JENNIFER Aniston has praised single mothers and urged women not to settle for a man just to have a baby.
During a press conference for new movie The Switch, in which she plays a woman who uses a sperm donor to get pregnant, the former Friends star claimed that she was pleased that more women were being brave enough to raise children on their own.
"Women are realising it more and more, knowing that they don't have to settle with a man just to have that child," she told People.
"Times have changed, and that is also what is amazing is that we do have so many options these days, as opposed to our parents' days when you can't have children because you have waited too long."
The 41-year-old actress, who admitted during the conference that she still hoped to become a mother one day, also spoke out against the notion of a nuclear family, adding: "The point of the movie is, what is it that defines family? It isn't necessarily the traditional mother, father, two children and a dog named Spot.
"Love is love and family is what is around you and who is in your immediate sphere. That is what I love about this movie. It is saying it is not the traditional sort of stereotype of what we have been taught as a society of what family is."
Why is this a liberal view? If you follow liberalism in thinking that autonomy is the highest good, then you'll want multiple forms of family life to choose from rather than just the single, traditional one; you'll approve of women acting independently of men to have children; and you'll like the idea of defining family not around a definite traditional structure but more vaguely and fluidly around your own unique personal circumstances ("family is ... who is in your immediate sphere").
This liberal view will no doubt sound good to some people. It might seem more personally free, or perhaps there will be a feel good factor in thinking that love is all you need.
But love isn't always enough. I was reminded of this when watching a couple of episodes of a TV show that has aired recently here in Australia. Each episode followed a pair of wayward, self-destructive Australian teens whose lives were in free fall. One pair was sent to live with some strict parents on an Australian sheep station, the next on a Texan cattle ranch. The teens all played up at first but then some tough love and some productive work on the farms turned them around.
What was so significant about this? All four teens came from single mother households. There was not a dad in sight. And the single mums all seemed reasonably middle-class: they were articulate, lived in nice homes and expressed much love for their children.
But still the children were confused and angry. It was only when the host fathers successfully asserted paternal authority and care that the teenagers began to have a change of attitude. This was especially true of the boy who was sent to Texas: he thrived when he worked alongside his American host father and received praise and encouragement. He stated openly his need to have an older man in his life as a father figure.
A well-functioning nuclear family of father, mother and children is the best environment to raise children. It provides the key relationships needed for the successful socialisation of children.
It's true that there are families which don't function well and suffer break-down. But this doesn't change what constitutes the basic family type that a society ought to encourage.
It's true as well that there are children brought up by single mothers who turn out well. Still, the statistics show that on average children do better with both a father and a mother. For instance, a recent American study which compared outcomes between children raised in traditional families and those raised through donor inseminated single mothers found that:
Donor offspring are significantly more likely than those raised by their biological parents to struggle with serious, negative outcomes such as delinquency, substance abuse, and depression, even when controlling for socio-economic and other factors.
Donor offspring and those who were adopted are twice as likely as those raised by biological parents to report problems with the law before age 25.
Donor offspring are about 1.5 times more likely than those raised by their biological parents to report mental health problems, with the adopted being closer to twice as likely as those raised by biological parents to report the same thing.
Donor offspring are more than twice as likely as those raised by biological parents to report substance abuse problems. ("My Daddy's Name Is Donor" released by the Commission on Parenthood's Future, executive summary, p.9)
Note that the mothers choosing donor insemination were better educated and slightly better off financially than the comparison group of traditional couples - so the worse outcomes can't be put down to socio-economic factors.
Jennifer Aniston is wrong. Family is not just "what is around you". It's not just you and your dog or you and your friends. Such relationships might be important to people in various ways, but family is something else. Family has to do with fatherhood and motherhood and with the care, nurturing and socialisation of children.