We like riding subways and other public transportation in big cities and watching people — trying to guess from their faces, their body language and their tension what they do, what they prioritize and what they are after in life.
We’ve watched business professionals in Santiago, Chile, and in Monterrey, Mexico, on the midafternoon train, heading home to have lunch with their kids and a siesta before heading back to the office to work for the evening.
We’ve watched career women in Manhattan, New York, and wondered how many of them are postponing having a family and children until they have made their mark on their career, maybe hopeful that they can then have a child in their late 30s or early 40s.
We’ve watched young millennials in Singapore and Shanghai, out for the glitz, the money, the "freedom," and not thinking at all about family — particularly not one of their own. They work late because of the comforts and camaraderie of the workplace and because they have no home to go home to.
We’ve watched elderly people in Stockholm, where the majority of households are occupied by one single individual, and wondered how the government will provide for them as they age and have no children to take care of them.
And we’ve wondered what will happen to society if people continue to get less and less interested in having and caring for children in committed, long-term marriages. Who will do the essential tasks and perform the traditional roles of families? Will babies be produced by artificial means in laboratories, then nurtured and fed and raised in larger institutions, taught to love and be loyal to the state instead of to their family? Will the elderly all be in institutionalized care?
An interesting book by Alan Weisman, titled “The World Without Us,” theorizes on what Earth would be like without humans. An equally interesting question, with an equally frightening answer, is “what would the world be like without families?”
Most would agree that good families and stable homes contain at least four essential elements: love, commitment, time together and communication.
It is difficult to imagine a family succeeding over time or even staying together very long without at least a basic level of each of these four elements. When parents lack any of the four essential elements or when they fail to perform their traditional roles in families, we all lose — both as individuals and as a society. When larger institutions — from schools to businesses to government — try to assume these roles or elements, it alters the way we experience one another, diminishes relationships and undermines human happiness.
Larger institutions simply do not work like families. Love, commitment, time and communication are all defined differently in the corporate or government culture than they are in the family culture. As these larger entities grow and as they increasingly dominate our lives, we sometimes look to them to provide what families used to provide.
And they never do. They never can.
Perhaps author and former Cabinet member William Bennett said it best: “The family, after all, is the original and best department of health, education and welfare.”
Richard and Linda Eyre are New York Times No. 1 best-selling authors who lecture throughout the world on family-related topics. Visit them anytime at EyresFreeBooks.com or at valuesparenting.com, and follow Linda’s blog at eyrealm.blogspot.com.