The Fabelmans: Steven Spielberg knows a child needs two parents

The Fabelmans: Steven Spielberg knows a child needs two parents. By Melanie Phillips.

An inconvenient truth that society no longer wants to hear [is] that the key condition for children’s developmental health is to be brought up by their own mother and father.

The very idea of family breakdown has become a kind of anachronism. There is no longer a commonly acknowledged model family to break down. Every sort of family, with or without both biological parents, is considered as valuable as every other.

Interestingly, it has taken Steven Spielberg to expose the delusion behind this in his new autobiographical film The Fabelmans. Most reviewers have concentrated on its lightly fictionalised depiction of how Spielberg became obsessed with film-making as a child. But the film’s focus is on his parents’ divorce, presented here as a tragedy that casts a baleful shadow over Spielberg and his three younger sisters.



Spielberg’s story is particular to him but family breakdown is not. In 2021, 51 per cent of babies were born outside marriage or civil partnership in England and Wales. According to the children’s commissioner, 44 per cent of children born at the start of the century weren’t brought up by their parents for their full childhood, compared with 21 per cent of children born in 1970.

Cohabitation, which has increased by more than 140 per cent since 1996, now drives family breakdown. According to the Centre for Social Justice, cohabiting parents are roughly three times more likely than married parents to have separated by the time their child reaches the age of five.

From the 1970s and 1980s on, family law reform and cultural change fed each other in an ever-widening spiral. Divorce law was steady liberalised. Anyone who spoke against this was accused of heartlessly wanting unhappy parents to stay together. The suggestion that there was a duty to avoid creating unhappy children was dismissed as further evidence of cruelty.

Sex, marriage and reproduction became fragmented. Marriage ceased to be a sacred bond indissolubly connected to the bearing and raising of children and had its significance reduced to a contract of utilitarian benefits. Unsurprisingly, gay people then pressed to be able to enjoy its advantages too. But by then its value had been largely evacuated of substance, left hanging disembodied in the air like the Cheshire cat’s smile.

Of course divorce is sometimes unavoidable. Of course there are children in fragmented families who grow up to be happy and productive adults. And of course there are children from traditional families who have miserable or abusive childhoods.

But for decades, research has shown overwhelmingly that, in general, children from fractured family backgrounds do worse than those from traditional families in education, employment, health and forming relationships, while becoming disproportionately involved in crime, drug-taking and alcohol abuse.

According to ONS statistics, 6 per cent of five to ten-year-olds with married parents experience diagnosable mental health issues compared with 12 per cent who have cohabiting parents and 18 per cent raised by a lone parent. …

Back in the 1990s, when I started writing about this, I watched the evidence of that value become progressively forced underground. Researchers who provided such evidence were vilified or deprived of grant funding. Home Office statistics showing a vastly increased risk of physical or sexual abuse of women and children in fragmented families suddenly vanished.

Experts on child development said they were no longer prepared to produce evidence of the harm done by family breakdown because they themselves were divorced or their children were embracing unconventional family lifestyles.

The fact that children were ripped apart by the willed dismemberment of “the two people who made me”, as one such expert put it, was no longer relevant. Instead, everyone had to adapt to “me-first” culture and learn how to manage the fallout.


hat-tip Stephen Neil