Family As We Know It — Is Marriage Fading Away?


I recently spent a Friday night doing one of my favorite things — seeing a chick flick in the theaters. Though highly predictable, Life As We Know It, starring Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel, was comical, uplifting, and charming (immoral scenes aside).

For those who aren’t familiar with the movie, the plotline is simple: two single adults are given the joint custody of their best friends’ infant daughter after they’re killed in an accident.

Knowing nothing about child-rearing and bearing fierce animosity toward each another, Heigl and Duhamel lend comedy to a tragic situation. And like the unfolding of so many chick flicks, the viewer soon sees the spark of love between the two.

Spoiler alert (though no surprise to the viewer of the movie), near the end Duhamel is watching a video clip of the little girl take her first steps with Heigl in the background, cheering her on. Next to him in the airport terminal, an older woman tells him what a beautiful family he has.

Deep sigh.

The audience is hooked and they’re rooting for this family to come together.

Only problem is Heigl and Duhamel never officially become a family, at least not in the way Catholics would define family. They do end up together, in love, and we see them celebrating their “daughter’s” second birthday. But we never see them become husband and wife in any type of ceremony.

As a Catholic, this bothered me for obvious reasons but most especially because it’s one more way Hollywood is attempting to influence culture. Subtle though it may seem, the lack of a wedding scene influences the viewer and sends a message that a marriage is not important when it comes to building a family.

That view is not uncommon, according to a recent study conducted by Pew Research Center.

The survey also finds striking differences by generation. In 1960, two-thirds (68%) of all twenty-somethings were married. In 2008, just 26% were. How many of today’s youth will eventually marry is an open question. For now, the survey finds that the young are much more inclined than their elders to view cohabitation without marriage and other new family forms — such as same sex marriage and interracial marriage — in a positive light.

Even as marriage shrinks, family — in all its emerging varieties — remains resilient. The survey finds that Americans have an expansive definition of what constitutes a family. And the vast majority of adults consider their own family to be the most important, most satisfying element of their lives.

The study goes on to detail various findings and opinions in regards to marriage and family, including the general public’s definition of family.

By emphatic margins, the public does not see marriage as the only path to family formation. Fully 86% say a single parent and child constitute a family; nearly as many (80%) say an unmarried couple living together with a child is a family; and 63% say a gay or lesbian couple raising a child is a family. The presence of children clearly matters in these definitions. If a cohabiting couple has no children, a majority of the public says they are not a family. Marriage matters, too. If a childless couple is married, 88% consider them to be a family.

I find this fascinating. The two components that constitute a family in the public’s eye are also the two components necessary in a Catholic marriage — openness to life and unity in the sacramental bond (CCC 1604). And though they can be separated in the eyes of the public but still create a family, the fact that those are two defining elements of the definition of family make it clear: marriage and family are not as irrelevant as some would like to contend.

The Pew study stated it’s unclear how many twenty-somethings will get married. Let’s hope it’s a lot.

With Catholic singles being at a record number, we have a chance to turn around the public view of marriage toward what it should be: one man and one woman, with an openness to life, in a committed and life-long bond.

After all, family was overwhelming one of the most important elements in the respondents’ lives…as it should be!



  1. Roseanne-557920 December 5, 2010 Reply

    I liked this movie, but agree it’s moral value was lacking based on what it means to be a Catholic. And It’s very easy for young people to “agree” with hype from media than it is for them to make their own choices based on how they feel deep down in their gut. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. It’s hard though because everyone wants to fall in love and get married… It’s just the methods that keep thinning out in value.

  2. Kwaku-654846 November 28, 2010 Reply

    “…….especially because it’s one more way Hollywood is attempting to influence culture.”

    This is quite wrong. The opposite is true: in this movie, Hollywood is portraying the reality of modern American life. Many people don’t see marriage as necessary (and who can blame them, given the outrageous number of divorces), but it is sad, because marriage is the best possible way of bringing love to full fruition.

  3. Anna-635092 November 28, 2010 Reply

    As a senior, (age – 79 yrs,), I appreciated reading Meg McDonnell’s article. It could have been titled the same as movie:,” Life As We Know It.”. – How sad society is when that title (ie:statment) fits the situation !!!
    Meg researched her material well, & presented Catholic viewpoints on the dilemna in a manner assuming responsibility (of her age-group singles) & challenges her peers “to turn the public view of marriage around to what it should be – ” one man & one woman with a openess to life, in a commited & life-long bond.”
    p.s.- would like to see a write-up about Pew Research Cenrer. (Only recently have heard of their being used on “Fox News”.) -Iriishanna

  4. Annie P. November 26, 2010 Reply

    i believe the family as i remember it as a child sucks! the child was seen and not heard. the only thing i took from my growing up as a family unit was my religion and to never be or act like my “parents”! the 1st time i married was to get out of the house! Thank GOD we had no children. If i had lived with him for at least 1 yr…it probably would have lasted 2-6 mos., i would have never, ever married him least of all in the catholic church. yrs. down the road, i met a catholic man, married him, later got an annulment from the 1st marriage, had a beautiful catholic church wedding with my grandchildren in the wedding party. then…down the road…he cheated on me and GOD only knows how many times. we r still married but he continues to cheat on me with his “new family”…does anyone catch my drift? i suggest everyone think before they leap and never lose your faith!

  5. Nicholas-124272 November 26, 2010 Reply

    The Devil runs Hollywood.

  6. DionysiaDamayanti-497168 November 26, 2010 Reply

    I agree that the Catholic marriage has to be announced and done with a formal ceremony at the Catholic Church. We don’t have to make an expensive wedding party. The Catholic ceremony for the marriage can be arranged inexpensively. Actually we need to get the value or the meaning of the ceremony to live as a couple forever.

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