South Dakota State Representative Erin Healy serves as that state’s Assistant Minority Leader, a very important and influential role. She also apparently believes that saying children do best when raised by their own married mother and father is an “extremist” idea that is both “dangerous” and “un-American.”
She proudly said precisely that to the world via her twitter account this week.
Extremist group Family Heritage Alliance said this morning that the safest place for kids are in families that have a married mom and dad. What a dangerous and un-American belief.
— Representative Erin Healy (@RepErinHealy) February 13, 2023
It was a busy day for Rep. Healy, as earlier in the day, she also blasted “fundamentalist groups who only believe in nuclear families” as disgusting and extremist.
The grip from fundamentalist groups who only believe in nuclear families is strong at our state legislature today. I am disgusted by the extremist opposition we heard today and disappointed we couldn't pass such a simple, important bill. https://t.co/rxVInLTGjA
— Representative Erin Healy (@RepErinHealy) February 13, 2023
Healy was referring to a losing effort in her state to remove the words “man and woman” from the state’s definition of marriage, thus degendering a word that means nothing apart from male and female. And the “fundamentalist” and “extremist” group Healy was railing against was not either in the least. She was referring to the Focus on the Family allied Family Heritage Alliance that does tremendously important work advocating for that which is best for children and families in South Dakota.
But let’s look closely at Rep Healy’s dramatic claims and see if they hold up to what other important left-leaning authorities have said about what children need in order to thrive.
First, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, a document establishing the basic, undeniable rights of every child in every nation, was drafted in 1989, long before the novel idea of the genderless family came along. It states in Article 7 that every child has a right to a name and to be known and cared for by the two parents who created them. Hence his or her mother and father. That is clearly stated here:
Second, Child Trends is a very respected center-left Washington D.C.-based think tank whose employees show up every day dedicated to working for what they see as in the best interest of children. In 2002, this organization published a major research report specifically examining what family form best serves children. These careful researchers report from their findings,
Two married biological parents are best for kids. On average, neither cohabitation nor marriage of a parent and a step-parent are as beneficial to children as marriage between two biological parents. (emphasis in original)
They add, “the best environment for children’s development is a family headed by both biological parents in a low-conflict marriage.” Regarding unmarried mothers and fathers, they say marriage is such a strong benefit for children that “The birth of a child may be the best time to promote marriage between unmarried biological parents.”
Obviously, the good and fair-minded people at Child Trends don’t think promoting the married biological mother/father family is “dangerous” or “un-American.” Quite the opposite, actually.
The Brookings Institution is another respected center-left, D.C.-based think tank that has done long, foundational work on how various family forms impact healthy child-development. They have not been shy about saying that both marriage and fatherhood are irreplaceable for the optimum health and development of children. In a 2014 report, their scholars examine why marriage is consistently shown to boost child thriving across all important measures, explaining “The benefits of marriage in terms of children’s outcomes and life chances seem clear.”
In fact, their research was not on whether children with married mothers and fathers do better, but why. They scholars state bluntly, “it is important to try and understand why the children of married parents do better.” They add, “Is it marriage itself that matters, or is marriage the visible expression of other factors, that are the true cause of different outcomes?” (emphasis in original)
And this not simply gender-free married parenting. In a 2020 research-based report, The Brookings Institution explains the importance of what fathers bring to essential child-development from birth.
So it’s no surprise that the literature, which includes both correlational and causal studies, has demonstrated that when dads actively engage with their babies and toddlers, they positively impact their children across a wide range of outcomes—including cognitive, language, and executive function skills.
Because of father’s unique way of interacting with his children, his more physical, louder, demonstrative connections, Brookings explains “fathers have an incredibly important role to play in building their children’s brains” and that “certain actions, when done by dads, have an even greater impact on a child’s development than if that action had been done by a mom.” Specifically, “toddlers whose fathers often read to them had better receptive vocabulary and cognitive skills one year later.”
Let us add to this that before he was President, Barack Obama very articulately lauded the essential contributions that married fathers make to healthy child development in a famous Father’s Day speech, from the pulpit of a church no less. The president-to-be lamented that too many fathers are missing from too many homes and children’s lives, “and the foundations of our families are weaker because of it.” He was not shy nor apologetic in explaining,
We know the statistics — that children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime; nine times more likely to drop out of schools and 20 times more likely to end up in prison. They are more likely to have behavioral problems, or run away from home or become teenage parents themselves. And the foundations of our community are weaker because of it.
Then-Senator Obama added, “But we also need families to raise our children. We need fathers to realize that responsibility does not end at conception.”
Obama was preceded by President Bill Clinton who asserted in 1995 “I am firm in my belief that the future of our Republic depends on strong families and that committed fathers are essential to those families.” The following year President Clinton unapologetically proclaimed, “We must do all we can to encourage fathers as they strive to provide the fundamental emotional and economic support that helps ensure their families’ well-being.”
Rep. Healy and her kind today seem to be at direct odds with the two strongest leaders of their party on the importance of married, biological parenting.
Finally, let’s examine her claim about “nuclear families” being so distasteful. This is a certainly not a conservative, traditionalist or “religious-right” term, as it is so often portrayed. When was the word “nuclear” first attached to “family” and why?
Well, we must go all the way back to Aristotle and his Politics to find the answer. In this book, Aristotle is explaining how civilization first developed so he can address how it should be governed.
Writing in 350 B.C., the great philosopher begins Book I, Part II explaining how the exclusive union of husband and wife and their common children serve as the literal nucleus upon which the village, state, and nation are established and successfully sustained.
Aristotle writes, “In the first place [thus, the nucleus], there must be a union of those who cannot exist without each other, for example male and female, that the race may continue.” He adds, “The family is the association established by nature for the supply of humanity’s everyday wants, and the members of it are called by Charondes ‘companions of the cupboard’ and by Epimenides the Cretan, ‘companions of the manger.’”
Aristotle then explains how family serves its fundamental building-block role as the undeniable nucleus that constructs the larger society,
But when several families are united, and the association aims as something more than the supply of daily needs, then comes into existence the village. And the most natural form of a village appears to be that of a colony from the family, composed of children and grandchildren, who are said to be ‘suckled with the same milk.’
So Representative Healy is simply wrong and woefully uninformed in attacking attempts to elevate and honor the nuclear family established upon marriage. But the fact that she is not alone in such ill-informed opinions certainly does not make her correct. As Norman Woods, the director of Family Heritage Alliance, the very organization under twitter attack, explains,
Rep. Healy’s comment on twitter shows … members of the left have come to believe multiple things that are harmful, inaccurate, and simply not true. They believe a child can be born into the wrong body, that moms and dads are optional, and that unborn babies aren’t fully human yet.
Woods adds, “Each of these beliefs are clearly unscientific and untrue, but as we know, biology always bats last. These false beliefs eventually collapse when confronted with the truth.”
Woods and all others who advocate for the natural family founded in the essential nucleus of married biological mothers and fathers have both science and very long human experience at their robust defense.
Activists like Rep. Healy only have bluster and empty moral outrage.