Linda & Richard Eyre: Is the family breaking, and can it be repaired?
Editor's note: A version of this column appeared online at Meridian Magazine.
Together and separately, we have written more than 40 books over the past four decades. More than half of them have been about marriage, parenting and families. Several have been best-sellers and one, "Teaching Your Children Values," reached No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list.
Another parenting book, "Teaching Children Joy," spawned Joy Schools, a preschool curriculum that has been used by a quarter of a million families. We have been greatly honored, through our writing and speaking, to play a small role in so many of your homes and families.
But we feel that none of our previous writing has been anywhere near as important our new book, "The Turning: Why the state of the family matters, and what the world can do about it," which will be released Aug. 26. We have spent the last seven years working on this one, and it tries to suggest not only how we can each save our own families and help our children thrive in today’s unprecedentedly difficult world, but also how parents can band together and create a movement that persuades large institutions — from media to education and from big businesses to big banks — to stop policies and actions that hurt families and start doing more things that help them.
Those of you who are familiar with our other parenting books know that they are mostly “how-to" books. "The Turning," on the other hand, is essentially a “why-to” book, because we have become convinced that it is only when we understand the forces working against us that we will be motivated enough to create a family culture stronger than all of the other cultures that swirl around our children.
Here are a half-dozen things we want you to know about "The Turning" before it is actually published:
1. The title is based on the last verse of the last page of the Old Testament, which says that unless the hearts of parents are turned to their children and the hearts of children are turned to their parents, the earth will be cursed. Another similar scripture tells us that unless this turning occurs, the whole earth is wasted. Part 1 of the book is about the shocking and dramatic turning away from family that has happened in the last few years. Part 2 is about how we can turn back.
2. The breakdown of families is much worse than you think. The turning away and the downward trends are much steeper than most people imagine. A generation ago, families were the norm, commitment was the ideal and children were the hope of most adults. Today in many European countries, 80 percent of first children are born outside of marriage. In the United States, among couples moving in together, four times as many choose cohabitation as choose marriage. All over the developed world, the very desire for marriage and children is slipping away, and more than half of the earth’s countries now have a birthrate that is below replacement level.
3. Not long ago, the worry was the divorce rate. Now the worry is that people don’t get married at all, choosing the more convenient and flexible idea of cohabitation. And the newest trend is to not even do that — simply to live alone and find intimacy or companionship when you need it at a bar or a club. Some major world cities now have the majority of their residences occupied by one single individual. The replacement of one trend with a worse one, and then a worse one begins to look like a death spiral for families.
4. Traditional families, once the silent majority, are now the silent minority. And too many of us within that traditional minority persist in thinking that the world is pretty much like it was when we were growing up. We need to understand that almost nothing is the same — that if we don’t fight them, the Internet culture and the peer culture will rip our children out of our hands. What is needed is a movement to fortify families by celebrating commitment, popularizing parenting, bolstering balance and validating values. Such a movement needs a manifesto or some kind of a banner to rally under. "The Turning" seeks to be just that.
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