It broke my heart to hear about the death of Adrian Peterson’s son. I respect Adrian immensely as an athlete. But more importantly as a father of my own two year old, I cannot imagine the pain of losing a child. This tragedy is senseless and painful. When things like this happen, there are always questions of why and how could this have been avoided. Those questions aren’t always helpful; sometimes there just isn’t a good reason. And yet, if we reflect on the circumstances around this tragedy some lessons might be learned, and some real change enacted.
There is no doubt many important details regarding this incident, but one that has been surprisingly overlooked is the fact that the abusive boyfriend and mother were cohabiting. I read six articles about this case before one (USA Today) mentioned this detail, and that fact was mentioned only in passing. This detail may have been ignored because it’s not seen as important, or it may be because the truth is unpopular, but it is an important detail.
A child living in cohabitation with a biological parent and that parent’s boyfriend or girlfriend is over 10 times more likely to be physically abused than if that child were living with his biological, married parents. Chances of emotional abuse similarly rise in cohabiting homes (again I’m referring to cohabitation with a biological parent and that parent’s boyfriend or girlfriend), and incidents of sexual abuse become close to 19 times more likely. It would be unfair and unrealistic to blame the entirety of this tragedy on cohabitation. After all, Adrian has at least three other kids from other women, and he does not appear to be living with any of them, bringing into question his own responsibility toward his children. But it does seem that considering the risks involved cohabitation it is worth encouraging a more open and public discussion of this factor.
Research tells us that 42% of children will live in a cohabiting home before the age of 12, making it more important than ever to raise attention to the dangers associated with cohabitation(Note: even children living with their non-married biological parents are exposed to dangers compared to their peers living with their married, biological parents). Raising awareness is not meant to degrade the many excellent parents who do cohabit, or to say that all children in these environments are doomed. It should however draw attention to the fact that cohabitation is risky, both for the parents and, most importantly, for the children. It’s only once we honestly look at the risk that we can decide if the risky behavior is worth it. Every parent deeply loves their children and wants the best for them, but we can’t make the best decisions available if we don’t have all the information. Becoming aware of the risks of cohabitation, I believe, can only help parents make informed and positive decisions for their families.
What happened to Adrian’s son is a senseless tragedy. It demands prayer and support. I think it also demands honest reflection regarding our society’s views of marriage and cohabitation. It’s a shame the news reporters covering this story didn’t agree.