Both statements, of course, are true at some level. Women do indeed know -- and have known for quite some time -- that they can have children out of wedlock, which explains why four out of 10 children in America are now born to unwed mothers. And, thanks to that unwed childbearing rate and divorce, it's true that family isn't always what she calls "stereotypical."
But her statements -- which are relevant only because they reflect popular opinion today -- really mean nothing apart from a couple of important questions: Are these trends in both belief and behavior good things? And, is a man's necessary role as "father" really only limited to conception and nothing beyond?
Common sense, thousands of years of human experience and scholarly research suggests that the answer to both these questions is a resounding "no." Generally speaking, children do better when raised by moms and dads in intact families than those raised in single parent homes.
A recent study by the Commission on the Future of Parenthood has added an entirely new -- and much needed, I might add -- dimension to the growing reservoir of research that speaks to the importance of fathers.
There are estimated to be somewhere between 30,000 and 60,000 children born each year to mothers who use a sperm donor. Yet, given the enormous number of Americans, and many others around the world, brought into the world this way, there has not been any reliable examination into how it is affecting children. Until now.
The Commission's study titled, "My Daddy's Name is Donor," investigated the experiences and wellbeing of nearly 500 adults who were conceived through a sperm donor. Its findings are thorough and fascinating, yet sad and disturbing, too. They refute the notion that underlies the clichés parroted by Aniston (and numerous others) that how we form our families doesn't really matter much.
The study found that, on average, these adults (also known as "donor offspring") "are hurting, are more confused, and feel more isolated from their families." They are also more likely to struggle with depression, substance abuse and delinquent behavior than adults who were raised by their biological parents.
Many of them struggle with their origin and identity as it relates to their family relationships. They often view them with confusion, distress and a feeling of loss. Two-thirds believe "My sperm donor is half of who I am," and three-quarters wonder "what my sperm donor's family is like." Yet most are concerned that their sperm donor would be angry or hurt if they try to reach out to them.
Half of donor offspring feel sad when they see their friends with their biological moms and dads, compared to only 19 percent of adopted adults. And most say it hurts to hear others talk about their genealogical background. More than half also report depending on friends more than family -- twice the number of adults raised by their biological parents.
Another common concern among donor offspring is that they might unknowingly form an intimate relationship with someone who is a blood relative. Nearly half agree that when they are romantically attracted to someone "I have worried that we could be unknowingly related."
Sadly, the likelihood of struggling with issues like substance abuse, depression and criminal behavior are also more likely in adults who were conceived by a sperm donor. The report found them one and a half times more likely to report mental health problems and twice as likely to report substance abuse problems as adults who were raised by their biological parents.
Each of us wants to believe that our decisions are good, and that we're okay. People caught up in situations they did not desire nor intend want to believe that everything will work out just fine. And it is certainly true, as I say repeatedly, that kids raised in less-than-ideal situations can still thrive in life, even if they're at greater risk for poor outcomes if they've come from a fragmented family.
But it is wrong and illogical to conclude that we can order our lives any way we want and expect positive outcomes for ourselves and our children. Just as we understand that there are academic and work habits that increase the likelihood of professional success, and that there are dietary and exercise habits that increase the probability of physical health, it's also reasonable to assume that there are ways to order our family lives that improve our chances of a healthy family life. This is not just an assumption; it's strongly confirmed by everything we know from experience, and by mounting research.
"My Daddy's Name is Donor" reminds us that we humans are not nearly as adaptable as many suggest and that fathers are not nearly as dispensable as some would have us believe.
Randy Hicks is president of Georgia Family Council, a nonprofit research and education organization committed to fostering conditions in which individuals, families and communities thrive. For more information, go to www.georgiafamily.org, 770-242-0001 or firstname.lastname@example.org.