Review: Them Before Us by Katy Faust and Stacy Manning

Them Before Us: Why We Need a Global Children’s Rights Movement, by Katy Faust and Stacy Manning. Post Hill Press, 2021. 235 pages.

I first heard about this book from a recommendation by John Stonestreet on the Colson Center’s Breakpoint Podcast. When I learned that Robert George (see my reviews here and here) wrote the foreword for it, I knew I had to check it out for myself. And I was not disappointed.

The authors are both staffers with the eponymous nonprofit organization Them Before Us, and they write with a lay-friendly journalistic prose. Their thesis is that we need to recover a child-centric view of marriage, family, and parenthood. Today’s culture prioritizes the wants of adults at the expense of the needs of children, with profoundly destructive consequences for everyone. This tragic inversion of our most basic human relationships is manifest in the rise of no-fault divorce, same-sex marriage, and donor conception, among other things. Many of us have bought into myths like “all that kids need is love” or “when the parents are happy, the kids will be happy.” As a result, we’ve justified all manner of adult lifestyle choices—many of which are only possible because of modern technologies that amount to playing god. In other words, we’ve put “Us” (adults) before “Them” (children), when it should be the other way around.

Interweaving poignant personal stories (including the testimonies of adult children of reproductive technologies from the Anonymous Us Project), the authors make a compelling case that in order for children to thrive, biology matters, gender matters, and marriage matters. Or as the authors put it, the three ingredients that children need for their emotional well-being and success are a mother’s love, a father’s love, and stability. Nothing ensures that kids will get all three ingredients better than marriage, as traditionally defined. Now the authors are careful to point out that not every marriage will or must lead to children. Nevertheless, every child comes from a mom and a dad, and as the statistics quite clearly show, every child needs a mom and a dad. Marriage exists to meet this need. It does not exist simply to give public validation to an adult’s expression of romantic feelings toward another adult (or adults) at a given moment in time, as many people today claim.

Here is a sampling of some of the key takeaways from the book:

  • The safest environment for a child (in terms of risk to sexual, emotional, and physical abuse) is a home with both biological parents who are married to each other.
  • The most dangerous environment for a child is a home with a single parent cohabiting with a partner biologically unrelated to the child.
  • The majority of children of adoption or donor conception report experiencing “genealogical bewilderment,” or heightened psychological distress due to not knowing who their biological parents are. This corresponds to increased risk for other negative emotional or social outcomes.
  • Fathers and mothers tend to have different parenting styles, and both are necessary for a child’s emotional flourishing. Fathers tend to reflect the world—they encourage independence, risk-taking, and competition—while mothers tend to reflect the home—they encourage stability, safety, and equity. Some might fault these characterizations for being “stereotypes,” but as the authors note, stereotypes exist for a reason. The fact that they exist across cultures throughout history should indicate to us that they are more than just social constructs.
  • Studies that allegedly show “no difference” in outcomes for children of same-sex parents are skewed by non-random sampling, parental reporting (rather than actual child outcomes), and other factors. Meanwhile, verified and peer-reviewed studies that do show significant negative outcomes for the children of same-sex parents (such as those done by Mark Regnerus or Paul Sullins) get blasted in the mainstream media for being “pseudoscience.”
  • One of the few large studies on the outcomes of donor-conceived children, called “My Daddy’s Name Is Donor,” demonstrated that children conceived through sperm donation were more likely to struggle with their identity, to experience divorce and multiple family transitions in their families of origin, and suffer from substance abuse and depression. Further, many donor-conceived children express fear over the possibility of unknowingly dating or marrying a biological half-sibling or cousin(!).
  • While adoption is (rightly) a rigorous and highly selective process for prospective parents, no such restrictions exist for the Big Fertility industry, which makes big profits off of adults seeking to fulfill their desire to become a parent through in-vitro fertilization (IVF) technology or donor conception.
  • IVF technology often produces “surplus embryos” that need to be frozen in storage. Most of these embryos end up getting thawed and discarded (i.e. aborted). In other cases, multiple embryos get implanted in a woman in order to increase her chances of a successful pregnancy, and in the event of multiple successful implantations, the woman may undergo “selective reduction” of the implanted embryos (i.e. abortion).
  • Adoption and donor conception differ in crucial ways. In adoption, the client is the child; in donor conception, the client is the parent. Adoption mends a wound, whereas donor conception inflicts one. In adoption, adults fill a void for children; in donor conception, children fill a void for adults (at the children’s emotional expense).

There are plenty of other insights to be found in the book. One thing in particular that I appreciated about the authors is that, although they are Christian, they do not base their arguments on uniquely Christian or biblical principles. Rather, they appeal to natural law (as I have advocated for elsewhere), giving their arguments persuasive force among non-Christians. They use facts and truths that are accessible to anyone with eyes to see and a brain to think. The book is full of statistics, but it’s relatively free of overly-academic jargon, so I could easily recommend this book to the high school students that I teach. It’s also worth mentioning that one of the authors is herself the child of divorce, with her mother now in a lesbian relationship. So their firsthand experience gives them greater credibility to write on this topic.

This is a very important book for a very important issue. The Sexual Revolution has offered the promise of unbridled satisfaction to nearly every adult desire, but what many of its proponents have failed to notice are the primary victims of this revolution: children. It’s time that we start giving a voice to the voiceless, and this book is definitely a step in that direction.

About Kyle Dillon

A teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), assistant pastor of theological instruction at Riveroaks Reformed Presbyterian Church, and theology/languages teacher at Westminster Academy in Memphis, Tennessee.

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