We’re in a maelstrom of unrest and chaos. “The world has turned upside down,” many say. Contention over the pandemic, politics, riots, terrorism. Most of us cannot recall a time when our nation was so divided.
Many are trying desperately to restore peace, justice, and some semblance of unity to our world. And these efforts are often heroic. But, in addition to civic involvement, are we addressing the root cause? If not, it’s like the old saying about putting an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff instead of a fence at the top—We’re just responding to crises rather than preventing them.
Henry David Thoreau said, “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.” So how do we get ahead of the surge and prevent trouble in the first place? How do we join that one person addressing the root?
Once again, our prophets lead the way. They have for centuries. In The Family: A Proclamation to the World we read, “… we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.”
Study after study points to the breakdown of the family as a major cause of violent crime, unwed pregnancy, welfare dependence, class warfare, emotional distress, lack of respect for property, declining school grades, even economic disasters– and a host of other societal catastrophes.
My father, a sociologist, predicted this back in the 1960s. He could see society coming apart at the seams, and would not be surprised to see our world’s condition, were he alive today.
Broadcaster Juan Williams also identified the problem when he said, “Murders with guns are the No. 1 cause of death for the African American men between the ages of 15 and 34. But talking about race in the context of guns would also mean taking on a subject that can’t be addressed by passing a law: the family breakdown issues that lead too many minority children to find social status and power in guns.”
And Investment Specialist George J. McLiney, Jr., saw it, too, when he addressed Kansas City’s high murder rate by writing, “The breakdown of the family is the root cause of this mayhem.”
Until we can reverse the current trends, we can expect more of the consequences we see today. Families are the very strength of a society—if they’re falling apart, that society falls apart.
Motherhood and fatherhood must both be esteemed, even revered. These sacred callings cannot be overstated in their importance to future generations. Even in cases when the marriage has to end, both parents need to make their children a priority.
Family Home Evening needs to become sacrosanct, even if it feels as if the kids aren’t listening. We can share this inspired concept with nonmember friends as well. My daughter’s 2nd grade teacher, a devout Catholic, used one of our FHE manuals in her own family.
And, speaking of school, parents need to know what’s being taught in their kids’ classrooms. Ask questions. Request a curriculum. Attend parent meetings. Many teachers feel parents aren’t giving their kids the time or space to complete homework. So cut down on TV and other extra activities, and make sure their work gets finished. Also establish a place for them to work, complete with markers, tape, rulers, etc. Another big help is if parents hold their kids accountable for misbehaving, and restore the idea that “our family stands for respect and obedience.”
Families need to set aside time to teach values. It’s more than talking to kids about stealing, or destruction of property. It’s the positive things as well, such as teaching them to help a child with a handicap, or including a loner in playtime. Being a friend to everyone sometimes takes effort, but that’s what life is about. Effort to love. Effort to include.
Get to know your neighbors and local shopkeepers. Give your kids a sense of loyalty to their community. Watch out for others’ children, and encourage them to watch out for yours. A cohesive community will not only prevent crime, but will give kids a sense of pride and confidence that they matter to others.
Let’s hold our kids to high ethical standards, not the standards dictated by the world around us. This doesn’t just affect grades or athletics, but service. Have a favorite charity and make it a part of every month—drop off donations, participate in projects that really help. Justserve.org is a great source for ideas. This teaches kids to be givers, rather than takers. It gives them a larger view and a sense of the needs in other groups than their own.
Reach out to cousins, aunts, and uncles, and if they’re not involved in your family—fix it. Have a family reunion. Invite them to baptisms and other important events. Find out what their kids are doing and attend their ballgames and performances. If they live far away, spend some time together online, or send a family newsletter roundup. This gives kids a wonderful sense of belonging and identity.
We mustn’t tolerate enmity and quarreling amongst our children. I know that’s especially hard in some families with competitive children. But we must take seriously the familiar scripture from Mosiah 4: 14: “Ye will not suffer your children to fight and quarrel with one another.” When one mistreats another, don’t shrug it off; address it immediately. Design activities that force the kids to help each other, thus engendering feelings of gratitude.
It sounds obvious, but pray together. Pray for one another, for specific challenges each of you are facing. If Megan has a ballgame or Evan has an exam, pray that God will help them to do their best.
As we strengthen our families, we will impact society. And when someone comments on your kids’ manners, the family’s closeness, the glow you have—tell them why, and what you’re doing to make that happen.
Elder Russell M. Ballard has said, “Family breakdown is causing a host of societal and economic ills… the most important cause of our lifetime is our families. If we will devote ourselves to this cause, we will improve every other aspect of our lives and will become, as a people and as a church, an example and a beacon for all the peoples of the earth.” That might be a quote to clip and post in your home. Get everyone involved in the effort. Families aren’t just important—they’re essential to a peaceful future.
Hilton is an award-winning playwright and the author of many best-selling LDS books. Those, her humor blog, and YouTube Mom videos can be found on her website.
Maryann TaylorSeptember 30, 2021
I hear ya, Joni! Family support and love cannot be overemphasized. However, I have a HUGE extended family. It is good to show love as much as we can, but I give myself a giant brownie button for just keeping up with my children and grandchildren's birthdays, etc! I also love writing and receiving letters from my grandchildren and encouraging them. We need to be realistic about what we can do in our super-large extended families, or we may end up neglecting those closest to us and burning out by attempting the impossible.
AJ CurrieSeptember 23, 2021
Unfortunately, the 'breakdown of the family' is not the core problem. If one were to ask why families are 'breaking down', the answer would have to do with their loss of gospel truths due to godlessness (maybe caused by the loss of fundamental truths taught by Jesus Christ). At any rate, if a fix for any modern-day woe does not include fidelity to the teachings of Jesus Christ, you know it is not 'the solution' to the problem. It might make the problem less, but it will not cure the problem.