by Paul Hamlin
This may be chicken and egg argument, but in truth it doesn’t matter. The American family is disintegrating, and it really doesn’t matter what happened first, whether societal pressures are destroying families or if families dissolving are causing the societal illness. What we do know is that the family is a representation of the modern society. So, we can argue which came first, but the truth is we cannot solve the problems of society without looking at and solving our family issues.
Let’s start with some disclaimers: This is notan indictment of non-traditional family units, as a child from a home that was not traditional it would be wrong for me to assume that families need to look the same, feel the same, or be the same as any pre-conceived notions. This should also not be any kind of indictment of hard-working single parenting homes. As there are great people in single-parent homes that provide better than “traditional” families.
This should serve, however, as a warning that single parent families are at higher risk for a number of pressures. This should also serve to indict parents that are negligent or abandon their children to those pressures in our world, who place self-interest above the interest and needs of the children that they are responsible for, as this is the most insidious form of child abuse. This type of child abuse may also have longer and worse impact on our society than physical abuse.
Families represent the current health of our economy, government and society. They also represent our future. To get a glimpse of our future, look at how we are raising our children. Our priorities with our children now will be the priorities of our nation in the future.
“Children need to get a high-quality education, avoid violence and the criminal-justice system, and gain jobs. But they deserve more. We want them to learn not only reading and math but fairness, caring, self-respect, family commitment, and civic duty.” — Colin Powell
- The marriage rate in America is 6.9 per 1,000 of the population. The divorce rate in America is 3.2 per 1,000 of the population. The American family is NOT dependent on marriage, but they do tell a story of the frailty of the American family, and it can be compounded across couples that are cohabitating without a marriage license (unless we think that marriage IS the reason for divorce).
- In 1950 it was reported that for every 100 children born, 12 would live in a “broken” family. Today that number is 60 out of 100.
- Studies indicate that children who endure the separation and/or divorce of their parents are less likely to maintain high grades and as a whole have lower grades than peers who have not gone through family upheavals.
- Teens who are in single-family homes are three times more likely to need psychological help, which is higher than the number of children impacted by death in the family.
- Children from broken families are at a greater physical risk for injury, asthma, headaches and speech defects. Upon the separation of parents and disruption to the family children are 50% more likely to develop health problems. Children with both biological parents are 20-35% more physically healthy than those from broken families. Children from single parent homes are more likely to suffer from child abuse, molestation or even murdered.
- Seventy percent of long-term prison inmates grew up in broken homes.
- People who come from broken homes are almost twice as likely to attempt suicide.
- Children from broken families are twice as likely to drop out of high school.
- The rise of violent crime parallels the rise in families abandoned by their fathers.
Present but not present parents. In our world we have created a new kind of broken family, even if all parents are physically present, the family is being torn apart by the simple fact that parents are not emotionally present and engaged with their children. Even in nuclear families we have become dependent on outside sources to raise and interact with our children, at the cost of creating a true sense of family.
We have surrendered key aspects of child rearing to other people or to technology. Teenagers will often go a whole day without interacting with their parents. Families rarely, if ever, have deep and meaningful conversations about politics, religion or family.
We must be willing to look at all solutions to assist in the raising of the future generations of the nation. Those that will lead us into the next phase of this nation will not be guaranteed to come from a “nuclear family of the 1950s”, so we must address what is mandatory for our futures to be successful.
We cannot, however, pretend or assume that the current course of our families in this nation is correct. We are seeing far too many indicators that would state that we are not on the right course, that we have lost something vital to raising the next generation. We look at the next generation and we make blanket statements all the time about the generalized traits of the entire generation, but when we do that we often fail to realize that those traits that we despise are the traits that we taught them.
The next generation, our families, are a reflection of the values that we hold. We impart on the generation our wisdom, or they rebel against our hypocrisy. That is the way the next generation becomes what they are.
What do our families need?
The family used to be a mother, a father and the children, this was the nuclear family. While this model may seem archaic, and in some ways it is, it has been proven that there needs to be structure in the family for our children to thrive. This leaves room for family units that are wide and varied, yet still create structure and room for traditional and non-traditional families.
