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Why common-law doesn't cut it with the kids Add to ...

The news that Brangelina may wed - after some members of the couple's expansive, multicontinental brood demanded it - was perhaps to be expected.

"Kids hold up a mirror to you," Brad Pitt told USA Weekend last week.

Though Mr. Pitt had promised he and Angelina Jolie would only wed when the United States legalized gay marriage, the actors may have to nix that grand gesture at the behest of their children.

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"The kids ask about marriage," Mr. Pitt said in the interview. "It's meaning more and more to them. So it's something we've got to look at."

At a time when couples jaded by divorce stats enjoy myriad alternative arrangements, it is the children, those perennial conservatives, who are piping up.

"Kids are the ultimate little traditionalists," says Jennifer Reynolds, editor-in-chief of Canadian Family Magazine.

Ms. Reynolds says that when the neighbourhood six- to eight-year-olds descend on her home, they play family.

"Together, they decide who is the mom and dad, the baby and brothers and sisters. There's no question in their mind that the mom and dad are married."

Ms. Reynolds surmises this comes from children's "greater inclination to play by the rules and understand how structures, systems and relationships work."

In Canada, common-law families are now the fastest-growing family arrangement, up from 5.6 per cent in 1981 to 15.5 per cent in 2006, according to a report released last year by the Vanier Institute of the Family in Ottawa.

At the same time, many kids see married parents as a security blanket, experts say. Catherine Blyth, author of The Art of Marriage and a pro-marriage advocate, calls it a "magic circle."

When you're a child, "as soon as you start suspecting that the world isn't as friendly, loving and giving a place as your parents led you to believe, you start wanting to shore up the walls," Ms. Blyth says from London, England.

Citing "Every Family Matters," a 2009 report by Britain's Centre for Social Justice, a pro-family think tank, she argues that marriage-curious children have some shrewd instincts.

"It found that married couples are far less likely to break up than couples who live together without getting married. ... Married families tend to be stronger and produce children who themselves will form strong families. There's a virtuous circle in all of it."

Actress Julianne Moore had been with director Bart Freundlich for seven years before they decided to marry for the sake of their two children in 2003.

"I had a therapist who said marriage is really a container for a family and that made sense to me," Ms. Moore said in a January interview with The Guardian.

As their parents grew up in a generation marked by divorce, "no child going to school now will be unaware of parental separation," says Ms. Blyth.

"It's no wonder to me that children are going for the certainty that their parents had the confidence to stake a claim for what the future would look like."

She argues that kids also want to be assured that their parents are bound beyond shared offspring: "Otherwise I can imagine a child would feel on some emotional level a tremendous pressure."

Although some may find it amusing that the spawn of Brangelina are already questioning their unconventional, nomadic family structure, the author contends that "We're raising a very moral, very sensible generation who just want to put down their roots."

"They don't really care about what's cool and modern. They look for security for themselves," says Amir Levine, Columbia University research scientist and co-author of Attached.

"There's a certain age when they're obsessed with who's with who. They need to have this complete picture."

Questions about marriage can often be sweet coming from a child, but come across as needy from a partner, Dr. Levine points out.

"In our culture, it's much easier to accept that kids have these attachment needs, that they need their security. It's much harder for us to understand that in our partner - they need to be independent."

Children, of course, can marry when it's their turn, but what happens when you want them to butt out of your arrangement?

"They can be very persistent," says Dr. Levine. (Consider the full-scale assaults children will co-ordinate when they decide a parent should stop smoking.)

"Children aren't stupid," says Ms. Blyth. "They'll say, 'But why not? Don't you love Daddy enough?' How do you answer that? It's fantastic emotional blackmail, something children are brilliant at."

 

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