Growing Trust

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Recently, I led a group of young parents in a case study designed to teach them how to handle a three-year-old when he is throwing a temper tantrum.  The parents in the case study were dealing with their first child and made several typical mistakes: one parent spanked in anger and one parent denigrated the other in front of the child.

We dissected the case: what happened, what went wrong, what they needed to do in the future, and how to get there.  Towards the end of the session we gained a bird’s eye view when someone pointed out that the underlying issue was one of trust.  The whole episode came alive again with new energy as we analyzed the case from that perspective.

The case parents were trying to form a habit of restraint in their child so that they could trust him to practice restraint in the future.  When he demonstrates that he can restrain himself their trust in him will grow.  If he does not learn restraint, however, they will trust him less.

Ironically, to achieve this level of formation in their child, they need to be able to trust each other to “do the right thing” when disciplining their child.  Though they agree on what Johnny needs to do they do not yet agree on what each of them needs to do. In this situation they cannot trust each other yet.

This problem will be solved when they can agree: “You can rely on me to do this in this situation.  And I can rely on you to do that in this same situation.”  When they can both look each other in the eye and each say this to each other the ground beneath them has shifted. Not only has trust been restored, but the foundation of their marriage has grown and they have learned how to deepen it.  When they have solved a string of problems in this way they are well on their way to being great parents and a great couple because they have learned how to grow trust.

No matter what way they discipline their child he will turn out strong because they know it is all about trust. “Johnny, you can rely on me to do this for you.  Can I rely on you to do the same for me?”  Johnny learns many good habits but, more importantly, he learns the value of being trustworthy.

Given the massive disruption in trust that the US is experiencing in all its institutions (family, church, school, marketplace, and government) it seems that fellow citizens who are opponents on so many issues need to begin their discourse with: “You can rely on me to treat you with respect in our conversations.  Can I rely on the same from you?”   Without a “yes” there is no point in having the conversation. With a “yes” the ground has shifted— a brick has been laid in the infrastructure we need most: trust.

If we adopt this habit a lot will change. Is there anyone in your orbit with whom you need to practice this?  A spouse?  A child? A relative?  A co-worker? A neighbor?


With an eye to the child, the future of America,

Pat Fagan, Ph.D.
Director of the MARRI Project
Catholic University of America

Religion and Politics

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Every election cycle there is often an exploration of the religious affiliation of the candidates running for office. This election cycle is no exception. The New York Time published an article this week entitled, “Donald Trump Attacks Ben Carson, and Highlights His Religion”, illustrating how crucial religious affiliation has become in politics, especially to Republican voters. However, it is not an issue just for Republicans and Republican candidates.  This week the Washington Post delved into the ambiguity of Democratic Candidate Bernie Sanders’ religious beliefs.

Some argue that religion should not play a role in the election process, while others will not vote for a candidate who does not share at least some aspects of their religious beliefs. This interest in religious affiliation is well grounded, as much can be inferred about one’s worldview and policy decisions from their stated faith. But perhaps the American people aren’t asking the right question. The question we tend to ask is, “what is your belief?” Yet there is a more revealing question, one that social science brings to the forefront: “How often do you attend religious service?” 

From a social science investigation, there is not as much that can be known from a statement of faith as the frequency of religious worship or practice. For example, individuals who attend religious worship weekly, compared to those who never attend religious worship, are most likely to be better educated, have fewer sexual partners, and be compassionate. They are also the least likely to use hard drugs, marijuana or commit adultery. In every category measured in the U.S. data system the more people worship the more likely they are to do what is right. This is likely to hold for politicians too.

When looking at candidates in the coming election, it would be prudent to ask, not only, “Do you believe in God?”, or, “What faith do you ascribe to?” but also, “How often do you attend religious service?”  Actions speak louder than words — across all faiths and denominations.

God and Romance

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Frank Fincham, from Florida State University’s Family Institute, conducted research on the effect of prayer on college romances. He found that prayer caused a decline in premarital sex and an increase in a sense of belonging.  This was found to be the case not just with  typical “self-report” measures but in blind ratings by outsiders. Read about this wonderfully designed piece of research by an eminent Rhodes Scholar.

Obergefell and Non-Profits

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The American philanthropic community is in danger. The recent 5-4 Supreme Court ruling in support of same-sex marriages creates the potential for vast and encompassing regulations to take hold of the most foundational elements associated with 501 (c)(3) non-profits; namely their tax exempt status. Without the ability to maintain a conscientious objection right, Christian non-profits and individuals alike will become a jeopardized segment of the population at large. While “promises” have already been made, stating, “the IRS does not intend to change the standards that apply to section 501(c)(3) organizations by reason of the Obergefell decision,” the writing on the wall indicates that 501(c)(3)’s could be stripped of their tax exemptions.

Dr. Henry Potrykus, a Senior Fellow within the Marriage and Religion Research Institute (MARRI) at the Family Research Council, is currently conducting a study that will examine the impact of regulations on the Christian non-profit community. The study, which will characterize the non-profits tracked by the IRS, especially the more than 84,000 Christian non-profits listed by GuideStar, will inform and empower efforts that are already well underway both inside and outside the philanthropic community to ensure Christian non-profits are afforded their tax exempt status. 

A Look at the Black Family

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Only 17 percent of African American youth who reach age 18 have always lived with their married mother and father. In the District of Columbia, this number drops to 9 percent. Any policy initiative or social movement to ameliorate the plight of the black community must first address the deterioration of the black family. Contrary to popular public opinion, violent crime, drug abuse, and mass incarceration among African Americans is not a matter of race, and positing it as such fatally distracts from the root problem of family breakdown.
Across every race, the non-intact family poses significant challenges and development barriers to youth. The prevalence of non-intact families in the black community is especially high. As shown below, the black family is the least intact of all races/ethnicities. Almost four times as many Asian adolescents are raised by their married parents as black youths. Because black youths are least likely to come from intact families, the public frequently confounds the role of race and family intactness in shaping adolescents. 

