What Do Women Want? #6 - Children

But children need fathers too.

Marriage customs and expectations have changed enough of late that most marriages in the United States and Europe end in divorce.  Historically, no society has survived the breakdown of a large fraction of its families.  Sociologists disagree on why excessive divorce leads to the collapse of the society; one explanation is that it takes a man's strength to keep a teenage boy in line after his hormones hit and that it takes a father's building a relationship with his daughter to give her enough self-confidence so that she won't let men mess with her.

Time magazine reports on family breakdown in England:

... a survey by kids' charity TS Rebel found that last year more than a fifth of Britons avoided going out at night rather than risk encounters with a different form of terror: groups of children. Britons are frightened of their own young.

... for what Bob Reitemeier, chief executive of the Children's Society, calls a "significant minority" of British children, unhappiness - and the criminality, excessive drinking and drug-taking and promiscuity that is its expression - really have created a crisis. Says Camila Batmanghelidjh, the founder of Kids Company, an organization working with some of London's poorest young: "If I was sitting in government, I'd be really worried - not about terrorist bombs but about this."

To paraphrase Peter Pan, "This has all happened before, and it will all happen again."  Dr. Unwin studied more than eighty former civilizations; all societies which became sexually permissive collapsed.  [Sexual Relations and Cultural Behavior, by J. D. Unwin (Frank M. Darrow 1969)].  Given our divorce rate, historical precedent does not bode well for Western civilization, such as it is.

Earlier articles in this series examined natural selection to see what sorts of basic traits might have been bred into men and women over the millennia.  Natural selection favors men who don't talk while working and who try to have sex with as many women as they can.  It favors women who talk while they work and who try to maintain long-term relationships with men.

We see the differences between men and women play out in the media all the time.  We've seen Mrs. Clinton and Mrs. Spitzer react to their philandering husbands in public situations.  Natural selection suggests that women should be less adulterous than men; we don't see much news about unfaithful wives.

Confusion and discord in relationships between men and women is especially tragic because history shows that raising children requires a great deal of intense, long-term cooperation between the mother and father.  When too many marriages break up, children end up raising themselves.  This leads to the Sun newspaper declaring "the most important issue now facing Britain" to be "the scourge of feral youngsters."

This is classic British understatement, "feral" means a) having reverted to the wild state, as from domestication or b) of or characteristic of wild animals; ferocious; brutal.  In this case, the story tells how the young people terrorize older people and inflict violence on them.  They may have been born into civilized households, but they appear to have reverted to the wild state due to parental neglect.

Forced Cooperation

From the time when people started farming until well into the industrial revolution, husbands and wives were forced to cooperate in order to stay alive.  In most farming situations, the husband managed the main field and the wife handled a the kitchen garden where she grew as many different vegetables as possible; she also raised chickens which gave eggs and some meat.

Depending on the time of year, husband and wife needed help and cooperation from each other.  If the wife didn't cooperate with her husband, the main crop would fail and they'd starve.  If he didn't cooperate with her, her vegetable garden would fail, or she wouldn't get her crop preserved for the winter, and they'd die of vitamin deficiencies.

They were also forced to cooperate in raising their children.  If you visit Plymouth Plantation near Boston, Ma., you'll see child-sized butter churns.  Children were put to work as soon as possible to help the family stay alive.

The better the husband and wife cooperated in teaching their children, the sooner the children could do useful work.  Doing work which visibly benefited the family did wonders for a child's self-esteem and prepared children to teach their children how it was done.

With the industrial revolution, however, cooperation was no longer needed.  A wife could get a factory job to earn money to buy food and a husband could buy prepared foods, he no longer needed a wife to manage the kitchen.  It was difficult for a woman to earn enough money to support herself and her children so most women still wanted a husband's help.

As women's skills became less and less necessary, however, women were no longer respected which made it difficult for women to like being around men.  As couples lost the habit of cooperating to manage their homes, they also lost the habit of cooperating in raising their children.

