This week, the Office for National Statistics released a new set of figures. For the very first time, more than half of all births in England & Wales are now to unmarried parents. In 2021, 51.3% of births were to unmarried parents compared to 49.0% in 2020.

While covid clearly had some impact, the trend has been heading in this direction for the past twenty years.

Harry Benson the Director of the Marriage Foundation, observes that the longer term trend against marriage matters a great deal. He cites research that married couples are more likely to stay together than couples not in a formal marriage. Parental breakdown is the single biggest predictor of mental health problems in teenagers – more than any other factor. This in no way denigrates lone parents who do a heroic job on their own. But the reality is that parental resources are seriously reduced when parents split up with financial, emotional and relational consequences for the children.

In 2011, Rabbi Lord Sacks, of blessed memory, gave a powerful speech in the House of Lords in which he spoke of the importance of marriage in society

“It is in families that we learn the self confidence, the trust, the discipline and the resilience, that stays with us for the rest of our lives. It is in families that we learn emotional intelligence and the habits of the heart that make for happiness. It is in families that we learn to cooperate with and care for others so that we become responsible shapers of our individual and collective future.”

Of course, it is easier said than done. We find guidance from the Shema that we read in this week’s parasha. One of the great commentators, Rabbi Moshe Alshich (d. 1593) refers to this. It says: veshinantam levanecha – “You shall teach these things carefully to your children.” Asks Rabbi Alshich: “How can we be sure that we really will teach things to our children? We can try, but success is not within our hands. It is up to our children. What can we do to give ourselves the best chance of success?”

The Rabbi answers: “The Torah itself gives the answer – just two verses earlier. It says, “You shall love the L-d, your G-d, with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might.”

It is what we love that our children will learn to love. When our Jewish values are precious to us, they are most likely to be respected by our children. And there is no other way to teach, whether as a parent, teacher or friend. It’s not what we say to them. It’s not even what we do to them. It is the way our life reflects our loves. Those are the things our children will absorb and eventually make their own.