Without Strong Families–Government Band-Aids
By Richard and Linda Eyre

The political and societal need for stronger families as the basic unit does not just apply within the U.S. Clear thinkers all over the world are coming to the same conclusion. Linda and I were just in New Zealand where we read the following in the daily paper:

It is time, as a nation, that we realized our amazingly complex and expensive social band-aids are not working – the heart of the nation needs surgery, if not genetic modification. I firmly believe the radical surgery would actually cost less than the patches and dressings currently used – it just needs some ‘wise dollars’.

Decades of social welfare has provided a pillow for people to fall on . but the question needs to be asked, why are people falling over? The tragedy is millions will be spent on researching the problem as if New Zealand has a unique problem. Other nations have done the research and the answer has been clear for decades – poor parenting is at the heart of so much that ails this country.

And the British Medical Journal recently stated:

Parenting is probably the most important public health issue facing our society. It is the single largest variable implicated in childhood illnesses and accidents; teenage pregnancy and substance misuse: truancy, school disruption, and under-achievement; child abuse; unemployability; juvenile crime; and mental illness.

In the Third World, developing countries that have so many obvious needs have one core need that affects all the others: the need to preserve family life. Experts differ on the principal needs of primitive societies, some claim that clean water is the key to everything, others say education should be the focal point, others point to economic development and micro lending, others to agriculture, others to health care, still others to gender equality or democratic government. It is easy to acknowledge the importance of each of these priorities and the importance of helping developing cultures work toward self-reliance and self-sufficiency in all of them. But someone needs to remind both the developing world and the humanitarian world that FAMILY is the basic unit of every society, and that only if families are preserved and strengthened can any developmental philosophy or assistance effort succeed and improve a people’s situation over the long term.

Some say that poverty causes the breakdown and the breakup of families. We need to hear more of the reverse proposition: That the deterioration of traditional families causes the worst situations of poverty . children without homes or caring parents, fathers without the motivation of family responsibility, and mothers who must choose between providing and nurturing. As we pursue the golden goal of self-reliance, let us always remember that it must be built and developed on the foundation of stable families.

In the poverty areas of our own country, there is the same tendency to blame everything on the economics and to look for economic solutions. Less than half of Black and Hispanic children in the U. S. graduate from high school and an ever higher percentage cannot read well enough to look for a job or to get news from a newspaper. We tend to blame all this on poverty, but when we do so we may be confusing cause and effect. Forty years ago, when 75 percent of Black and Hispanic children lived in two-parent homes, a far higher percentage graduated from high school and could read functionally. Today less than 35 percent of these kids live in two-parent homes. It is family breakdown that is the cause. It is the weakening of society’s basic unit that is always the cause of society’s most difficult problems.

I asked my son who is a public policy student at Harvard’s Kennedy School what he thought of the “family as the basic unit” thesis. He felt I hadn’t gone far enough in connecting political issues to the cause and the root of family. He wrote:

Here’s a list of other connections to family that I can think of (I am trying for those that aren’t mentioned in the website).

Homelessness is a direct consequence of breakdown in the family. Usually it is paired with mental illness (again, often caused by family situation). Social workers always try to get the homeless back into contact with family, because that is the best way to get them back into a stable life off the street.

Entrepreneurship and innovation are learned in the home. The confidence and people skills required to excel in business and create new jobs in Utah comes from the skills parents teach by example in the home, e.g., how to handle conflict, how to solve problems, how to motivate others, how discipline can be a positive influence in a child’s (or employee’s!) life.

Before Social Security there was the family safety net. Extended families acted as a cushion when a bread-winner lost a job, was disabled, or retired. The costs of government go up when this family safety net dies, in the form of welfare, job training, student loans, social security, disability, unemployment claims. Families can be self-sufficient. Individuals cannot be.

Political engagement is taught in the home. When we support responsible, honest politicians, we are setting a precedent that children will remember. If they hear us praise the work of good politicians in the home, they are more likely to be concerned, supportive, active citizens in the future.

Attitudes towards the rule of law: Crime occurs when people feel hopeless or downtrodden enough by their experiences (largely in the family) to justify breaking law. If children’s primary experience with rules and discipline is a positive one, they are more likely to trust the law of the land, and obey it. This applies equally to the Enron execs and to pickpockets. Fraud and abuse in government are the result of people who do not understand their roles in business or government.

As if the practical and political evidence of the pivotal and central role of family were not enough, let’s add some spiritual evidence that may be even more persuasive:

President Gordon B. Hinckley, speaking to parents throughout the world, said:

Our message places great emphasis on the family. The family becomes a very important thing in our teaching and in our practice. We believe that the family is the basic unit of society. You can’t have a strong community without strong families. You can’t have a strong nation without strong families – the father, the mother, the children as one unit working together. Now the family is falling apart all over America, all over the world. If we can just cultivate good, wholesome family life among our members, I don’t worry very much about the future of this Church.

He also said:

What is the great strength of [this] Church? . It is the emphasis which we place on families. . Keep your families close together and love and honor your children.

Elder L. Tom Perry said:

In a world of turmoil and uncertainty, it is more important than ever to make our families the center of our lives and the top of our priorities. Families lie at the center of our Heavenly Father’s plan.

We will use all of the resources we have to encourage greater harmony, greater love, and greater influence in the Lord’s special designated unit – the family.

Those who believe that the family is society’s (and eternity’s) basic unit can do two things about it:

1. Prioritize and strengthen their own family.

2. Look for every opportunity to push and encourage all larger units of society (politics, media, business, church, schools, etc.) to put more thought and emphasis into their proper role of supporting and enhancing families.