Children Raising Children

Once the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program got rolling, a woman no longer needed to find a man to take care of her before having children.  It used to be that if a woman wanted a home and children, she had to find a husband; now, all she has to do is get pregnant, which is a whole lot easier.

As the word spread about the availability of welfare, unmarried women started having children at younger and younger ages.  Some years ago, the phrase "children having children" was coined to describe the situation.  When women become mothers before they're functioning adults, they don't know how to raise their children, so the situation gets worse and worse with each passing generation.

Larry Elder reports that in neighborhoods where there are few employment opportunities, women who can't find jobs with which to establish a sense of self-worth feel that having a child is a "badge of honor."  He wrote:

According to The World Almanac 2005 -- which now lists illegitimate birth rates under the politically correct heading "Nonmarital Childbearing" -- nearly 70 percent of black children are born outside of wedlock. With Latinos, the rate is almost 45 percent, whites nearly 30 percent, and Asians 15 percent. Overall, about 34 percent of America's children today are born outside of wedlock.

According to the Heritage Foundation, children born outside of wedlock were more likely to engage in early sexual activity and have children out of wedlock. The report further stated, "Compared to children living with both biological parents in similar socioeconomic circumstances, children of never-married mothers exhibit 68 percent more antisocial behavior, 24 percent more headstrong behavior, 33 percent more hyperactive behavior, 78 percent more peer conflict, and 53 percent more dependency. Overall, children of never-married mothers have behavioral problems that score nearly three times higher than children raised in comparable intact families."

British families have deteriorated to the point that not only are children having children, children are being raised by other children in wild packs.  Children don't make very good parents.  Children can learn anti-social skills such as drug taking or promiscuous sex from each other but children can't teach each other responsibility or adult skills.

In "Downfall of a decent clan," the Daily Mail described the history of a family whose grandparents were solid working people but whose current generation are being raised by the government instead of by their parents:

What you see here is a tragic map of social breakdown: families who once stood on their own feet being replaced by single parenthood, multiple partners, reliance on State benefits and, perhaps inevitably, children being looked after by the local authority.

What emerges is a fascinating, if bleak, pattern of gradual social disintegration. It surely resonates with what is happening in many other Northern, white, lower working-class communities. An epoch has passed.

Karen Matthews is a striking figurehead for this generation.

She has never been in regular work yet receives £400 a week benefits, having had seven children by five different men.

Although jobless, Ms. Matthews has no need to establish a permanent relationship with a husband because the welfare system pays her expenses.  Her paramours have no reason to take responsibility for her children so they don't.  Society always gets more of anything government subsidizes including parentless children.  The overall result is that women who can't find jobs have more children than productive women.

In the long term, this is a self-correcting problem.  As the number of unemployable adults and state-supported children increases, welfare costs will continue to rise.

There will come a time when there aren't enough working people to pay the taxes needed to support the system, and the system will collapse.  It would plainly reduce overall harm to society by requiring that women take birth control as a condition of receiving public money, but imposing that condition on what has come to be regarded as an unlimited entitlement would be politically difficult.

It Goes Beyond Welfare

The problem of children who are effectively without parents is not restricted to welfare recipients; middle class parents are also affected.

When I was in college, student suicide essentially did not exist, there had been one suicide at my university in maybe 50 years.  In the '90's, however, student suicide became common enough that the administration set up a task force to try to understand what was going on.

The college ranked high enough that its graduates were unlikely to face unemployment.  Being admitted meant that a student had it made in terms of succeeding in society.

The suicides had not been in academic trouble; they were by and large on a path to graduate.  Having done its best to provide a stimulating learning environment, the administration was hurt and bewildered by suicides among their "best and brightest."

I had dinner with a member of the alumni association who served on the committee; he told me what had gone wrong.  "The day-care generation hit the college," he said.  "Just about all the incoming students have parents who both worked.  Their parents never spent much time with them, they've been in day care since birth, then in school.  Day care is a low paying job, there's huge staff turnover, their grandparents live far away, they've never had long-term relationships with any adults.  Without ties to adults, there's nothing for them to live for."

