Andrew Yang Wants Couples to Get Counseling; Here’s a Better Idea
A parenting prenup would bind parents to their child, no matter their marital status
Rising Democratic presidential hopeful Andrew Yang may be best known for his universal basic income plan to give every person $1,000 a month and for wanting to get rid of the penny, but among the many outside-the-box ideas the former entrepreneur proposes is one I’ve never heard any politician running for any office ever propose — encouraging couples to get counseling.
On his website, he states:
As president, I will include family counseling in any healthcare plan offered through the federal government, mandate the inclusion of family counseling services in any plan sold through the ACA marketplaces, subsidize marriage counseling provided by any credentialed provider through the tax code.
OK, that’s cool. But why?
Is the 44-year-old father of two, one of who is on the autism spectrum — a topic he brought up briefly during the presidential debates — some rabid pro-marriage advocate?
One could think so. Just look what he says on his website:
Children raised in two-parent households have better outcomes across almost every dimension. Studies also show that being in a happy marriage contributes to longevity and life satisfaction. However, there is currently very little support out there for people who are looking for assistance in managing their marital relationship.
Keeping married couples together who want to be together, he says, is a “huge societal good.”
A desire to keep married couples together who want to be together because it’s a “huge societal good” is somewhat problematic. Exactly what societal good are we talking about and which married couples — married couples with children or any married couple? I can guess …
I think helping all people, married or not, coupled or not, have healthy relationships, romantic or not, is a good thing. We all have family stuff to work out. Who among us couldn’t benefit from some family counseling?
A few months ago, his counseling proposal was mocked by “The View” host Meghan McCain, who said her version of marital counseling “ is drinking Jack Daniels, shooting some guns and hanging out.”
Clearly, she’s missing the point. But in some ways, so is Yang, although I believe he is earnest in his desire to help couples — OK, parents. Because that’s what we’re really talking about here.
Yang acknowledges that marriage rates are dropping — they are — and if people do choose to wed, he notes that “it’s tough to stay together through all of the stresses that accompany marriage and particularly child-rearing.”
Throw a special needs child into the mix and it’s even more stressful. I know this firsthand.
Divorce, he says, “negatively impacts the adults involved as well as children.” While divorce can most definitely be financially and emotionally devastating for adults, it isn’t divorce per se that harms children, according to research — it’s conflict. And, you know, there’s conscious uncoupling; it works.
It’s also true, according to studies, that children raised in two-parent households tend to do better. But the parents’ marital status doesn’t matter; children would likely do just as well in any loving long-term relationship, whether they’re cohabiting or living apart together (except no one is really putting time and energy into studying that, sadly).
Stability and consistency is what children need to thrive, and they don’t need their parents to be married — or even in love with each other — for that.
What we really want to do is help people be good co-parents to their children regardless of whether they’re in an intact family or not. Family counseling (better than calling it marriage counseling because there are so many couples who have children outside of marriage) won’t necessarily do that — by the time most people seek counseling, a lot of damage has been done — but a parenting prenup would.
If you haven’t heard of a parenting prenup, there’s a reason — it’s a relatively new concept, one that my co-author and I propose in our book, The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels, and supported by a few legal scholars, that could help parents no matter their marital status. It shifts the focus from couples just making vows to each other to making them to their children too.
A parenting prenup could be like a marital prenup — a legal agreement — or just an informal written contract. Either way, it would bind each parent to their children versus their partner.
A parenting prenup speaks to the unique responsibilities of raising a child and spells out the most essential issues parents are agreeing to, offering them clarity, purpose and a plan of action. There’s less to fight about.
It would help parents get on the same page about important parenting issues, such as discipline and schooling — issues that typically cause conflict. And, in the event of a marital disruption or a child born to unwed parents, each parent would be fully aware of what his or her responsibilities are — no parent could alienate the other or disappear.
But, OK — life may throw them a curveball, a child with a learning disability, or autism, or a mental illness. Still, parents would be better prepared to mutually agree on what needs to be done.
In many ways, a parenting prenup is the true definition of planned parenthood.
It’s a bit weird to hear a presidential candidate talk about marital hardships although that’s a thing, so, why not? But it’s absolutely refreshing to hear a presidential candidate address the challenges of parenting today, and not just about work-life balance and parental leave. Both are essential, but can we just talk about what it’s like to be a parent nowadays?
Compared to the huge challenges facing us — climate change, health care, income inequality, immigration, college debt, criminal justice, racism — focusing on relationships seems small. Then again, all movements start small — with us, with our relationships with friends and loved ones, and with our community.
Maybe Andrew Yang is onto something.