Bernardo M. Villegas
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How to Strengthen Filipino Family

           The Philippine Constitution explicitly mandates that the State should strengthen the Filipino family (Article II, Section 12).  One of the most important ways this can be done is for the State to create the necessary environment so that both father and mother in each family can perform their respective roles which are not interchangeable.  There is ample evidence from social science research all over the world that the family suffers if either the father or the mother fails in the role that nature has assigned to each one of them.  These studies suggest that men and women bring different strengths to the parenting enterprise, and that the biological relatedness of parents to their children has important consequences for the young, especially girls.

      It may be true that there is a great deal of overlap in the talents and strengths that mothers and fathers bring to the task of parenting. The evidence, however, also suggests that there are crucial sex differences in parenting. Biology definitely matters.  Mothers are more sensitive to the cries, words, and gestures of infants, toddlers, and adolescents, and thus, they are better at providing physical and emotional nurture and comfort to their children (Eleonor Maccoby, 1998.  The Two Sexes:  Growing Up Apart, Coming Together.  Cambridge, Harvard University).  These special capacities of mothers seem to have deep biological underpinnings:  during pregnancy and breastfeeding women experience high levels of the hormone peptide oxytocin, which fosters affiliative behaviors (David Geary, 1998.  Male, Female:  The Evolution of Human Sex Differences.  American Psychological Association)

          Fathers excel when it comes to providing discipline, ensuring safety, and challenging their children to embrace life’s opportunities and confront life’s difficulties.  The greater physical size and strength of most fathers, along with the pitch and inflection of their voice and the directive character of their speaking, give them an advantage when it comes to discipline, an advantage that is particularly evident with boys, who are more likely to comply with their fathers’ than their mothers’ discipline (Development Psychology 30:  980-989).  By the same token, fathers are more likely than mothers to encourage their children to tackle difficult tasks, endure hardship without yielding, and seek out novel experiences.  These paternal strengths also have deep biological underpinnings:  Fathers typically have higher levels of testosterone—a hormone associated with dominance and assertiveness—than do mothers.  Although the link between nature, nurture, and sex-specific parenting talents is admittedly complex, one cannot ignore the overwhelming evidence of sex differences in parenting—differences that marriage builds on to the advantage of children.

          The biological relationship between parents and children also matters to the young.  Studies suggest that biological parents invest more money and time in their offspring than do stepparents (Anne Case et al. 2000. “How Hungry is the Selfish Gene?” Economic Journal 110: 781-804).    New research by University of Arizona psychologist Bruce Ellis also suggests that the physical presence of a biological father is important for the sexual development of girls.  Specifically, he thinks that one reason that girls who live apart from their biological father develop sexually at an earlier age than girls who live with their biological father is that they are more likely to be exposed to the pheromones—biological chemicals that convert sexual information between persons—of unrelated males. This scientific fact is quite relevant to the important issue of preventing early teenage pregnancy.   Available data clearly suggest that one reason marriage between a man and a woman is so valuable is that it helps to bind a child’s biological parents to the child over the course of her life.

          Although those of us in the Constitutional Commission, led by the late Justice Cecilia Munoz Palma, did not have access to these data that I have presented, it is now clear that our basic instincts and philosophical beliefs about the family are strongly supported by social science research.  Sara McLanahan and Gary Sandefur, sociologists at Princeton and Wisconsin, respectively, sum up the reasons that marriage matters for children welfare in the following way:  “If we were asked to design a system of making sure that children’s basic needs were met, we would probably come up with something quite similar to the  two-parent ideal.  Such a design, in theory, would not only ensure that children had access to the time and money of two adults, it also would provide a system of checks and balances that promoted quality parenting.  The fact that both parents have a biological connection to the child would increase the likelihood that the parents would identify with the child and be willing to sacrifice for that child, and it would reduce the likelihood that either parent would abuse the child.” 

          Many societies, especially in the Western World, have experimented over the last few decades with various alternatives to the traditional marriage institution as a lifetime union between a man and a woman.  The evidence is now clear:  children raised in married, intact families generally do better in every area of life than those raised in various alternative family structures.  Since children are the future of any society, we should therefore strongly implement the following provision of the Philippine Constitution: “Marriage, as an inviolable social institution, is the foundation of the family and shall be protected by the State” (Article XV, Section 2).  I would go further.  I would suggest an amendment to this article as follows:  Section 2 should read:  Marriage, the union between a man and a woman in an inviolable social institution, is the foundation of the family and shall be protected by the State.  Those who would like to read more about “Marriage and the Public Good” should log on to www.princetonprinciples.org.   For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.