He went on to point out that the number of officially-recognized student groups had exploded along with the suicide rate.  "They can relate to each other," he explained, "so they form all kinds of activity groups, but they don't know how to build relationships with adults  They spend all their group time with each other, they ignore the faculty adviser."

Civilizing Children Takes Time

Having babies maintains a population but that's not enough to maintain a civilization.  Relating to children enough to civilize them takes huge amounts of time that working parents simply don't have or perhaps don't want to spend.

I was in line for a copier some years ago, and I noticed a sign over the copier.  It was a drawing of a woman leaning against a car, and under the picture someone had written, "If it has tits or tires, it's trouble."

I got to talking with the woman ahead of me; the sign suggested that most of the men in the plant didn't think much of women.  She told me her daughters tried to be the best wives they could but that her sons-in-law treated her daughters pretty badly.

After more talk, it turned out that her sons didn't treat her daughters-in law any better than her sons-in law treated her daughters.  So I asked, "You were bigger than your sons at the beginning.  Why didn't you teach them how to relate to women, or at least teach them to respect women so they'd be nice to their wives?"

She went banjo-eyed and said, "Because I was working and didn't have time."

Barbara Bush gave the 1990 commencement address at Wellesley College.  Some opposed inviting her because they believed that she had done nothing important, she had "merely" been a wife and mother.  She warned the students to cherish human relationships:

At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, winning one more verdict, or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a child, a friend, or a parent.

...whatever the era, whatever the times, one thing will never change: fathers and mothers, if you have children, they must come first. You must read to your children, and you must hug your children, and you must love your children. Your success as a family, our success as a society, depends not on what happens in the White House, but on what happens inside your house.

Mrs. Bush recognized that society is built on thousands and millions of relationships between individuals.  The most fundamental, the most foundational, relationships are between husband and wife and between parents and children.  Children are far more perceptive than adults think they are; children work full-time to understand the adults who impact their lives.  Children learn how to relate to other people by watching adults relate or fail to relate.

A girl should grow up in a family where her father appreciates and values her mother.  Seeing her father honor her mother teaches her a sense of self-worth.

If a girl grows in a single parent environment, however, she's likely to pick up the message that the only thing that matters about a woman is what men think of her appearance.  That's the message our advertisers send out all the time.  If a girl doesn't have a father to teach her to respect herself by showing respect to her and to her mother, she's likely to look for love anywhere she can find it without first asking for respect.

Mrs. Bush told her audience that fathers and mothers had to relate to their children, which takes a great deal of time.  As people began to understand the cost of family breakdown, the phrase "quality time" became popular.  The idea was that a parent could assuage guilt feelings by giving a child a few minutes of "quality time" each day.  Children do need quality time when the parent focuses full attention on the child, but they need quality time in quantity.

This is also true of adults.  We wrote of Japanese women who pay men to "shower them with undivided attention."  Women need quality time in quantity, and some of them want it badly enough to pay for it.  Unfortunately, children can't afford to pay adults to give them quantity time; quantity time has to come from their parents for free.

Family relationships are the most fundamental relationships among human beings, but building strong family relationships requires hours and days of shared discussions, activities, joys, and sorrows.  Families are based on mutual trust; so is society.

If a family relationship breaks down, how can children learn to build long-term relationships?  If children can't trust their parents to stick around, how can children trust anyone at all?

I found a pack of feral children in a local park some years ago.  Nobody was married, but there were lots of infants in strollers.  Groups of men would discuss the girls and try to figure out which girls had been had by them all.

This isn't surprising, natural selection favors males who interact with lots of women.  Natural selection favors girls who build relationships with men, of course, and the girls tried to relate to the men, but they'd become toys.  Men play with toys, break them, and throw them away.  If this happens too often, a girl becomes trash.

