Re-valu-ing the Family Part Two: Family as the “CRUX”
by Richard and Linda Eyre
crux (kruks) n. the basic, central, or critical point or feature
The family is the crux of society. Understanding what is happening to families is the crux of understanding today’s world. Revaluing the family is the crux of reviving both the micro of individual happiness and the macro of societal order and safety.
NOTE: In this sixteen-part weekly 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: 1. Re-valu-ing the family (part one); 2. The “crux” (parts 2 and 3 — why family is the foundation for everything, including happiness); 3. The “curse” (parts 4 and 5 — the social problems that plague our society today); 4. The “crisis” (parts 6 and 7 — the breakdown and breakup of families that allows and leads to the social problems); 5. The “cause” (parts 8 and 9– the reasons our families are failing); 6. The “culprits” (parts 10 and 11 — how our new, large institutions are destroying the small, most basic institution of family); 7. The “cure” (parts 12, 13, and 14 — what you as a parent can do about it); and 8. The “case” (parts 15 and 16 — a case for government and big corporations to pay more positive attention).
We all entered through family. And family will surround our exit. In between, family provides us with our greatest joys and deepest sorrows. Family has always been our main reference point and the basis for much of our terminology and metaphors.
- In theology, God is father and we are children.
- In history, the past is best understood and connected through extended families.
- In economics, markets and enterprise are driven by family needs, attitudes, and perceptions.
- In education, parents are the most influential teachers and home environment is the most powerful factor in school success.
- In sociology and anthropology we conclude that society doesn’t form families; families form society.
- In politics, all issues reduce down to how public policy affects private family.
- In public opinion polls we reveal that family commitments exceed all other aspects of life in perceived importance.
- In ethics or morality, family commitments teach the highest forms of selfless and empathetic values. Lack of those commitments promotes selfish and antisocial behavior.
- In media, the things that touch us most deeply or offend us most dramatically generally involve family.
- In nature, everything that grows is in a family, and people living closest to nature talk of “mother earth” and “father sky.”
Our similes, our semantics, our symbols, indeed our whole frame of reference is family. Yet as we transition into the third millennia, the family is our most threatened institution and the fear (which we should all feel) is that if the family goes down, it will take everything else with it.
Families play at least five critical societal roles that nothing else can fully or adequately perform.
1. The role of procreation and reproduction (replenishing the population).
2. The role of nurturing (facilitating children’s emotional growth and helping them develop into responsible adults).
3. The role of providing a lasting identity (something permanent as everything else changes –jobs, locations, etc.)
4. The role of instilling values (other institutions may help, but the buck stops with family wherein values are applied as well as taught).
5. The role of offering joy and fulfillment to individuals (at a level beyond what is obtainable elsewhere. Children should receive unconditional love within families, and parents are refined and completed as persons through the selfless love they give to their children.).
Two things are absolutely clear. First: Society cannot survive, let alone prosper without these five functions. Second: No entity other than family can perform them adequately.
These five roles or functions can also be thought of as the core purposes of family and as the measurements of a family’s success. Parents who accomplish these five things derive a satisfaction that is available nowhere else. And they make an incomparable contribution to society.
In order to meet the last four of these purposes (and in an ideal world, the first one would not happen without the other four) families need, within them, four essential elements:
It is difficult to imagine a family succeeding over time (or even staying together over time) without at least a basic level of each of these four elements.
When families lack any of the four essential elements or when they fail to provide any of the five critical roles or purposes, we always lose (individually and societally). And when larger institutions (from schools to businesses, to government) try to assume these functions or provide these elements, it changes the mix in ways that undermine human happiness.
Both the five functions and the four elements of families can be diagramed together with the effects of their erosion.
Examples of Erosion
try to assume that function
- intentional no child “families”
- gay marriages
- two or more careers
- excessive day care
- no permanence
- no traditions
- Corporate identity
- Commune identity (Marx model)
- Gang identity
- poor parental examples
- expediency over morality
- prioritizing career over
- pleasure rather than joy
Simplified as this little table is, we think it makes it clear that families are slipping and that these five basic functions can never be successfully assumed by other entities.
The four essential elements of families can be similarly graphed:
- diluted by busyness and other priorities
- infidelity: love confused with lust
- climbing divorce rates
- alternative cohabitation models
- Loyalty to corporate culture
- Replacing family commitment
- family gets less and less
- work gets more and more
- more with machines, less with people
- a widening “generation gap”
Larger institutions simply do not work like families. “Love,” “commitment,” “time,” and “communication” mean different things in the corporate or government culture than they do in the family culture. As these larger entities grow and as they increasingly dominate our lives, our families suffer.
Note: More on family as the “crux” in article three of the series, coming next week.
2001 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.