Every normal human being wants to be warm, well-fed, comfortable, protected and loved. We all want to live in an understanding, warm, charitable, protective environment. The family unit ought to be just such an environment. Instead our families are falling apart at the seams! Instead even preteens are running away from home at an unprecedented rate. Instead of being a haven for our young people a place of sanctuary, warmth and refuge the American home is too often the scene of alcoholism, bitter hostility, and even brutal fights and beatings. The very fabric of our Western civilization is in mortal jeopardy. What can we do to bring back the family?
If I were to pinpoint one root cause for so much that is wrong with the United States of America today, I would be forced to point my finger at the door of the American home. It is the disintegration of the family unit as a medium of teaching and training children in order to instill in them the undying values of a sense of respect toward other people, their property and their basic human rights that is at the heart of our problems today. Strong family ties prevent problems! Almost every problem afflicting our Western societies can be traced back to our ailing homes and families. And this is especially true of those problems of the nation's youth. Our young people have been dogged by drug abuse, alcoholism, suicide, crime and juvenile delinquency. Are the causes all that hard to figure out? They shouldn't be. Not when young men and women have to come home to houses that are like "empty" motels, where family members merely hang their hat temporarily, get their own meals and flop down in front of the TV. A million teenagers run away from unbearable home conditions every year. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for young Americans. By age 18, one out of ten American girls is pregnant and the vast majority of these are unmarried. One out of nine kids end up in juvenile court by age 18. Forty percent of U.S. crimes of violence and two-thirds of crimes against property (80 percent are vandalism) are committed by those under 21. And about ten percent of all school-age kids have moderate to severe emotional problems. I won't bore you any further with the tiresome statistics, but they do make a point.
There's Nobody Home!
In the past, the family has been characterized as the giant shock absorber of society the refuge where our "prodigal sons" (and daughters) could safely return after doing battle with the world. But no more! Not even during the times of the two World Wars has the American family been under such severe stress and strain. According to recent surveys, married couples are untying the knot at nearly twice the rate of the 1950s. Divorce is rapidly escalating in nearly every Western country. Young people are even beginning to shy away from marriage as an institution. The old clichι of the kid asking his new dad to sign the guest book is more than a bad joke today. Even couples who stay together pull up roots and move once every five years. Thus the American home has acquired the dubious image of a place where parents and children cross paths every once in a while on their merry way to and from various and sundry pursuits. Just moving across the country as an occupational necessity creates enormous burdens and strains on the family fabric. Dad has to adapt to new co-workers on the job; mom has to redecorate the new home and reorient herself to yet another neighborhood; the kids have to cope with a different brand of peer pressure than before. All is in a state of chaos and upset for months. And when this happens every five years on the average, it begins to exact a cumulative toll on the emotional stability of both parents and their offspring. Where is the extended family of aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins in all of this? They have often helped to smooth over conflicts and difficulties in the nuclear family. But by now, they're clear across the country. We left them behind five moves ago.
Profile of a Young Couple
Many young men are virtually forced, through circumstances, into sales as an occupation. And salesmen tend to be on the move and away from home in this modern world. Picture the following scenario: A young salesman sets up house in a third-floor walk-up with the proverbial bare light bulb. In a year's time, bring on a baby. He's not making quite enough; they're juggling the bills. He's repeatedly absent for days at a time; it's practically a one-parent family. She decides she can't take it anymore. Out goes the two-year-old to some sort of day-care center. The budget is further strained because she's got to buy new clothes to look decent on the job and a secondhand car to get there. She's never home when her husband is, so out he goes to the neighborhood bar. Meanwhile, having been attracted to her boss on the job, she's having increasing intimacies with him, while her husband picks up other distraught, lonely "pseudo wives" at the bar, or on his travels from time to time. They begin to blame each other for their lack of love and understanding, and they assume they can find real sympathy and affection in the arms of strangers. And on and on it goes with our upside-down American family life. Their poor kid hasn't got any parents. The home. A place of understanding? A place of warmth? A place of forgiveness and friendship? Forget it in today's society. But it ought to be all of those things and more!
The Family Unit in Creation
The family unit is not an economic unit; it is not a social unit. It is a divine unit!. It was invented and designed to function in a certain manner. The interplay and the interchange between family members the way they treat each other, the way they react one to the other is far more delicate and sensitive than the carefully engineered systems of a sleek jet airplane. This is the family landscape up to now the one sanity-preserving constant in human affairs. You see, all life begins with a small germ, a seed, or life-giving sperm cell. Thus a butterfly lays eggs; the eggs become larvae, the larvae become pupae, and the pupae hatch into other butterflies. Bean seeds germinate and become bean stalks; the stalks bloom and flower and produce still more bean seeds. The new seeds in turn produce more stalks, ad infinitum. All life is cyclical. Boys and girls mature and they marry. They engender children, who also mature and marry. Practically all life is male and female. But among all the creation, man alone marries. Why? Simply because human beings are not equipped with animal instinct, but with mind. Baby animals automatically, through instinct, take their place in the animal kingdom. But infant humans must be taught everything they come to know. This vital teaching and training of children is only one of the many reasons why God established the marital state the home and the family. We begin life as infant children; we mature and eventually take our leave from the parental nest; we continue the birth process with our own children. Then they repeat the cycle all over again. This process has continued since creation. But something very disturbing has been occurring within the family cycle in the twentieth century. Reports Charles F. Geiger, supervisor of family and youth services for Catholic social services in Detroit: "Each generation seems to be getting less nurturing and support from the family. Babies are not given the intimate attention they need... And these children grow up to become parents who don't nurture their own infants." Parents just don't seem inclined to educate their children anymore! Far too many are caught up in a whirlwind of work, social or entertainment activities to have much time or energy left for their offspring. After all, there are institutions to take care of these kids. There are day-care centers, play groups and preschools made up of a host of family interlopers who are paid to educate, supervise and play with children. These people often spend far more time with kids than parents do. But their brand of care is more passive than active, since the children are not really their own flesh and blood. In practical fact, education has long since been taken away from the family and vested in various types of institutions. No wonder so many of our children are living aimless, wandering lives, alienated from their families and relying instead on cigarettes, drugs, and alcohol. No wonder so many preteens are the helpless victims of rotten child molesters. So with each succeeding generation, parental influence is diminished that much more. Today parenting is a dying art. It is perhaps at its lowest point in all of history. Today children do not look to their families for guidance. Instead, they look mainly to their peer group, perhaps secondarily to their teachers, then television (parents' favorite baby-sitter) and sadly, bringing up the rear, mom and dad. The major trends affecting the American family unit are not encouraging. Yet your family doesn't need to fall victim to this national disintegration. You can swim upstream and break this vicious cycle. I have to admire President Jimmy Carter's emphasis on the American family; his admonition to his aides to shore up their family lives in spite of enormous job pressures; his urging of government officials to opt for marriage rather than just living together. I not only applaud his efforts, I have a few suggestions to add myself.
