12 Ways Kids Are Harmed When Their Parent Cohabitates

Hanna Nikkanen CC

Marriage is just a piece of paper? Let’s look at the evidence.

9.  Evidence demonstrates that the most unsafe family environment for children is one in which the mother lives with a boyfriend. (The Heritage Foundation, 1997).

10. Among children who did not live in a consistently intact family through age 12, those whose mothers cohabited at some time experienced a higher level of family instability, measured by the number of transitions in household structure, than those whose mothers had not cohabited, 2.6 vs. 1.4 for white children, and 2.0 vs. 0.7 for black children. (“Journal of Marriage and Family,” (66), February, 2004).

11. Anne-Marie Ambert, the author of a study that reviewed hundreds of research papers examining the social, emotional and financial effects of cohabitation and marriage on women, men, children and society, concluded that cohabitation is inherently unstable and carries a high cost on children’s physical and psychological development. Ambert noted: "Commitment and stability are at the core of children’s needs; yet, in a great proportion of cohabitations, these two requirements are absent" (Vanier Institute of Family, "Cohabitation and Marriage: How Are They Related?,” 2005).

12. In a study of 149 inflicted-injury deaths during the 8-year study period, children residing in households with unrelated adults were nearly 50 times as likely to die of inflicted injuries than children residing with 2 biological parents (adjusted odds ratio: 47.6; 95% confidence interval: 10.4-218). Children in households with a single parent and no other adults in residence had no increased risk of inflicted-injury death. (P.G. Schnizter, “Child deaths resulting from inflicted injuries: household risk factors and perpetrator characteristics” (“Pediatrics,” 2005; 116:687-93).

No wonder that in 2005, the “Princeton-Brookings Policy Brief” concluded, 

Although it was once possible to believe that the nation’s high rates of divorce, cohabitation, and nonmarital childbearing represented little more than lifestyle alternatives brought about by the freedom to pursue individual fulfillment, many analysts now believe that these individual choices can be damaging to the children who have no say in them and to the society that enables them.

Rick Fitzgibbons, MD is the director of the Institute for Marital Healing outside Philadelphia and has worked with several thousand couples over the past 38 years. Trained in psychiatry at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia Child Guidance Center, he participated in cognitive therapy research with Aaron T. Beck. In 1986 he wrote a seminal paper on the psychotherapeutic uses of forgiveness in the treatment of excessive anger and in 2000 coauthored Helping Clients Forgive: An Empirical Guide for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope with Dr. Robert D. Enright, University of Wisconsin, Madison, for American Psychological Association Books. The second edition of this book is in press. He has been an adjunct professor at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for the Studies of Marriage and Family (The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC) and a consultor to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy.

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