These girls hadn't been taught to value themselves enough to insist that men treasure them by marrying them before taking them.  Since the girls didn't place any value on themselves, there was no reason for the men to value them at all.

Trust and Honor are Foundational

Years ago, it was big news when Henry Ford II, grandson of the founder, got a divorce.  Until then, any Ford employee who divorced was fired.  "If you won't keep your promises to your spouse," Henry I used to say, "you won't keep your promises to me."

Mr. Ford also said, "Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, working together is success."  Employees must come together and work together for business success; husband and wife must stay together and work with their children for family success.

Cooperation is vital in business and in marriage.  When "events occur," as the bumper sticker has it, all parties involved must work together flexibly to solve the problem and get the family or business back on track.  This requires trust - it's hard to do your best work unless you trust that others are pulling their weight.

Divorce destroys trust within the family by involving lawyers.  With divorce, anything the husband gets, the wife loses; anything the wife gets, the husband loses.  People lie to spouses and hide assets to keep costs down during divorce.

Unfortunately for society, the habits of lying, betrayal, and anger that characterize divorce find their way into the workplace.  Mr. Ford was right, the "divorce culture" has wrecked the integrity of our business culture.  Economists speak of the "moral dimension of economics," which is a fancy way of saying that it's hard to do business when you aren't sure you'll get paid.

If you couldn't trust your parents to fulfill their contract with each other, how can you trust anyone?  The groups of children who terrorize British society band together to protect themselves against a hostile adult world which has forfeited their trust.

Having Children Versus Raising Children

Women are having fewer children than they used to, but when they don't exercise a "woman's right to choose," they have children because they want children.

Unfortunately, having a baby is not enough, the child has to be raised carefully for 18 to 20 years.  It used to be recognized that the main purpose of marriage was to provide a stable, long-term environment in which parents could raise their children to become successful adults.

The marriage vow said, "'til death us do part."  When most people died in their 40's, "'til death us do part" was just long enough to get children ready to marry; that was the object of the exercise.

Mrs. Bush's point was that today's young ladies are free to choose not to have children, but that if they do have children, they ought to stay home and raise them.

Giving children enough quality time to teach them how to form stable relationships is a full-time job.  Being a parent is so difficult that you can't pay anybody to do it well.  Career couples try to pay other people to parent their children, but subcontracting parenthood doesn't work.

Most women are far better at building relationships than most men are so teaching relationships tends to fall into the wife's domain.  The relationship a woman establishes with her son sets the tone for the quality of the relationship he'll have with his wife.  Unfortunately, it's hard for a woman to build a solid relationship with her son unless she has a solid relationship with her son's father.

Marriage is all about relationships starting with husband to wife and including children as they come along.  Building relationships takes both time and a fundamental understanding of the other party's needs.  Books on negotiation teach that successful deal-making requires knowing what the other party must have.  No matter what the agreement says, if something either party must have is left out, the deal won't work over the long term.

Our society has misinformed men and women about what they need from relationships with the opposite sex.  As with any negotiation, if each party understands what the other party needs, they can back out of a deal that can't possibly work.

Not getting involved with someone whose needs you can't meet or who won't meet your needs can save you a lot of grief.

The next article discusses concubinage, which has become the predominant model for modern inter-gender relationships.  Unfortunately, concubinage is pretty much guaranteed not to meet a woman's needs for simple reasons which are grounded in natural selection.

Lee Tydings is a guest writer for Scragged.com.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Lee Tydings or other articles on Society.
Reader Comments
You said "As with any negotiation, if each party understands what the other party needs, they can back out of a deal that can't possibly work". Don't you mean they CANNOT back out of the deal...? Maybe I'm reading the context of that wrong.
April 26, 2008 8:45 AM
This comment was directed at the dating process by which a man and woman decide whether they ought to get married. The concept is that if a man is unable or unwilling to meet a woman's core needs or if she is unable or unwilling to meet his core needs, they probably ought not to get married because they won't be able to make it work over the long term. Many couples who shouldn't marry at all get together on the basis of superficial attractions without knowing what's needed for the long term.