1) Be a Family
Families simply don't live as families enough. How many millions of families sit before the television by the hours oftentimes even including mealtimes with hardly a word exchanged except "pass the butter" or "change the channel"? How often do you enjoy an interesting evening around the piano? How often do you teach your children some useful and constructive skills? How often do you play various games with your children? If you do plan an evening out, or a short trip, is your family always excluded? Hopefully not. When you go to a restaurant, are the children with you at least some of the time? Family life is being stifled in our modern society partly because many families have ceased being families and are becoming merely occasional gatherings of casual acquaintances.
2) Get to Know Each Other
Parents don't know their children's friends, their studies in school, their hopes and dreams. Children don't really know their parents don't even know for sure how dad makes a living; don't know what mom does on an average day. You don't believe it? Take a test! Ask your boy or girl exactly what kind of work you do. What are the problems you face what are the various ins and outs of your occupation? Ask your children to describe mom's typical day at home. You'll be surprised. Parents, ask your children what they did in school; with whom they did it; what they learned by it. You'll soon find yourself in an interesting discussion with your children. Parents, why not learn to include the whole family in some of your entertainment? Why not begin to really control your TV viewing? Why not begin to have meals together more? Why not try to create more interesting, scintillating conversations by deliberately choosing stimulating topics? Why not be more of a family?
3) Parents, Listen to Your Children
Talk to your children, teach your children, and above all, listen to them! Many a kid won't tell his father or his mother what's wrong, but he'll tell his closest friend at school. He'll share his deepest hopes and innermost pains with that other kid, but, more often than not, he won't open up to his own parents. Why? It's like this. Mom and dad forgot how to listen a long time ago. The poor kid starts to say something and, just like that, dad interrupts. End of conversation. Finally, he just gives up altogether! Parents, the most precious stewardship you've got is that of your own child. What a hideous crime it is to allow precious human character to slowly disintegrate right in front of your eyes!
4) Deliberately Plan a Different Day
Sometimes we all get in a rut. It takes deliberate, planned forethought to roust us out. One way to start a different day is to force yourself to get up half an hour earlier than usual. Plan to spend that extra time around the breakfast table with your family. Wives, plan ahead with some kind of "special" you're going to introduce into the breakfast routine. Husbands, bounce into the kitchen with a sparkle in your eye and with real cheer in your voice. Talk to your family don't just bury your face in the morning newspaper. Your family is like a beautiful garden. It needs lots of careful attention watering, cultivating, pruning, weeding out of wrong practices and habits. It needs diligent work not just accidental happenstance.
5) Have a Weekly Family Night
Pick one night of the week when the whole family can be together. Plan something special. For openers, mom might like to serve a different and interesting ethnic dish. You might let the children set up the games. Or perhaps go out together to a Disney movie. What about churning up some old-fashioned, homemade ice cream? Invite your children's friends to the occasion once in a while. These are just some ideas to get you started. Once you get the ball rolling, you won't have enough nights to put all your ideas into effect. The main thing is learning to do things together as a family. Family night has recently become a regular practice for most members of the Worldwide Church of God. I'd like you to read a few letters about how some of them observe their family nights. From Danville, Illinois: "I have been a member of the Church for five years and now have a very rewarding career as coordinator of the Family Education Center in Danville. At F.E.C., we have study-discussion groups for parents who want to prevent family problems by learning parenting skills. We use books like Raising a Responsible Child by Don Denhmeyer and Gary McKay. In our groups we have one session on ways to encourage children to be more cooperative and responsible by involving them in problem-solving, recreation planning and even rule-making and discipline. This is not intended to be a `voting session' where parents are outvoted, but as an opportunity for even young children to give important input into the smooth running of a family. This is a part of our family night and a very important one." From Aurora, Colorado: "Thank you, thank you, and thank you a hundred times over for 'instituting' a family night! This world is so fast moving it takes its toll on all of us until there is no time left for family. We don't have a big family yet, only a five-month-old son, but since family night began three weeks ago, we truly look forward to that special night each week when we can do things we might not do or enjoy if we didn't actually have such a night." From Cincinnati, Ohio: "We are going to hold our family gathering this week in the park. We enjoy cooking out, so we will cook and eat in the park. This will also allow us to enjoy the beauty of the park in the spring."
What Makes a Nation Great?
I couldn't agree more with President Carter's evaluation of the family. He said: "The entire history of the human race teaches us that the family unit is the best way for men and women to live their lives, the best way to raise children, and the only solid foundation upon which to build a strong nation." The family unit represents the basic building block of any civilization. The family is our most precious institution. Let's bring it back!