Monday, December 15, 2014

Civilization in the Home

Mr. Spherical Model and I are coming up on our 33rd anniversary later this week. We’ve been married about a decade longer than we were growing up and single. I guess that’s an accomplishment, in today’s world. In our typical circles—among extended family and friends from church—we’re very normal. We’ve done a lot of normal (but exceptional in the world) things that have contributed to civilization.
To start, we followed the formula for avoiding poverty:
1.      Don’t have sex before age 20.
2.      Don’t have sex until after marriage.
3.      Stay married.
4.      Obtain at least a high school diploma.
We went beyond that, as is very normal among Mormons. We were around 22 when we met. I had a college degree; he had spent two years as a missionary and was still working on a degree—eventually going on for a master’s degree. We were married in the beautiful, historic Salt Lake Temple, which requires that we come there worthy, including no sex before marriage.
We spent a few years in poverty, as students. It was the early ‘80s, with the country still digging out of the malaise of the Carter years, and sometimes we were without employment. Sometimes dinner was macaroni and cheese. And I think there was a year we didn’t go out to dinner except for our anniversary. (That meant not even McDonald’s.)
We lived in a trailer park, along with many other student couples, which we not-too-affectionately called “Poverty Park.” The jalousie windows froze shut in winter. Mold grew on the walls and crawled down toward us. We had a leak in a wall once that led to our waking up to mushrooms growing in the living room carpet.  Leaks in the ceiling used to soak into the popcorn ceiling (a standard sort of ceiling texture back in the day), and the plaster would plop down into my cooking. The swamp cooler (an air conditioner that is only useful in desert places) used to blow out the gas stove, which was kind of dangerous, since the gas was still flowing. Elm bugs used to infiltrate the add-on where our laundry and storage were; I was still finding their carcasses in boxes for another ten years.
But we grew a garden all around our place, so we had enough tomatoes to can. And we had music, because I brought a piano into the marriage. And we had books galore—one can never have enough bookshelves. We didn’t have a television for the first three years, but it didn’t seem to matter.
We never assumed that poverty was our destiny. It was just something to go through during the college years. It took probably five years before we nudged our way into the middle class, so it took some patience. It took eight years before we bought our first small home. And another nine years before we moved to Texas and built the nice home we’re in now. It’s the nicest home I’ve ever lived in, but still well below median for Houston. Thinking worldwide, though, we probably look really wealthy.
We’ve managed this mainly on a single income, since I became a stay-at-home mom in 1987. We still do our own lawn care and house cleaning. We still mostly cook at home. When our kids needed something better than public schools, we homeschooled. We’re not close to moving into the upper-middle class even now, but we’re comfortable.
We were both educated and capable of making a decent income. We could have both done that singly. But statistically speaking, the odds are that we made more together, even without my income most of those years, than we would have separately. Married people seem to have more purpose in working toward goals, such as buying  a home, and building wealth. Because there are other people counting on us.
Prosperity is one of the benefits of marriage.
There are also health benefits. Married men and women have significantly longer life expectancy than singles. Long-time married to one spouse have the best health scores. Married elderly are a lot less likely to be depressed and lonely, and more likely to stay active. I happened upon a story this week, in The Family in America newsletter, about marriage contributing to heart health.*  That has been known for men for some time. But this study showed that, while married and single middle-age to senior women have equal rates of developing heart disease, married women are 28% less likely to die from a heart attack. The study couldn’t identify the reason: no one else around to tell about the symptoms or notice the collapse? less social interconnectedness? or just less will to live for the sake of others? They simply found that, all other indicators aside, in a very large study in Britain, married women are more likely to live.
Then there are the quality of life issues. Family. I looked for the “deathbed quote,” and there are so many variations, it’s hard to identify the first, but this one is essentially it:
What do most people say on their deathbed? They don't say, 'I wish I'd made more money.' What they say is, 'I wish I'd spent more time with my family and done more for society or my community.'—David Rubenstein
What happened when we married was the birth of a family. We believe families are forever. We have three children (plus one waiting for us in heaven). Our three are grown, married, and beginning families of their own. Next month we get a third grandchild.

Grandchildren are one of the best benefits of marriage.
Little PS1 and Little PS2 at their great grandparents' farm
My parents had four children, all married. Added together, we’ve raised twelve kids, and so far we have ten grandchildren. My husband’s parents had six children. Together they have parented 30, and are, if I'm counting right, grandparents to 15. Because we’re mostly going beyond replacement rate, we’re increasing. And, for the most part, we’re increasing in contributing, educated, moral members of society. We’re building civilization.
We do that better than single people do. That’s just a fact. Statistically speaking, and also in our case in reality. Raising children with love, security, stability, opportunity—along with adequate food and shelter—leads to adults who form families and build more civilization.
Life is not about how successful you are in a career; it’s about success within your home. As David O. McKay famously said, “No other success can compensate for failure in the home.” If you don’t have civilization at home, you’ll be hard pressed to find it in your surrounding world.
You may be one of those without a successful family due to circumstances you can’t control. Still, what you can control is civilization within yourself. Like attracts like. If you live a civilized life, whatever your circumstances, you will find pockets of civilization to connect to. Even when you can’t choose all of the details of your life, you can always choose truth, love, and ultimate good.

* Bryce J. Christensen and Nicole M. King, Forthcoming in “New Research,” The Family in America. Study: Sarah Floud et al., “Marital Status and Ischemic Heart Disease Incidence and Mortality in Women: A Large Prospective Study,” BMC Medicine 12 [2014]: 42. Web. See also


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