The problem isn’t lack of traditional family values. The problem is with traditional family values.
As a marriage and family therapist, I’ve had a privileged, inside view of family life. I know what goes on behind closed doors and pretty picket fences. I’m right in the trenches with families struggling through…
Pain and rage.
Grief and guilt.
Dirty laundry stuffed in closets.
And, neurosis breeding like fungus.
Sorting through tons of ugly, we try to find the good.
What I’ve learned from my decades of practice is this:
How a family looks on the surface (i.e. traditional or not, religious or not, heterosexual or not) has very little to do with the health and wholesomeness of family life.
Thankfully, many families never reach the extreme levels of chaos and darkness I’ve seen. But I use this to highlight a very important point: We base our notions about what it means to be “a good family” on inaccurate assumptions and sentimental ideals.
And worse, we’re led to believe that if we honor these cultural myths sold as “traditional family values,” we’re on our merry way to living happily ever after.
You know the little ditty…
.…First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in a baby carriage…
Simple, right? Well, that part is. Then comes the reality of a…
sleep-deprived state of overwhelm.
In order to cope, most of us shift into autopilot, from human being to human doing. From relating to partners lovingly, to relating logistically. From mindfully raising children “in the moment” with emotional presence, to mindlessly administering children’s practical needs and their hectic schedules.
With no down time to breathe and just be, or focus on emotional and spiritual fulfillment, the stage is set for a desperately strained and intimacy bereft home life–the unfortunate norm for nuclear families today.
The family values rhetoric we’re fed doesn’t address what family life really entails, or what goes into making a family healthy and strong. All we’re told is that “traditional family values” is the path to the promised land of family health and happiness.
Sounds good. Who wouldn’t want a simple ideal to solve all our woes?
Too bad it doesn’t.
Best Intentions Gone Awry
While “traditional family values” are painted as the ideal, the facts point to a different reality:
Families that cherish traditional family values are folding like a house of cards, with the highest rate of divorce taking place in the bible belt states where “traditional family values” thump away the loudest.
Families with best intentions to “do everything right” are dissolving right before our eyes, and the tear-drenched eyes of their kids. People who would do anything to protect their children from pain or harm, can’t seem to make their family life work.
And then we have many families that fit the ideological mold, but are turning out troubled kids and teens. Drug and alcohol abuse. Eating disorders. Depression. Suicide. Anxiety. Impulsivity. Delinquency. Promiscuity.
The list goes on…affecting all ends of all spectrums, from white collar to collar-less, from conservative to liberal, religious to atheist, urban to suburban to rural.
How can this be? How can something that starts out so right, turn out so wrong? How can well-intentioned couples create a family that falls apart? And, how can “good” parents raise a “troubled child?”
it’s time to start asking these questions because the old saw solution, a “return to traditional family values,” obviously isn’t working. We have more than four decades of failed efforts and futile “culture wars” to prove it.
It’s time to stop the ideological war dressed in righteous conviction.
It’s time to stop blaming gays, secularism and a “permissive” society for the “breakdown of the family.”
It’s Time To Turn The Problem Inside Out
Maybe families are breaking down for a more basic reason.
Maybe traditional assumptions about families—what it takes to have a “good” marriage, or raise well-adjusted children are off-kilter. Maybe traditional family values (code for biblical, patriarchal values) are fundamentally flawed, compromising the core of family life.
“Could it be that ‘traditional family values’–emphasizing form over function, roles over the quality of relationships, and dogmatic obedience over personal and spiritual development–are shallow values creating a hole in the soul of families?”
Typically, the “breakdown of the family” is blamed on the fact that strict patriarchal mores holding marriage and the family in place have loosened considerably.
Take, for example…
- Marriage is no longer a societal duty, but is based on love and personal life enhancement.
- Contraception has given women greater freedom to choose children and family life.
- Women are no longer financially dependent upon “the man of the house.”
- Women can finally stand up to, walk away from, and prosecute husbands for abuse or rape.
- “No-Fault” divorce is now legal.
- Children can no-longer be ‘whipped into shape’ with a well-used rod
It’s important to see that the evolution of these democratic rights and freedoms is not the problem (and indeed, are critical for a functioning democracy.) Families that are internally strong remain standing, cultural buttresses or not; and healthy marriages stay together in spite of society’s “permission” to divorce…or gays who want to marry.
Contrary to what “family values advocates” proclaim, the solution to “the breakdown of the family” does not lie in reinforcing biblical laws and repressive cultural norms (i.e. making divorce illegal, taking away women’s rights, banning gays from marrying, using corporal punishment and shame-based parenting models). Rather the solution lies in strengthening children and families from the inside-out, building an inner integrity that can withstand and resolve the sometimes raw, and always complex, emotional elements of family, life, and relationships.
Yes. I’m talking emotions.
Those messy, gooey, unpredictable and ever so present dynamics that make up the core of family life.
The handling of which make life rich and rewarding, or hellish and draining.
You know what I’m talking about.
From marriage research to brain neuroscience research, it’s been determined that
the emotional quality of relationships has a profound impact on the strength and wellness of marriages, as well as on the positive or negative developmental effects of parent-child relationships, including moral development.
The fact is, homosexuals and heterosexuals, the religious and non-religious, traditional or alternative, are equally well-equipped to develop an ideal family and raise good kids…or not.
The Solution: Embracing Family Values of Real Value
I propose we begin to embrace what I call “family values of real value,” functional family values based not on ideology and nostalgic myth-making, but on the actual purpose of family life today–to provide for the optimal development of its members.
Using principles of human development and family relations, we can define a gold standard that actually makes sense, and come to understand why “traditional family values”—those patriarchal values seeded over two thousand years ago—are antithetical to sound family functioning in an evolved democracy.
We’ll also see that same-sex marriage is a threat to no one—families will not disintegrate, children will not grow up immoral, and society will not be on the fast-tack to hell with no off-ramp. In fact, with knowledge rather than ideological ignorance informing our model of ideal family life, we’ll be on our way to creating healthier families, children and society.
Throughout, I will upend myths and misperceptions, and tell the story that has never been told—the problem with “traditional family values,” and what it really takes to create happy homes, healthy souls and well-adjusted children.
Come along…I think you will be amazed at what you’ll find—that much of our conventional beliefs about what is “right” is simply wrong, while discovering new answers along the way.
Marriage Equality – From Brazen Bigotry to Bona Fide Research
Politics – Family Values Rhetoric and the Duping of America
The Culture War – An Ineffective, Un-American Crusade