A "nearly new" kids' clothing sale demonstrates one way that church-going parents support each other. Jonathan Rolande, Flickr CC.

Parents’ Faith Brings Friendship

Social networks offer emotional and material support, buffering against stress in difficult times. Indeed, adults’ strong social networks are associated with happier marriages and better relationships between parents and children. Paradoxically, though, a close relationship with a spouse or partner can isolate a couple. For some people, religious institutions provide a source of both friendship ties and pro-family ideals. In the Journal of Marriage and Family, Benjamin Gurrentz asks how changes in marital and parental status influence social relationships forged through religious congregations.

Using surveys collected in 2006 and 2012, Gurrentz examined respondents’ social ties, honing in on both the number and proportion of close ties among fellow attendees at the respondent’s religious congregation. Those people who got married over the years studied had, on average, a decrease in close ties culled from their congregations. But among those who were married at the start and remained married, having children was linked with an increase in both the number and proportion of close ties found in congregational ties groups. These relationships were even stronger among younger adults; for them, marriage led to fewer congregational ties but the shift to parenthood increased congregational ties.

Gurrentz concludes that marriage still holds a lasting isolation effect for couples, but that young parents return to religious institutions to form the support networks they need as they raise children.