Young people have been systematically lied to about men's and women's needs so it is not at all surprising that they wouldn't have a clue what's expected from marriage. They not only don't understand their partner's needs, they don't even seem to understand their own needs. Many marriages fail due to ignorance.
April 26, 2008 11:19 AM
I don't agree. I think it's obvious to men that women want to talk just like it's obvious to women that men want to screw. Those are both about as commonly understand as it is that the sky is blue. What's happening is that people don't care about fulfilling them anymore. Sure, of course, I know my wife wants to talk, but I don't care because the football game is on and hey - divorce is cheap and easy anyway. Understanding isn't the problem. The problem is that the consequences of not doing those things doesn't hurt anymore.
April 26, 2008 11:33 AM
Moses brings up a VERY good point actually. How can women and men not understand these things already? Society just doesn't care about meeting them. Women have resorted to talking with each other, and men jump from one sexual affair to the next. Both can now have their cake and eat it too.
April 26, 2008 12:29 PM
moses and Ifon grossly underestimate the degree to which a woman's thought process differs from a man's. I am privileged to know two long-married women, one of whom has been married more than 30 years and the other who has been married more than 20 years. These women have 8 kids and various grandchildren between them.

In talking with their husbands, I find that in both cases, when the man grabs his wife, she invariably asks, "What do you want?" Over the years, both men have learned that their natural answer, "You know what I want" is futile because in fact and in truth, the women do NOT know what their men want even after years and years of being grabbed nearly every day and more often than that on some days.

One of the wives told me that her husband usually grabs her when she's trying to do something. She's a busy, responsible woman, so OF COURSE she'd be doing something when her husband grabs her. If he waited for he not to be doing something, he'd hardly ever grab her at all.

Given that she's trying to get something done, her first thought when her husband grabs her is, "What have I done wrong?" She actually doesn't know WHY he's grabbing her; she thinks he's grabbed her to stop her from doing whatever she's doing.

Think about that for a while. Think about it a LOT.

In point of fact, being grabbed DOES stop her from doing whatever she was doing, but that is NOT why her husband grabs her.

These men tell me that after some years of saying "You know what I want" in response to being asked why they'd grabbed their wives, they've learned to save breath and simply answer, "You!"

I think that vaguely, in the back of their minds someplace, men at least SUSPECT that women want to talk, but they have no idea how important talk is to women. When these women are grabbed, they figure out the man's agenda after some thought, but it takes thought on each woman's part because HIS agenda is not on her radar. If a man understands his wife's drive to talk no better than a woman understands her husband's drive to take her, we're an ignorant society indeed.
April 26, 2008 8:52 PM
Sex is certainly not on women's minds like it is with men. And being busy always distracts people from thinking. But I find it VERY difficult to believe that those two women you are speaking of do not really undersatnd when their husbands grab them, what *might possibly* be going through his mind. My wife and I have only been married for a few years, and she is well aware of what that signal means. No prompting required. I would guess that it's more likely that many wives, particularly as they get older, try and hide what they know men want OR they play dumb so that the man gets tired out OR they are so busy with career/kids/house/whatever that they're too distracted to think about it. I'm young and stupid, but I don't think women really don't understand that men don't think about sex all the time.
April 27, 2008 8:45 AM
Let me start by saying that my husband and I have been married almost 10 years.
I know exactly what he means/wants when he grabs me even if I am busy. I enjoy the attention and would bet a lot of other women do too. We like to feel attractive and wanted. Now a big reason that his agenda is on my radar, is that mine is on his as well. Even after this many years, we can still have stimulating discussion late into the night. I would wager that asking her husband what he wants is really playful teasing and not a real need to know.
April 28, 2008 11:35 AM
Ifon's recent comment illuminates some of the differences which natural selection programmed into the genders. Let's consider hard-wired, low-level, instinctive responses.

