Brangelina Case Study: Will the Kids Get Their Parents to Marry?

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Soon to be Mr and Mrs?

If a new interview in USA Today is to anything to go on, kids seem to have done what Jennifer Aniston couldn’t: got Brad Pitt to settle down.

Pitt, whose six children with Angelina Jolie (that striking woman with big lips — maybe you’ve heard of her?) range in age from 2 to 9, is even reconsidering whether he will get married. He and Jolie had famously claimed they’d make it legal only when it was legal for gay people too. But he didn’t reckon with his little persuaders.

“The kids ask about marriage,” he tells USA Today. “It’s meaning more and more to them. So it’s something we’ve got to look at.” Moreover, while he still has a passion for motorcycles, architecture and photography, he admits that a lot of his bandwith is taken up with less exotic pursuits. His kids’ safety is a big issue for him, as is cooking. “You’ve got to make sure they’ve brushed their teeth and eaten a good breakfast. You want to be present if they wake up with a bad dream.”

This is Brad Pitt. The Brad Pitt of secret, slightly perverse, midday maternal fantasies throughout the English-speaking world and beyond. Talking about his kids’ dental hygiene. Bit of a buzzkill, no?

Even a beast as iconoclastic as Brangelina, it seems, cannot resist the normalizing force of children. Remember when Bill Gates claimed he wasn’t going to leave his children much money in his will? And then he actually had children, got to know them and changed his mind. A bit. Instead of a few hundred thousand, as he initially suggested, the Gateses are going with 10% of their wealth. So … more like hundreds of millions.

It’s not a huge surprise that the Jolie-Pitt brood want their parents to get married. Scratch any parent and you’ll find a person whose child wishes that s/he was less weird, stood out less, just disappeared into the indistinguishable mass of humanity known as “grown-ups.” That’s why the suburbs, where the families live, end up seeming so vanilla. It’s not what the neighbors are saying. It’s the pressure from the damn conformist kids.

Yes, kids crave stability, but it’s not stability that makes the Jolie-Pitt kids want their parents to be legally wed. It’s that they want to blend in. (By the way, good luck with that, guys.) Or, more specifically, kids want to stand out in ways that they have agency over. They don’t wish to have attention thrust upon them for things not of their choosing.

Pick up any memoir by a child of a celebrity and if you don’t find them saying, “Cary Grant was just Dad to me,” they’re saying, “My mother, a.k.a. Joan Crawford, ruined my life.” It’s as if there’s a rule: no matter what you do with your life, to your children you must appear normal. Right up until they accuse you of being stultifying old conformists.

The data is clear that long-term, monogamous, loving relationships between parents are very good for children. History also seems to suggest that these relationships are facilitated by the institution of marriage (though that may be changing). Brad and Angelina may have been too untamed once for anything as stuffy as a marriage license. But then they had children have already done their domesticating damage. And there are worse reasons to get married than because six small people who love you want you to.

Just, for the love of mercy, do it quietly.