Preserving Families, Pay Now or Pay Later
The traditional family of a father and mother raising their children in a loving and supportive home is under siege. People are marrying later in life if at all. Others are intentionally childless and more children than ever are now born out-of-wedlock. Beset by structural changes, divorce, domestic violence and street crime, single parent households, cohabitation and teen pregnancies, not to mention rising economic inequity, deteriorating neighborhoods, the internet and social media, both the number and viability of family are diminished.
Family is alternatively defined as: 1) a basic social unit consisting of parents and their children, considered as a group, 2) any group of persons closely related by blood, as parents, children, grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins or 3) all those persons considered as descendants of a common progenitor.? See http://www.ictionary.com/browse/family.
But family is much more than terminology and greater than definition. It is other than place, assembly, relationships or association and runs deeper than blood, heritage or kinship.
This is not to suggest that families are perfect. Nothing is. And harmony tends to be in short supply as families disagree about almost everything.
But the family institution is indispensable. It is family which feeds and protects us, supports and nurtures us. It is family that molds and shapes our character and personality. And it is family which has our back, lifting us when we are down, comforting and accepting us when others have kicked us to the curb.
Greater still, family is the basic building block of society. It is the primary institution by which to conceive, nurture and raise children; the fundamental structure by which to preserve, transmit and reinforce values and culture. More than any other institution, the penultimate responsibility of family is to produce well-adjusted and productive adults.
Sadly, too many of our most vulnerable children are without family. Some are shuttled from house to house of dubious friends and distant relatives. Others are wards of the state, but for which they would be victims of the streets. For them, a supportive environment with a loving mother, protective father and caring siblings is but a dream.
Others suffer an even worse fate. Abandoned, exploited and abused, their primary care givers are either engaged in dangerous, violent or criminal activities or suffer from mental, emotional or chemical afflictions. These so-called adults can hardly take care of themselves, much less a child.
This stark reality is especially pronounced in at-risk, minority communities. Perhaps the greatest threat to the black community is not crime or the police but the breakdown of the nuclear and extended family. What then are we to do?
It would be nave to believe that we can save everyone. We cannot. Additionally, a one size fits all approach is impractical and public resources already stretched to the breaking point. There are however, basic, incremental steps we should consider.
One such strategy is to ensure the basic safety and physical needs of all children; even those who are not our own. Doing so is not merely an act of charity. Rather, producing citizens who are free of post traumatic stress disorder and other physical and psychological conditions is in society’s best interest.
Furthermore, many parents and primary care givers cannot even change a baby’s diaper much less parent one. God forbid that they confront the triple curse of diaper rash, teething and whooping-cough. We might therefore consider making basic parenting skills training a core function of churches, schools and similar community based organizations.
Yet another problem is the inability of family members to communicate and interact in productive ways. More often than not, such interactions culminate in arguments, fights and violence. While family need not always agree, it must at least be able to reasonably communicate and interact. Sustained training and support designed to enhance safe conversations and strong familial relationships is therefore a must.
Some might view these suggestions as evidence of unwarranted government intrusion into the family, the abridgement of parental responsibility, public welfare, or the nanny state. Others see the disintegration of the family as a moral failure. We view the issue differently.
The fundamental importance of family cannot be overstated. We further note that the breakdown of the family and the attendant social pathologies of teenage pregnancies, under educational achievement, unemployment, crime, blight and addiction are contagious. Their dysfunction eventually becomes our problems.
Even more troublesome is the never-ending cycle of despair. People who are ill-equipped to raise children nevertheless have children which they invariably fail to raise. Their mal-adjusted off spring cannot help but follow suit, creating their own broken brood. And the cycle repeats itself, ad infinitum.
We should therefore do all we can to create strong families. We should also support those organizations which serve children and families.
In conclusion, devoting public resources to preserving the nuclear family is not cheap. But it is infinitely more cost-effective than doing nothing and the attendant social maladies referenced above. When it comes to sustaining the family as a viable social institution, we can either pay now or pay later.
Leo Barron Hicks, Founder and CEO
Blackacre Policy Forum