As Kay Hymowitz pointed out in her Atlantic article this week, although racism has significantly decreased since the 1960s family brokenness has significantly increased. Between 1950 and 2012, the percentage of black youth raised by their married parents was cut in half. Rather than rejection stemming from race, black children now face rejection stemming from their parents’ relationship, and resulting in their family being broken. Put a lot of these families together and you get a broken community. As shown in the Violence in Baltimore report, non-intact families tend to foster frequently detrimental environments for children. According to the Fourth National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect:

Compared to the intact married-parent family, the rate of physical abuse is:
    • 3 times higher in the single parent family
    • 4 times higher if the biological parents are cohabiting
    • 5 times higher in a married stepfamily
    • 10 times higher if one biological parent is cohabiting with a partner

Compared to the intact married-parent family, the rate of sexual abuse is:
    • 4.8 times higher in the single-parent family
    • 5 times higher when the biological parents are cohabiting
    • 8.6 times higher in a married step-family
    • 19.8 times higher if one biological parent is cohabiting with a partner
Children frequently respond to this rejection in externalizing behaviors like aggression and crime. State-by-state analysis indicates that, in general, a 10 percent increase in the number of children living in single-parent homes (including divorces) accompanies a 17 percent increase in juvenile crime. Compared with children raised in intact married-parent families, the rate of youth incarceration is 2 times higher in mother-only families, 2.7 times higher in mother-stepfather families, and 3.7 times higher in father-stepmother families.

The link between family structure and crime and abuse rates is well-established, and downplaying its significance is detrimental to our youngest citizens. As Ms. Hymowitz states, “Waving all of this away as ‘respectability politics’ ignores this history; it ignores anthropology; and it ignores many decades of research. It also risks neglecting the real suffering of black children and their communities.”

The Pope, America, and the Family

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Pope Francis’s recent visit to the US and to Cuba was focused, repeatedly, on the family. Here are a few excerpts from different speeches:

“It is my wish that throughout my visit the family should be a recurrent theme. How essential the family has been to the building of this country! And how worthy it remains of our support and encouragement! Yet I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without. Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family I can only reiterate the importance and, above all, the richness and the beauty of family life.”
“The family is, forgive me, a factory of hope, of life, of resurrection. God was the one who opened that path.” “We renew our faith in the word of the Lord which invites faithful families to this openness. It invites all those who want to share the prophecy of the covenant of man and woman, which generates life and reveals God!”
“I leave you with this question, for each one of you to respond to. In my home, do we yell, or do we speak with love and tenderness? This is a good way to recognize our love.”  “Like the warm supper we look forward to at night, the early lunch awaiting someone who gets up early to go to work.  Homely gestures. Like a blessing before we go to bed or a hug after we return from a hard day’s work.”
“Family is beautiful, but there’s effort involved, and there are problems. Husbands and wives quarrel, and end up badly, separated. Never let the day end without making peace. Let’s protect the family, because it’s in the family that our future is at play.” 
“In families, children bring headaches. I won’t speak about mother in laws. But in families, there is always a Cross. Always.  Because of the love of God, the Son of God opened up that way. But also in families, after the Cross there is Resurrection.”
“When one doesn’t live as a family, one will strengthen the part that always says: I, me, my, with me, for me. One totally centers around these things and doesn’t know solidarity or fraternity.” 

At the end of the event, it was announced that the next World Meeting of Families would take place in Dublin, Ireland in 2018. It will be the ninth time it has been celebrated since 1994 when Pope John Paul II launched the first event in Rome.

Divorce and Children

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Six-year-old Tiana made headlines this week as she asked her divorced mom and dad to treat each other as friends. In a video posted by her mom, which would go viral, Tiana said, “I don’t want you and my dad to be replaced and meanies again. I want you and my dad to be placed and settled and be friends.” This young girl’s plea to her parents exemplifies how impactful divorce can be on children.

Research has shown that, on average, children in divorced families receive less emotional support, have weaker relationships with their family, and have a weaker ability to handle conflicts, among many other negative repercussions. However, for those children who grow up in an intact-married family structure (raised by a mom and a dad), the benefits for the child are numerous. They are less likely to get into fights, less likely to have gotten drunk, less likely to have had intercourse at age 14 or younger, less likely to have had an unwed pregnancy, and almost four times less likely to have stolen from a store.

To read more about the effects of divorce on children, please read MARRI’s synthesis paper on the topic 

Pew Research on Religion Growth Projections

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Continuing our praise of Pew Research Center’s work on Religion and Public Life, we draw attention to their projections of the growth of different religions around the world between now and 2050.  Christianity does not grow by percentage (though it does in numbers) while the Muslim religion does in both percentage and numbers, with both being rather close by 2050.  If, in the context of overall Muslim growth, militant Islam expands as Christianity remains constant, it is worth pondering how this will affect religious liberty throughout the world. It is also worth noting that Pew Research projects that “Nones” (unaffiliated) will decline worldwide.  A few months ago Pew told us how our own religious affiliation has changed recently in the US: Christianity decreased while “others” increased

Pew Research on Religions Freedom

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The Pew Research Center is a major social science resource for the nation. Its Religion and Public Life sector has produced some very informative and tellingly illustrated reports. Earlier this year they produced Restrictions and Hostilities around the World.  It is worth noting that in this ranking the U.S. does not rank number one in religious freedoms.

Last year, their comparative report on increasing levels of hostility to religious people and their practices illustrates the growing and very large percentage of the world’s population that lives under such conditions.