Children with two parental figures are less likely to serve prison sentences (or even commit crimes). Children with two parents are more likely to respect authority. Children with two parents are less likely to live below the poverty line. Children with two parents are more likely to pursue deeper and further education.
Two adults educating, disciplining, working with, reaching out to, and just loving their children creates a better parenting environment. This not only shows the dynamic as healthy, it also gives children an option. Children can see the benefits that come from relationships and working as a team. Parents become a microcosm for what is necessary to become successful in the “real world”.
Role modeling is important to the development of children today, even in non-traditional families it is important to have engagement of all parental adults as children need a sense of normalcy and consistency. In America 40% of children will grow up without their biological fathers, and 50% will experience the divorce of their parents before the age of 18.
Having a solid structure in the home also provides financial stability, which allows for a variety of benefits that become immeasurable. Two incomes often mean less chance of hunger, lack of clothing, an assured roof over their head, less concern about the future.
Of course, there are always exceptions to this rule. There will be children who rise above the confines of a less than ideal family structure to become successful, and they will do it against the odds.
Morality, is not a bad word. It has such negative connotations in today’s world. We assume it is something that we force onto someone else, we assume it is some kind of perfunctory code of conduct for the overly religious. In truth it is a code by which we determine to live our lives to ensure that we can look our neighbors in the eye, so that we can sleep at night.
For some this IS a part of their religious beliefs, but religion is not mandatory to have morality. Not only that, but not just one faith has a monopoly on morality. We can argue all day about which religious faith (or any at all) will earn people access to heaven, but morality can be taught in all religions.
Because we are afraid of the idea of a forced moral code we are often allowing the next generation to simply walk away from morality in whole. As a matter of fact, the adults in a family are often walking away from a firm sense of morality because of the hypocrisy of others. We cannot have good, solid families without a sense of morality. It will not work, and the entire premise of the next generation should be to make sure that we maintain our sense of right and wrong.
The words we speak have deep meaning to our children and it helps to form them. The actions we take, seen and unseen, are even more formative. Children seem to hear and see everything. The saying is “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”, and have little doubt that children imitate their parents for better or for worse.
This does not preclude any type of family, any creed of the family, mixed religions within a family…it just means that our children and their children need to understand the value of their fellow human beings, not because they are afraid of punishment for wrong-doing, but because they feel it in their soul that we are all on a journey together.
Children thrive when they have accountability for their actions. When they have to answer to the moral and ethical conduct of their life to someone, they develop character traits that perpetuate a positive cycle. The opposite is true as well. Negative influence or accountability often is reproduced for generations.
Expectations placed on children to perform in school or in the family, create a more controlled environment which represents life outside the family unit later in life. While the pressure to please, or have a parent be proud often seems like immense pressure, it prepares them for the real pressure of life later, when morals and ethics will be challenged every day.
Accountability prepares them to the idea that the world is not simply theirs to own, but that they must work hard, and they must compete. They must do so in an ethical and humane manner.
Children need to be challenged with responsibility. Whether it is emptying the dishwasher or something more grandiose, it will help to form them into better people. It will give them a sense of accomplishment.
It will also let them see that nothing in life is really free. That even in the formative years of their lives there are expectations that are placed on them as a part of the family, and later as part of a larger society.
Sense of Purpose
Life is not about a single person, or a single experience. Life is a puzzle of everything that happens, and you put it together in the most logical manner you can. A family helps our children see that, and it helps them see that each person, even in the same family may see those puzzle pieces differently.
A sense of purpose will drive a person to greatness. When they see that they are a part of something bigger, they can determine how they best fit in. Where they can have the most impact and help drive society forward.
Family role models make that possible. Each child connects differently to different adults, so the more adults you surround them with allows them to see the puzzle pieces coming together. In a less than optimal family environment, it is not impossible to see this, but it becomes more difficult.
The responsibilities of parents has been challenged and they have been abandoned for far too long. Often adults will relegate their responsibility to raise their family to the TV, to an electronic device, to a teacher, to a friend or to medication. If you want to raise a family, you MUST spend time as a family. A complete family unit is not useful if the responsibilities are delegated to others or ignored.