Keeping babies alive is imperative for women to gain reproductive success. A woman is hared-wired to hear a crying baby and do something about it. Men think women think about babies all the time. This isn't true, being aware of whether babies are OK or not is done instinctively and does not require thought. When a baby sounds off, the mother relates to it to figure out what's wrong. Thus, women are hard-wired to be interrupted and their response to interrupts is to relate.

A woman CAN ignore a crying baby, with DIFFICULTY. I spent an afternoon at my mother's place a while back. The baby in the next apartment was sick. The mother was young; this was her first baby. Trying to ignore the baby nearly drove mom crazy. Finally, she went next door, showed the young mother a trick or two, and the baby went to sleep.

Reflexive responses to interruptions drive women to relate.

Men gain reproductive success from taking care of women which is why men tend to respond to a woman's voice when she's in danger, but men also gain by having sex as often as possible. Each copulation has the POTENTIAL to give him another heir. It takes so long between pregnancies that the reproductive value of a marginal copulation is much less for women. A man's interest in sex is hard-wired and instinctive. Women think men think about sex all the time. This isn't true, being aware of sexual oportunity is done instinctively and does not require thought. Neurologists say that there are special cells in male retinas to help them see women and special cells in the lower part of the brain which help them be aware of opportunities for liasons.

What happens when a man interrupts a woman by grabbing her? One opinion is not enough, I asked various women and they asked others.

When a man interupts a woman, her instinctive response is to relate. She may wonder what she's dong wrong such that he stopped her, then she may ask what he wants. Asking what someone else wants is the first move in an act of relating. If she thinks a second or two, she'll remember, "Oh, yeah, no relationship here, he wants to get physical." but she has to THINK about it. Her INSTINCT is to relate. Switching from relating to sex requires thought, just as it requires thought for a man to switch from sex to relating.

When a wife grabs her husband or sits in his lap, how long does it take him to switch from what he instinctively THINKS she wants to what she really wants?

Jennifer's point is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT too. She said, "we can still have stimulating discussion late into the night" Natural selection has worked its magic so that women run on relationships, that's what keeps their babies alive. This is NOT just talk, it is RELATIONAL talk. Snce her husband is meeting Jennifer's needs, she's better able to recognize his needs.

If you're married, you can't float your own boat, you gotta float someone else's boat.
April 29, 2008 7:04 PM
The foundational point of your article which is that sex is something men need and take from women doesn't jive at all with the thinking and traditions of society through the ages. It's a very recent viewpoint, brought on by the Victorian view that sex is a dirty bad thing. This is so ingrained into our society that it is hard for most to think without it.

But if you go back to writings from before that period -- the Talmud for example, you'll see a totally different viewpoint. Stuff like this: "Sex is the woman's right, not the man's." or this: "A man has a duty to give his wife sex regularly and to ensure that sex is pleasurable for her." or even this: "He is also obligated to watch for signs that his wife wants sex, and to offer it to her without her asking for it." etc. etc.(http://www.jewfaq.org/sex.htm)

Sex is a mutual pleasure, not something the man takes from the woman. Random "lies, damn lies, and statistics" aside, personal experience tells me women think about sex, want sex etc. at least daily if not more. Women like both to be wanted, and to initiate sex.
April 29, 2008 7:24 PM
I'm not at all sure that's the sort of thing that's possible to answer anecdotally. I'm not even sure how you'd determine it scientifically. Certainly what you are reporting bears no resemblance to my observations or experience.

That said, what you're saying about the Talmud and other early Jewish writings is quite correct. I think it's for other reasons though.
April 29, 2008 8:33 PM
I don't think the Victorian view is the same as the American view. The Victorian view was to hide it. Anything went as long as it was done behind closed doors. The original American view was that sex is sacred, something that had rules and guidelines. Remember, there were a lot of of local laws that prohibited many types of sexual activities, even between husband and wife. Some of them are *still* on the books now.
April 30, 2008 7:11 AM
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