Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 6, 2005
Skyrocketing bills shortchanges family
By FR. RON ROLHEISER, omi
The issue of "family values" has long divided liberals and conservatives. It constitutes an ideological fault-line, determining what newspapers we read, what television programs we watch, what circles we socialize in, what political party we vote for, and sometimes even what church we attend.
And the issue colours the debate on many things: same-sex marriage, sex and violence on TV, abortion, the traditional idea of family as heterosexual and two-parented, the role of women in society, the role of a wife in a marriage and family, the place of motherhood, what constitutes pornography, what should be allowed under the right of free expression, sex education in schools, the place of religion in politics, and whether society should be allowed to impose structures that protect traditional values.
Irrespective of how one feels on these issues, what is now evident is that there is a clear connection between the demise of the family and the increase in youth delinquency, crime, drug use, suicide, violence in general, bullying in schools, teenage pregnancy, personality breakdown, bad manners and the weakening of civic communities. Family life is important and its demise has real, measurable consequences.
But beyond agreeing on this, conservatives and liberals pretty much disagree on what constitutes the problem and on what should be done about it. Why is the family in trouble?
Conservatives see the family in trouble because of our reluctance to address certain issues: sex and violence on television, unchaperoned access to information on the Internet, same-sex marriages, pornography, opposition to all censorship, promiscuous sex, marital infidelity, and a culturally-accepted scorn of respect, taste and manners.
Some conservative groups go further and lay particular blame for the crisis in family values on certain groups and ideologies: the gay lobby, single mothers, working mothers, welfare recipients, feminism. But honesty compels us to admit that when our marriages break up and families break down, usually the issue is not feminism, same-sex marriages or single-mothers. Almost always there are other reasons, much closer to home. Yet, conservatives are right in their basic assertion that the family needs to be protected culturally and politically.
Liberals, sadly, have been slow to admit both the importance of the family and its need for protection. As well, liberals have tended to be naive about the effects on marriage and family of marital infidelity, casual sex, what young people are exposed to on television, and the dumbing-down and vulgarizing of much of the entertainment industry.
But liberals have been right on something else, the conservative blind spot on this issue, the impact of economics on family values. Where conservatives have tried to protect family values culturally and politically, liberals have tried to protect them economically.
A number of studies, including a much-quoted one by Anna Greenberg, suggest the biggest challenge facing families today is they don't have enough time for each other.
And why isn't there enough time? Too much pressure from the workplace! Too many families find themselves in a never-ending, all-consuming struggle for adequate pay, proper health care, decent housing, access to decent education. That struggle constitutes a virtual conspiracy against family life. People are working more and more hours and having less and less time for family. The economic squeeze, perhaps more than any cultural shift in attitudes, is the real cancer working against family values.
Family values, liberals say, have to be protected economically. If we value the family we have to make the economic adjustments needed so mothers can be mothers, fathers can be fathers, and families can have the time, security, health and housing they need to live as family. Those adjustments do not flow from a conservative economic agenda.
But there's good news: Conservatives and liberals, especially those trying to raise children, are beginning more and more to agree with each other on the value of family. Unfortunately, they still tend to disagree on what is needed to protect family.
The issue of family is too important to let ideology divide us. We need to learn from each other that family and family values must be protected in ways both conservative and liberal.
The economic squeeze is the real cancer working against family values.
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