Re-valu-ing the Family, Part Twenty-five: The Eyre’s Wish List on How Society Could Help the Family
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).

This week, in part 25, we will conclude our thoughts on what several additional public and private institutions should be doing to strengthen and preserve families.

Part 25

Family Supportive Recommendations for Information and Communication Institutions
The much-heralded information age in which we live gives us access to virtually everything.  Unfortunately, there seems to be more access to the sensational and the seamy than to the deeper values and virtues of life.  There seems to be no end to the filth, violence, and anti-value attitudes that flow through our phone lines and on to our monitors or into our eyes and ears from the Internet or from a 900 number.

With these institutions, it’s hard even to know who to direct our parents’ appeal to. There is no C.E.O. of the Internet.  Unlike media, merchandising, or financial institutions there is no centralized, small number of people who make the decisions about the messages that will be sent out.  Everyone can put something on the Internet, and it seems like everyone does!  We can throw out a general appeal about how vulnerable our children are and how dangerous these messages can be — but not many of those whose preoccupation is violence and raw, random sex are going to listen.

Thus we have a classic situation where government is needed to protect people from other people.  The Internet and 900 numbers should be regulated and restricted at least to the same degree that network television is.

The three standard arguments against such regulation are: 1.  Freedom of expression, 2. People choose to pay for and receive the Internet so they should be able to get what they want, 3. You can’t regulate something that has so many diverse suppliers.  The arguments are all weak. Freedom of expression always stops when it endangers others.  We don’t have the freedom to yell “Fire” in a crowded theater.  Lots of things we pay for, from magazines to movies to the mail, are regulated if children could have easy access to them.  And despite how many providers or suppliers there are of various types of filth, the beauty of the information age is that we know exactly where to find them.  If fines and criminal penalties were stiff enough, most of the worst material could be eliminated over a fairly short time frame.

6.  Family Supportive Suggestions for Political/Governmental Institutions

Government on all levels needs to reprioritize and reorient itself to the service, protection, maintenance, and motivation of society’s basic building block of family.  As always, there are two sides to this coin:

1.  Reviewing and eliminating policies that harm, undermine, or weaken parents and families.

2.  Creating policies, incentives, and options that protect, encourage, and strengthen families.

Some specifics for each:

Reversing Family Unfriendly Policy

1.  Eliminate the “marriage tax” so two married people never pay more tax than those same two people as single individuals.

2.  Get rid of no-fault divorce and other divorce laws that favor the convenience of the spouse rather than the welfare of the child.

3.  Roll back any law that limits parental input and responsibility regarding educational choices for their children.

Creating Family-Friendly Policy
Short term:

1.  Return child deductions on income tax to their 1950s levels (over $4,000.00 per child in today’s dollars).

2.  Create and improve school/college IRA’s and other deductions that allow families to pay for college with pre-tax dollars.

3.  Regulate the Internet.

Long term (dramatic, perhaps impossible, real solutions):

1.  Give parents one additional vote (in local and national elections) for each of their under-eighteen children. This kind of parental power at the ballot box would cause politicians to pander to families like never before and no doubt unleash a stunning list of creative, family friendly ideas and proposals.

2.  Eliminate all federal and state income taxes, substituting value added sales taxes on everything but food.  This would reward saving and work, strengthening society and rewarding families for the very prudence and industry that could strengthen the overall economy.  It would also eliminate the enormous I.R.S. and state income tax bureaucracies and re-focus a huge section of the legal establishment.

7. Family Supportive Suggestions for Educational Institutions

We live in a society that requires licensing or training or registration for almost every conceivable activity.  We even need a license to fish.  Yet anyone — with no license, no training, and all too often no sense of responsibility, can assume the most critical and important role that exists in society — that of a parent.  Our schools are probably the only institution close enough and influential enough to collectively wake kids up to the responsibility and importance of parenting.  Yet our schools, have done very little to help young people appreciate and be prepared for the role of parents, and they do much that is negative and counterproductive to sexual responsibility and commitment.

