Jumping Rope and Imprinting Marriage
An article from Fragmented Families and Splintered Classes: A Symposium
Franklin School was a three-story stone structure, constructed in the 19th century. Its ceiling height surpassed 20 feet. The surface of its wood floors, scratched and uneven, creaked beneath the weight of the slightest elementary school student. Few of us were single-handedly strong enough to open its heavy doors. The schoolyard was surrounded by a sturdy wire fence more appropriate for a prison. Within this schoolyard, lengthy recesses on cold days stretched to eternity and on warm days left us breathless from tag and jump rope: “Here sits Rhonda, sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G. First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes Rhonda with a baby carriage. How many children will she have?”
The jump rope twirled around me, I leapt to the rhythm, with the rope snapping against the pavement, its velocity accelerating, limiting the number of times I would jump before missing and consequently limiting, too, the number of imaginary children I would have. It was a silly childhood game; even so, it conjured up thoughts of love and marriage. Yet only then, after love and marriage, came the baby carriage. That was the order: kissing, loving, marriage, then babies. We knew no other order. That was our model, our marriage imprint.
Each of us has a marriage imprint built upon the marriage of our parents. We, as parents, are our children’s imprint for intimacy. Based on what children see in the marriage relationship, they draw conclusions and form permanent beliefs and expectations about marriage. Dr. Judith Siegel documents that by the time they leave home at age 18, children recognize marriage as “good” or “bad” and have determined if it is something that they want for themselves and, if they marry, which most of them will, know whether they will have a good marriage.
This marriage imprint, formed from a very early age, wires a child with experiences from the parents’ relationship. The marriage imprint shapes a child’s personality, choices, relationships and lifetime experiences, and does more to influence a child’s long-term well-being than any one single factor.
Unfortunately, we parents could do a better job masterminding the imprint from which our children base their own love stories. The National Longitudinal Study of Youth, involving students age 15 to 18, observes:
- Only 38 percent of teenagers believe their parents are happily married;
- Half of students live with only one biological parent;
- 35 percent of teenagers live with a variation of one biological parent, step-parent, or live-in partner;
- Many see the parent with whom they live remarry and re-divorce;
- Ten percent experience three or four relationship disruptions before leaving home.
Seventy-one percent of teenagers say, “Mom and dad could do better at marriage.” Yet young people hold marriage in high esteem: 90 percent desire to marry, and marriage continues to be “the relationship of choice”—the wedding band is a “symbol of first-class citizenship” and a “marker of success.”
Although marriage remains a desired social institution, fewer couples are marrying. Many postpone marriage or avoid it altogether, seeking assurance that marriage will last. Cohabitation rates have soared 1,400 percent since I was jumping rope outside Franklin School, and single-motherhood now accounts for 41 percent of our nation’s annual births—eight times the rate of 1960.
The point is this: The relationship of parents counts. Decisions that mothers and fathers—married or unmarried—make in the home on behalf of their family determine the course for their individual families and collectively have a broad ripple effect that influences public and social issues. Until we parents provide an imprint for intimacy from which children draw inspiration for relationship success, I fear couples will avoid marriage, will cohabitate, will have children out of wedlock, and will thereby fuel the rise in single-parent homes and their inherent costs to society.
In a perfect world, children would be born to two mature, loving, committed adults involved with that child on a sustained basis for a minimum of two decades.
Perhaps we need to model parenthood to extend beyond caring for a baby: Parenthood also means that men and women care for their relationship and plan for the role each plays, not just as a father or mother, but for the very important role each plays as the spouse or partner of a parent. It is a role few consider, yet playing this role well largely determines the course a family will take and determines the well-being of family members for a lifetime.
Somehow, the generation before me (my parents) and the generation before them (my grandparents)—sporting a low divorce rate and now almost unheard-of rates of cohabitation and single motherhood—modeled marriage as a unique partnership with inherent privileges, responsibilities, meaning, and purpose. Marriage was valued as a channel for self-development, self-respect, pride, and integrity. I wanted to sit in a tree, kiss, fall in love, marry, and have babies—in that order. I think my classmates did, too.
The question is, did we pass along the song? Did our kids get the order right? Sitting in a tree, kissing, falling in love, marrying, and then having babies? What will they tell the next generation? Will kids even jump rope anymore? If not, how will they learn the right order?
Rhonda Kruse Nordin is a resource for parents, professionals and policy-makers for programs and strategies that strengthen families.