Linda & Richard Eyre: Why the world needs to make family a top priority
Editor's note: The following is an excerpt from the upcoming book "The Turning: Why the State of the Family Matters, and What the World Can Do About It," by Linda and Richard Eyre.
We are all born into family. And we hope that family will surround us when we exit this world. In between, family provides us with our greatest joys and deepest sorrows. Family has always been our main reference point and the basis for much of our terminology and metaphor.
In theology, God is father and we are children.
In history, the past is best understood and connected through extended families.
In economics, markets and enterprise are driven by family needs, attitudes and perceptions.
In education, parents are the most influential teachers, and home environment is the most powerful factor in school success.
In sociology and anthropology, we conclude that society doesn’t form families; families form society.
In politics, all issues reduce down to how public policy affects private family.
In public opinion polls, we reveal that family commitments exceed all other commitments.
In ethics or morality, family relationships teach the highest forms of selfless and empathetic values. Lack of those committed relationships promotes selfish and antisocial behavior.
In media, the things that touch us most deeply or offend us most dramatically generally involve family.
In nature, everything that grows is in a family, and some cultures living closest to nature speak of “mother earth” and “father sky.”
Our similes, our semantics and our symbols all use family as our frame of reference. Yet less than two decades into the third millennium, the family is our most threatened institution, and the fear, which we should all feel, is that if the family goes down, it will take everything else with it.
We were sitting in a small café in San Salvador, having lunch with a father of three who had introduced us the night before when we spoke to a group of parents and teachers about teaching values to children. “You know,” he said, “I try so hard to be a good parent, but it almost seems like there is a sinister conspiracy working against me. How do I compete with the peer group, the Internet, the media? What is happening to families today, and can they even survive?”
Before we can look objectively and constructively at what is happening to the family and where the family is going, we must have a clear understanding of what a family is.
Trying to define “family” can be a tricky proposition. It’s a widely — and politically — used word and can mean different things to different people. We feel that the most useful approach, at least for our purposes in this book, is to define the family in terms of its essential and indispensable functions within society. Indeed, families have historically played at least seven critical societal roles that no other group or institution can fully or adequately perform.
1. The role of procreation (replenishing the population).
2. The role of modeling commitment and cooperation (children need to feel prioritized and, if they have two parents, to see partnership and teamwork).
3. The role of nurturing (facilitating children’s emotional growth and helping them develop into responsible adults).
4. The role of providing a lasting identity, something permanent in our lives as everything else (employment, residences and so on) changes.
5. The role of instilling values. (Other institutions may help, but the buck stops with the family wherein values are applied as well as taught.)
6. The role of offering love and fulfillment to individuals at a level beyond what is obtainable elsewhere. (Children should receive unconditional love within families, and parents are refined and completed as persons through the selfless love they give to their children.)
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