the educational advantages, should he not be making a point of ensuring that she does not expect him to be the primary breadwinner?

    I do not think that we can assert that our children should behave as we did, because they are not living in that world. If you were born from 1960-1975 or so, you likely had similar opportunities, if you were born after 1990, well, clearly not so much. Should a boy, not be looking at a woman born after 1990, with an eye to the fact that she likely got far more support than he, has already been taught to treat him as disposable etc? If she expects him to pay for dates, and to pursue her, is he not setting himself up for a relationship, where she thinks that she matters more than him?

    Sorry – but we need to stop asserting the answer is to go back – because our kids are not who are parents were, they have not been brought up with the same expectations, and more importantly nor have their peers. Sorry – I would assert today, that for young men to succeed in relationships, they need to ensure that they do not hand her too much of an advantage.

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