The most sweeping and positive thing all public and private elementary and secondary teachers could do is to see themselves as the closest, most accessible and important backups, safety nets, and teammates to parents (not as substitutes, or surrogates, but as supplements and supports).  When schools and teachers think of their role and their job as one of helping parents raise responsible and educated children, schools become better, parents become better, and most importantly, children become both better and happier.  Here’s what schools should strive harder to do for parents and for kids:

For Parents:

1. Offer evening or weekend classes on parenting and specifically on how to help a child succeed academically.

2. Put on more family functions where kids come to school with parents — from the traditional sports, plays, and social events to creative academic and community events and from read-a-thons and back-to-school nights to service projects.  Offer special family prices to every school function which has an admittance charge.

3. Improve parent-teacher conferences and schedule options where parents can come in with their child to work out a teamwork approach to learning.

For Children

1. Have a mandatory course on ethics and values in the seventh grade.  Plenty of good curriculums and programs exist.  Rotate the teaching (a math teacher teaches it one semester, a history teaching the next) thus “outreaching” and “transplanting” values into the texture and content of other classes.

2. Have a required class on parenting and family responsibility for all high school juniors.  Teach marriage and parenting skills, but also teach family and relationship priorities.

3. Incorporate personal and family responsibility into all sex education classes. Reorient the curriculum so there are classes about what families are and that they should be and about the importance of commitment and responsibility.  Within this framework, sex education, human intimacy, and reproductive facts take on a whole new and more positive slant.  Involve the parents who are willing to become will get involved . . . and at least inform the rest.

8. Family Supportive Suggestions for Courts and Legal Institutions

We’re dealing with two related but separate institutions here: First, the court system of America and its judicial process which has increasingly and progressively interpreted laws with overemphasis on individual autonomy at the expense of what is best for families and parents; and second, the institution of private law firms and attorneys which has made divorce, separation, and litigation too prominent on the family landscape.

Judges and their courts need to:

1. Re-enshrine the family and reflect (in their opinions) interpretations of laws that respect the responsibility and stewardship of parents.  

2. Favor the welfare and well-being of children rather than the convenience of parents in divorce or other domestic disputes.

3. Strive for better balance between protecting the rights of individuals and children and preserving the unity, autonomy, and priority of families.

With regard to private legal practice, we need to:

1. Close down a few law schools — quit producing so many litigators.  As an alternate to less law schools, just discontinue some of the divorce law and litigation courses and substitute more instruction on arbitration mediation, and alternative conflict resolution.

2. Do all we can to persuade the legal establishment that remains that their job is to save families, not pull them apart.  Focus more on win-win arbitration and less on win-lose (or lose-lose) litigation, and always view divorce as a last resort.

9. Family Supportive Suggestions for Recreation and Social/Cultural Institutions

Recreation and social life used to not only revolve around the family –it used to occur primarily within the immediate and extended family.  Today enormous recreational and social/cultural institutions consume and suck away what used to be family time and fracture the family through different interests and options which take family members in different directions.

Play, diversion, and social and cultural activities — the very things that should bring families together and add richness and diversity to family life, have begun to do the opposite.

Once again, a new mind set by those who manage and run the institutionalized recreation and cultural establishments could make a positive and powerful difference to families. Directions that ought to receive consideration:

1. Stop scheduling everything on Sunday.  Sundays are still the best chance for most families to be at home (or at church) together.  With everything from soccer games to kids’ recitals spilling into Sunday, private family time is even more scarce.

We lived in England for four years in the ’70s and ’80s.  In that era, everything was closed on Sundays. No stores were open — except the occasional emergency pharmacy, and no sporting or musical events occurred.  Even the British Open golf tournament and Wimbledon had their finals on Saturday and had no play on Sunday.  It had a remarkable effort on our family.  Our only option was to do family things together. We went on long walks, played family games, went to church together.  Sundays became a true and refreshing change of pace — something we have never been able to duplicate here at home in the U. S.

