It’s useful and humbling to remember that no family structure guarantees happiness or ensures misery: real life is wilier and more fraught with accident and luck than that. If you think that being married ensures a good life for your children you need only enter a bookstore and open any novel, or go to the theater and watch practically any play, or have dinner with nearly anyone you know. Suffering is everywhere, and married parents, even happily married parents, raise screwed-up or alcoholic or lost children, just as single parents raise strong, healthy ones. What matters most, it should go without saying, is the kind of parent you are, not whom you sleep with, and even that matters only up to a point.
With the steep rise of children born to unmarried parents, America’s prevailing fantasies of family life no longer match the facts on the ground. But as the children born to unmarried women under 30 come of age in the majority, these faded archetypes will have to evolve. Our narrow, constricting, airless sense of the isolated nuclear family has not always, if we are honest, served us well, and it may now be replaced by something more vivid and dynamic, and closer to the way we are actually living.