Re-valu-ing the Family, Part Twenty-three: What We Wish Larger Institutions Would Do
by Richard and Linda Eyre
Note: In this twenty-six part column, Richard and Linda Eyre explore the recent revolution of the family from the honored centerpiece of society to a disrespected and seemingly redundant appendage to the larger corporate and cultural institutions of our new world. Re-valu-ing the family, the Eyres believe, is the only alternative to America’s demise. The sequence of the column is: A. Re-valu-ing the family (part I); B. sThe “crux” (parts 2 and 3 — why family is the foundation for everything, including happiness); C. The “curse” (parts 4 and 5 — the social problems that plague our society today); D. The “crisis” (parts 6 and 7 — the breakdown and breakup of families that allows and leads to the social problems); E. The “cause” (parts 8, 9, 10, 11 — the reasons our families are failing); F. The “culprits” (parts 12, 13, 14, and 15– how our new, large institutions are destroying the small, most basic institution of family); G. The “cure” (parts 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21 and 22 — what you as a parent can do about it); H. The “case” (parts 23, 24, and 25 — a case for government and big corporations to pay more positive attention), and I. Finding or forming a family support group (part 26).
The Case: The things we wish larger institutions would do!
Case (ks) n. A set of reasons or supporting facts advocating something. The argument for something.
While the “bull’s eye” is families fixing themselves, the “outer rings” should be reorienting themselves to protect and support the nucleus that they can’t exist without.
Families are the cure! And the cure is possible and available in every home in America. But fixing our own families doesn’t mean we can’t also cry out to larger institutions — asking them in every forcible way we can think of to stop any practice or policy that threatens families and to start giving us more help in raising the children that are their future as well as ours.
Right now, as we’ve discussed, the larger institutions of our society, as they pursue their own preservation and expansion, are undermining, superseding, and otherwise destroying the basic institution of the family in a hundred ways. This destruction takes many forms, from demanding loyalties that take parents from children to promoting materialistic anti-family values . . . from overtaxing married couples to making divorce too easy and too “normal.” These larger institutions, from banks to businesses, from media to manufacturers, and from government agencies to news agencies to ad agencies must come to realize that as they weaken and undermine families they are ultimately destroying themselves. None of them can exist without the foundation of stable households which are the demand-engine and the end consumer of every good or service that the larger institutions produce and provide. The survival of all the large institutions we have created depends entirely on the survival of solid individual households and families.
Some argue otherwise: Who needs families they say? Individuals are consumers, individuals are employees, individuals can make up the larger institutions. Who cares if they are married or if they live together as families?
Statistics and common sense provide the answer. Married individuals earn more, produce more, and consume more than single individuals — thirty percent more. Try to imagine any business school or government surviving a thirty percent decline in sales, in production, or in tax base. And try to imagine a society reproducing and successfully raising its work force and its consumer base without functional, nurturing families.
Parents then, provide a huge service to society by raising its next generation, its next work force, its next tax payers, its next universe of consumers. Current estimates of the cost of raising a child to age eighteen are around $150,000.00. Yet society (or our larger institutions) do little to repay families. In fact there are punishments ranging from higher taxes to job and career disadvantages.
In earlier times, children were an economic advantage to parents — they helped on the farm and with the other manual labor of households. Today children are a huge economic drain on their parents and neither government nor business does much to ease the burden or support the effort.
The bottom line is that we all depend on families. And as surely as we depend on them individually, we depend on them institutionally.
When larger institutions have policies or practices that weaken or harm families, it is almost always a classic example of trading long-term viability for short-term gains. It is a macro example of choosing instant gratification over permanent stability.
A bank makes credit too easy and increases short-term profits but generates bankruptcies and family financial instability that diminishes long-term deposits and profits.
A business downsizes, reduces family related benefits and thus raises its current income . . . but suffers in the long run because it loses employee loyalty and morale and stability.
A movie focuses on violence and irresponsible, recreational sex and produces a box office hit with a relatively low budget. But life imitates art and kids make mistakes that hurt them economically as well as emotionally and theaters as well as every other part of commerce eventually pays the price.
A TV news show focuses on the seamy and the shocking — and gives much more attention to “alternative life styles” than to family life style. Curiosity and titillating helps the Nielsen rating . . . but undermines the families that we’re counting on to provide the next generation of viewers.
A merchandiser/advertiser disguises wants as needs, helping create a narcissistic, hedonistic society of instant gratification. People buy more and product companies earn more in the short term . . . but it is at the expense of family stability and long-term prosperity, both in households and in businesses.
