Swamp Water Jurisprudence: The success sequence … not so simple


by Judge Dennis Challeen

Most parents want their children to grow up being successful, both socially and financially. Research by the Brookings Institution has verified a long held belief that the “path to success clearly runs through education, work, and marriage — in that order.” There is nothing profound about this age-old wisdom that most of us heard as children, yet it’s not as simple as it seems; many factors intercede.

After four decades of viewing family life in our local courtrooms I’ve concluded it’s not a level playing field. We do not choose our parents, so it’s “luck of the draw” as to the family unto which we’re born. If the parent(s) believe(s) in education, they most likely will pass it on to their children. But disdain for formal education is passed on also.

The “success sequence” requires at least a high school diploma. Twenty-three percent of high school dropouts interviewed cited lack of support and encouragement from parents as the reason they quit high school (Harris Research). In truancy cases, we often heard from the teenager, “My cousin [relative, uncle etc.] quit school and he’s rich.” These kinds of long-shot-odds conclusions against formal education are common in dropout, low-income families.

Family life has changed greatly in recent decades. About a third of today’s children live with an unmarried parent; only 46 percent live in “first traditional marriage” homes. “Thirty-three percent of 25- to 28-year-olds lived with their parents or grandparents in 2016 — the highest proportion in 75 years,” according to THE WEEK.

Three to four million children ages three to 17 are exposed to domestic violence in their homes.

We now have same-sex marriages that also are entitled to raise families; there is little evidence to determine whether the children of these marriages will be affected by these non-traditional relationships, but odds are they will do just as well or no worse than many heterosexual marriages or cohabitating couples who now end up in family courts with messed-up children.

To gain good employment in a changing world is not a simple matter either. It used to be solid advice for a mechanically inclined young person to get a vocational education in automobile repair and maintenance; with millions of vehicles on the road there will always be a demand for automobile maintenance. However, automobile manufacturers have made the decision to gradually switch over to manufacturing electric vehicles instead of traditional gasoline and diesel engines. Electric battery-driven cars will be reduced to a simple electric motor attached to a drive shaft, no longer using engines requiring oil changes and complex repairs with hundreds of moving parts to maintain. Eventually, electric plug-in charging stations will replace today’s filling stations; mechanics will be replaced by a few centrally located electronic diagnostic specialists reading computers — not working under the hood. This is only one example of how new innovations change the employment market, making it difficult to predict.

There is always the age-old wisdom that works for any employment, and that is to become a good employee: build a good employment record starting with reliable on-time attendance; get along with fellow employees (even those you don’t like); and go the extra-mile, hang in there until the job is done. The boss will notice you — guaranteed!

Having large families is no longer in vogue. Historically, it took large families to look out for parents in their elderly years; this is no longer expected since social security came into being in 1935.

Families have gradually become much smaller since 1950 when two-child families became the norm. Today the cost of raising a child to adulthood is $233,610 for a middle-income family. Young adults are prolonging their wait for marriage; men now wait to age 29.3 (from 22.9 in 1950) and women are now 27.2 (from 20.2 in 1950).

Seeking a suitable spouse or cohabitation mate has also undergone changes in the 21st century. The research is barely in on the Internet dating services, but early studies indicate it’s no more encouraging than the old ways of finding a mate (social events where people gather in church, taverns, music concerts, college campuses, etc.). It seems courting on the web is subject to the same “putting one’s best foot forward.” People post their most attractive pictures and describe their most attractive character traits and it’s only normal for them to minimize their negative traits. Nothing new. There have always been pitfalls for the mating game: avoid moody and abusive people; remember a drunken person’s words and deeds are often a sober person’s thoughts. Seek out mates who demonstrate responsible behavior — which gets us back to the “success sequence.” Put these words on your refrigerator door for your children to read: “Education, employment, and then marriage and family … IN THAT ORDER!”


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