Re-valu-ing the Family, Part Ten: How Outer Sector “Sins” Hurt the Family

by Richard and Linda Eyre

The public sector, rife with sins of commission and omission, is damaging the family.

Note: In this sixteen-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 one); B. The “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 and 9 — the reasons our families are failing); F. The “culprits” (parts 10 and 11 — how our new, large institutions are destroying the small, most basic institution of family); G. The “cure” (parts 12, 13, and 14 — what you as a parent can do about it); and H. The “case” (parts 15 and 16 — a case for government and big corporations to pay more positive attention).

Sins of Omission
(what each sector has failed to do for families)

While the public, private, and community sectors often assume too much responsibility for kids and substitute too much for parents, they often do far too little in terms of supporting and supplementing parents in their difficult job.

Let’s start with the next-to-the-family voluntary or community sector. Where have churches and synagogues been during the last fifty years in defending and upholding the family? Certainly family commitment and fidelity are a part of the tradition and stated belief of virtually all religions, but too often faith communities have tried too hard to accommodate and be tolerant of anti-family social change rather than standing up to it and challenging it.

Community and voluntary groups too, while doing all kinds of creative and compassionate things for downtrodden and unfortunate individuals, have done too little to help in-need families as units. With all the big-brother, big-sister and other mentoring programs, where are programs that mentor parents or that link a relatively functional family with a dysfunctional one in a one-family-to-one-family help relationship?

Even in the best religious and community organizations, with all their good intent, whole family and parent involvement and improvement solutions are too often just not on the radar screen. And by trying to help children without involving parents we commit the classic mistake of giving a fish without teaching anyone how to fish.

The private sector is full of “sins of omission” when it comes to families. In their emergence as huge new institutions, corporations have viewed families as competitors for the time and allegiance of their workers and thus failed to offer very much if any meaningful help to families or even to consider family needs as they formulate policies and work expectations. By becoming far more loyal to their stockholders than to their workers, corporations lay off and downsize without regard to families and deprive workers of the kind of flexibility and selective time off that could make huge differences in their ability to be effective parents.

It’s almost as though corporate boards and decision-makers all across America sat down and said, “Now, what can we do to make it as hard as possible for our employees to have strong families and a fulfilling home life.” This didn’t actually happen of course — what did happen was nothing — no agenda where the family and home needs of workers were discussed. A sin of omission.

As public speakers we frequently address corporate or association groups on topics of “Lifebalance” and prioritized time management. Generally speaking, as long as we tie everything to the goal of improving the company’s bottom line, we are well received by top management. But when we deal bluntly with what is best for the family — and fail to tie it directly to some benefit for the company, most corporate leaders listen politely but fail to invite us back.

The public sector’s omissions relate most to government’s failure to recognizer the social and economic value of the raising of children into productive citizens. Historically, societies have given recognition to the importance of parents by giving fathers and mothers a certain status and often a certain economic acknowledgment. In the 1950s the tax deduction for each child was about ten percent of the average wage. Today, the tax deduction a parent gets for supporting and raising a child is less than three percent of the average wage. Over the last thirty years it has become dramatically more expensive to feed, clothe, house, and education a child, yet our tax structure has given us dramatically less help in covering those costs.

Beyond the economic abdication and ignoring of parenting value and needs, government has put far too little social and political focus on parents and families. Since children have no vote and parents with children have no more vote than adults without children, the needs and problems of families and parents go too unnoticed and too ignored by politicians and by public policy.

The real tragedy of these sins of omission by the three outer sectors is that they are poisoning themselves as they fail to nourish and protect families. Every family failure, every child who doesn’t get what he needs at home, puts an incremental burden on the larger public and private institutions of society and robs those same institutions of a productive, helpful addition. Once the problems of a child spill out of the family into the welfare system, the justice system, the corporate structure, the community and neighborhood . . . the problem becomes impossibly complex and expensive, making all of our institutions pay for their earlier omissions.

The broadest failure or omission is that our larger institutions do not recognize or value or reward the responsibility of parenthood or family. Not enough credit or credibility or accommodation is given either to parents or to families.

Sins of Commission
(what each sector has done to weaken families)

If families had only been neglected and omitted from the concerns and priorities of larger institutions, they might still survive and prosper through their own instinctive strengths and resilience. But our newer, larger institutions have not only failed to help and support families, they have, in many ways (sometimes deliberately and sometimes inadvertently) taken actions that undermine and weaken families in both direct and indirect ways.

The private sector may be the biggest culprit when it comes to sins of commission. Entertainment and media institutions have bombarded children and parents with an amoral mix of movies, television, and music that glamorizes early recreational sex and random violence and that belittles and ridicules traditional family life. Financial institutions have promoted easy and unwise credit so effectively as to bankrupt countless families. The Internet institution clobbers kids with sex and violence and makes parents and kids better at communicating with a keyboard than with each other. Merchandising and advertising institutions foster a mentality of materialism whereby we measure ourselves by our possessions and our accomplishments rather than by our family relationships.

The public sector sins against family by imposing a “marriage tax” where two married people pay more income tax than the total of what the two would pay as unmarried individuals and by making it more profitable for many people to live on welfare than to work. The courts make divorce ever easier and less stigmatic. And child protective services have the right to take away any child from any parent.

Is it any wonder that more and more fathers, especially poor fathers, are leaving their marriages and their families — often for economic reasons as much as for personal or emotional reasons. Is it any wonder that only one-third of black children live with their fathers? Imagine for a moment that you are a black father struggling economically, living with your family near the poverty line. First, you feel less and less responsibility for your family because various welfare and special agencies are assuming that responsibility. Second, your kids and wife get less welfare and subsidy money if you live with them than if you move out. Third, both you and your wife will pay less taxes if you don’t stay on as part of the family. And fourth, as you watch TV, you are constantly assured that broken, split-apart families are the norm anyway. Why stay at home?

The above scenario becomes even more disturbing when we realize that a child who does live with both parents is less than half as likely to drop out of school, to get arrested, to use drugs, or to commit suicide.

Even the community and voluntary sectors commit “sins” against the family. Games, concerts, and recreation are scheduled profusely on Sundays and evenings, eliminating the only times long-hour-working parents can be with their kids. Self-help books and seminars convince us that we need to “look out for number one” — to be more concerned with our individual comfort, looks, and status, even if it’s at the expense of family responsibility.

The whole syndrome of larger institutions competing with and destroying the family is fueled by the phenomenon of persons who have largely lost their own family focus and fulfillment and turned from parenting as a priority. It’s a corollary on the old axiom that misery loves company. Those who have a different set of priorities subconsciously want us to adapt that same set. Someone once said, “We are all trying to convert each other.” Those who have expended the time and effort to be in a position to run other larger public and private institutions have usually sacrificed a lot of family time and family focus to get where they are. Subconsciously, they seem to want us to join them. Subconsciously they seem to want us as customers or as cohorts or as common sympathizers with their choice of life style and priorities.

The past half century has witnessed a sea change in what our larger institutions are and in what they do to us and our families. They capture our loyalty and identity. They take over our parental functions — for profit or out of misplaced altruism. They take our responsibility and offer us redundancy. They fail to support and sustain and supplement us in the ways we need most even as they undermine and weaken the values and societal norms that could protect us.

Next week in part eleven: Continuing the “cause” — How “Paradigm Problems” Contribute to the Mess.



2001 Meridian Magazine.  All Rights Reserved.