2. Give “real deals” to families who come together.  If more spectator events — from high school sports to movies — offered family passes or major discounts for family groups, it would increase ticket sales even as it brought more families together.

3. Encourage volunteering — especially family volunteering.  There is nothing quite like volunteering as a family. Working together in a good cause, whether it’s serving food at a homeless shelter or cleaning up a park or roadway, really brings parents and children together.  Voluntary agencies and community service organizations should aim more of their outreach and recruiting at families and create projects where parents and children can volunteer together.

One of our daughters has recently been working for Family Matters, the family volunteering arm of The Points of Light Foundation in Washington, D.C.  Their effort is to reach out and encourage families to sign up for volunteer projects together so they can combine family time and parent-child communication opportunities with the community service they render.

Parents who have become involved indicate that in addition to the satisfaction of service and the quality family time, they have had amazing opportunities to teach values like empathy, love, and self-reliance to their children.

4. Create recreational options that revolve around family and the parent-child relationship.  Instead of camps, sports leagues, church outings, and music retreats that take kids away from parents, organizers should try to come up with occasional alternatives that let parent and child attend and participate together.

10. Family Supportive Recommendations for Religious Institutions (and psychological, self-help, and counseling sectors.

Historically, it is religion that people have looked to for help with their families as well as their spiritual well-being and their outlooks and philosophies of life.  During the last several decades self-help, psychiatry, and other secular counseling have become important factors as well.

The question is, are either doing their job?  Are they working?  Are they (religious and counseling institutions) playing as strong and prominent a role a they should in saving, safeguarding, and stabilizing families?  Or, are some of these elements of these institutions working against families by stressing and glamorizing individual freedom and autonomy at the expense of family connections, responsibilities, interdependencies and commitments?

We hear far too little of churches speaking out strongly against anti-family messages, models, and media.  We see divorce becoming easier and more acceptable in faith communities. We see all sorts of affairs, amorality and alternative life styles being tolerated if not sanctioned by religions.  It seems that many of our religious institutions have become so anxious to attract and recruit parishioners and so over-committed to tolerance that they no longer try very hard to make it clear what is right and what is wrong — both in the eyes of God and in terms of what is good and bad for the family.  We are forgetting the wisdom and insight expressed by G.K. Chesterton who said, “Tolerance is the favorite virtue of those who don’t believe in anything.” Counseling and self-help entities, on the other hand, are more and more involved and prominent in “fixing what ails us.”  Yet so often what they offer is a “quick fix” that essentially sets us up for a fall.

Essentially, our churches, synagogues, mosques, and other religious institutions have to step up and be stronger and bolder in their advocacy of the family and in training, assisting, and helping parents.  At the very least, churches should:

1. Formally and emphatically make recommitments to the sanctity and pivotal importance of the family, reminding all that family priority and mutual fidelity lie at the heart of God’s teaching.

2. Establish more extensive programs for parenting education, for teaching family communication and for providing spiritually based marriage and family counseling.

3. Speak out more strongly and vigorously against early casual, recreational sex (scripturally “fornication”) and marital infidelity (scripturally “adultery”).  Talk more openly about the devastation sexual irresponsibility brings to families.

By the same token, secular counselors, authors, and analysts need to understand that individual “solutions” without some connection or acknowledgment of family are doomed to failure over the long term.

Too much is being written (and spoken) about avoiding co-dependency, developing self-confidence, and building wealth . . . and too little is being written and said about building positive family interdependency, developing empathy and faith, and building strong families. Writers, therapists, and “gurus” of all kinds should:

1. Ponder the long-term and the ultimate importance of family relationships to be sure their recommended “quick fixes” don’t work at odds with what really matters.

2. Examine their own motives to be certain what they are preaching and recommending stems from their genuine belief in what is best for people over their whole lives and not from their own desire for short-term profit and popularity.

Next week: In our concluding column we will summarize our “case” against the broader society and suggest what you can to do bolster your family right now!

2001 Meridian Magazine.  All Rights Reserved.