A business refuses the options of flex time, job sharing, and maternity leave to avoid disruption and inconvenience . . . but ends up losing some of its most competent employees who decide to put family first.
A neighborhood sports team (or a college or pro league) decides to schedule more of its games on Sunday to increase attendance . . . but makes parents choose between sports and family time or church time, eventually weakening families and community.
A legislature creates a marriage tax penalty (makes it so a married couple is taxed more than the same two individuals living or filing separately). It increases short-term tax reserves . . . but undermines the family’s ability to raise the next generation’s tax base.
A high school teaches every imaginable class related to career and occupation but pays no attention to family or parenting skills or to ethics. Kids are prepared to go out and get a job but not to raise the kids or establish the home that will support and supply the school and the general economy.
A law firm encourages and supports and recommends divorce as the common solution, lining their pockets with fees . . . but splitting the families that make up the communities in which they exist.
Even before we get to the things larger institutions should start doing for families we should all conclude that the first order of business is to get them to stop doing things that hurt families.
We once attended a church congregation where the lay Bishop was, by profession, a plumber. Despite his lack of training, he did his best to counsel and advise his parishioners. In the same congregation was a high priced, highly educated therapist/psychiatrist who had many congregation members as his paying clients. On several occasions people dropped him as their doctor and therapist, stating that the plumber/bishop was helping them more. Finally, in frustration he went to the bishop and asked him his secret. “How do you, without any training, help people more than I do? What do you tell them to do?
The bishop gave a typically blunt and simple answer: “It’s what I tell them not to do,” he said. “I just ask them questions until I figure out which of the commandments they are breaking. Then I tell them to stop it.”
Similarly, the first message we need to get to larger institutions is “stop it.” Stop undermining and sabotaging the family! Put an end to any policies or practices that weaken or threaten families in any way.
Keep in mind that none of these institutions intend to damage or weaken families — at least not directly. But the goal of their own preservation and expansion occupies them and is not consciously or conceptually tied to the necessity of the strong family base. It is that consciousness of mutual dependency that we need more of in our larger institutions. If it were possible to wave a magic wand and change one thing, the most productive wave would be to cause the policy makers of every larger institution to be conscious and responsible about the impact of their actions and policies on families. This one focus, this one awareness (“How does what we are doing impact families?”) could literally change the world and protect and preserve our larger institutions by saving our foundation of real homes and stable households.
It is interesting (and almost inspirational) to imagine each of the other sectors operating with the conscious goal of supporting, strengthening, and bolstering the family. In this vision, the outer rings transform and revitalize themselves by returning to their original purpose.
1. Community and Voluntary Ring: Neighborhood organizations and churches teach parenting skills and orient every auxiliary, from scouting to Little League, toward family participation and involvement. Ministers take strong stands for marriage partners staying together and for restraint and responsible sexual behavior among youth. Civic clubs focus on helping and supplementing families, and service organizations encourage parents and children to volunteer together to help other families. Extended families and genealogical societies work to give members a sense of roots and heritage.
2. Private Sector (Business) Ring: Employers adopt family friendly policies for maternity and paternity leave, for transfer practices, for flex time and job sharing, and even for education and elderly care assistance (which policies are more profitable over the long run, anyway). Marketers and advertisers replace the tone of self-fulfillment and instant gratification with a slant toward the warmth and joy of family and commitment (which sells better, anyway); media creators, producers and participants opt for themes of love and loyalty and the striving for family solidarity rather than the obsession with greed, sleaze, and dysfunctionality (which ultimately draws more viewers and sells more tickets anyway).
3. Public Sector (Government) Ring: Every policy, law, judgment, and priority is weighted by the question, “Is the family served?” Public codes from tax law to welfare policy are rewritten and interpreted with the promotion of stable families as the goal. Education policy is shaped to give families choice and input and control and to actually teach ethics and values and marriage and parenting skills in supplement to what kids learn at home. Marriage and adoption laws are rewritten to prioritize staying together and growing together. Politicians campaign on family issues and propose family-strengthening ideas at the heart of their campaigns.
We see glimpses of these directions in all three sectors, yet their full fruition still looks like some sort of unobtainable utopia. It can come about only through a consistent, wide overlay of family consciousness, a clear awareness of family consequences by larger institutions. This will not come about easily. We’ve been moving away from it for decades. And no specific list of recommendations would cover the full breadth of the problem. Nevertheless, the suggestions in the next section even partially adopted and implemented, could make a difference to families and make it easier for us all to turn our hearts.
Next column: Some recommendations for employers and the media.
2001 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.