I was driving home this past weekend after enjoying a little Labor Day escape when I came across the following message highlighted on a huge billboard on Interstate 20: "Children do better when they have both parents. Get married. Stay married."
I quickly snuck a glance at the backseat to see if my kids had noticed. They hadn't!
I completely understand the intent of the message, and my kids and I have had conversations about marriage being a commitment that takes a lot of work, and conversations about divorce and what it means.
I would prefer to not have my kids feel badly when reading a billboard on the side of the road. Inherent in that message is an accusation that families without mom and dad together are bad, wrong, or less desirable. Highlighting it on a billboard is like rubbing salt in a wound -- it calls attention to it -- it points out the obvious -- it frowns on the "inevitable disaster" of being in a family where mom and dad aren't together. Didn't we learn about that in high school psychology? That whole idea of the self-fulfilling prophecy? If you tell a child something often enough, he will choose to believe it.
I hear the message about the importance of marriage -- about getting married and staying married. I would love to see the number of children born out of wedlock decline. I would love to see the number of divorces decline. Why should we have statistics that show that roughly 50% of first marriages will end in divorce, or that roughly 78% of second marriages will end in divorce.
Any search on "impact of divorce on children" turns up article after article on the terrible effect of single parenting and divorce on kids. Got it. If we believe these studies, then children of divorce already have life a little stacked against them. Must we point that out on a billboard? (And, while all these studies and parenting magazine articles each present a different slant or a different idea, there does seem to be some consensus that the issue really boils down to the divorce itself. Is it peaceful or contentious? Did both parties take the high road, or the low road? Excluding all sorts of other factors like how custody, visitation, financial support are determined, a peaceful divorce will obviously have less of an impact on the kids!)
I guess at the end of day, I'm all for looking out for the best interests of the kids. I'm all about freedom of speech and freedom of press, and I value that about our country. But perhaps the well-intentioned groups creating these billboards might look through a different lens to consider the impact to the kids reading the message. Does it invoke a feeling of 'less than' or 'different than?'
Perhaps some messages are better communicated in other ways. Are billboards even effective for this kind of message? I was pleased to see the billboard indicating at what exit I could find the next Chick-Fil-A! But a billboard encouraging people to get married and stay married? How successful is that? I would be very interested in hearing from anyone who saw one of these billboards and as a result chose to get married to the parent of their child or chose to stay married. Do you really think a billboard would be enough to sway someone's behavior?
Ironically, not even one mile down the expressway we passed another billboard. This one had 4 words on it: "Uncontested Divorce - $499. Call ###." That, of course, opens another can of worms! Perhaps my next post will deal with whether it is too easy to get divorced these days!
Regardless, I had to wonder: was it coincidence that this billboard so closely followed the other, or an intentional placement?