Role of Parental Figures
In the United States we spend $11,000 per student per year on average. This represents the fourth highest expenditure per student in the world. Are we the fourth best educated nation in the world? According to PISA the United States ranks 38thof 71 nations in math, 24thout of 71 nations in science.
We need to understand that perhaps our education issues are not (or not just) money issues. Perhaps the answer is bigger or more complex than simple increasing spending to improve education. Perhaps the answer is to increase parental involvement in the education process. A change in the way we look at education is needed.
Parents should be the primary educator of their children. Too many times we blame the school system for not educating and we miss the point. It is not the job of the teacher to educate your child, it is your job to educate your child, the teacher will assist with formal classroom experience.
Your child will be dependent on their education and their intelligence for the rest of their lives. They will spend more time in a classroom than in any other single place in their lives. They will rely on their educational experiences to form their approach in society, in the workplace, and in their social lives.
They will set in place a foundation for how they learn early in life. They will become a “test taker” or a classical learner based on who and how they are taught. We have abandoned classical education because parents have delegated the responsibility of education to the schools. Teachers that are teaching anywhere from 15-25 students at a single moment, each one with a different priority, style and method of education. We have asked our teachers to do the impossible and then we ask, “why is my child not learning the way I want?”.
The classroom setting needs to be a supplement to the lessons that you are teaching. The classroom setting needs to be a supplemental setting to the bigger picture of education. Tests scores are not as important as raising a lifelong learner, someone who quests for knowledge not a perfect SAT score.
Raising children requires raising people who will challenge us to think differently, they should develop as they learn to challenge on an emotional and a logical front. Our children should be developing new ideas, based on valid thoughts and ideas from the past. They should know no constraints to become better, to learn more. Parents need to teach and allow children to simply become more.
Parents should be the primary caregiverto the child. This includes the daily needs, the psychological needs of the child, the medical needs of the child, etc. We are failing at the most obvious role of the parent, to simply care for the actual well-being of the child that we are raising.
It is the responsibility of parents to care medically for the children. The answer is not always medication. The current medication issue in the United States would seem to be obvious, we have too many people using medications, and that is true of our children as well as adults.
Currently, 7.5% of US children are on medication for behavioral issues. 1.3% of people in the country under 17 are on anti-depressants, and 4.2% are on psychostimulants (represents a 500% increase from 1988 until 2010). This is an indicator of a society too dependent on medications, with an over-prescription problem in the general population.
As an example of the problems we have with over-prescription, the United States represents 5% of the world population but make up 80% of opioid consumption. To give this a little local context, 99% of physicians have been found to have exceeded the recommended three-day dosage for opioids. Approximately 33% of college students will abuse prescription drugs, many simply to enhance their academic performance (28% have reported the misuse of psychotherapeutic drugs at least once).
There certainly is a time and place for medication, and we should not be opposed to the use of modern medical and pharmaceutical technology to help our children. We have to ask, however, are we medicating our children at such an alarming rate because they actually have severe mental and physical pain, or are we medicating out of ease (perhaps causing or exacerbating the mental/psychological issues).
Parents should be the parents and allow the children to be the children. Plain and simple here, it is not the role of the adult to be another friend in the life of a child. I know that there are so many people who claim that they are the best friend to their child, but that marginalizes the role and impact of the parent.
We must be more than a friend, we must learn the value of communication that is reciprocated based on respect, not just friendship. Is it ok to be friendly with your children? Yes, at the appropriate time, and for the appropriate amount of time. Children need defined and clear boundaries, it helps them to understand their place in life. It also helps them to understand how society works, not everyone in every instance will be friendly or friends with them.
There will be times when they will be disciplined for a failure, whether it will be at work or in academics. If they are not prepared for that situation in life, you have failed as a parent. Being their friend, does not prepare them for these instances. They need us to be adults in their lives. There will be times when you get to be the fun adult, and there will be times when you will need to be the not so fun adult. BUT be an adult.
The Greatest Job I Ever Had
Raising children is the most important job you will ever take. The impact is more profound than any job in the workplace. It will craft our future society, and the next generation will change the world, whether we like it or not.
We make mistakes, we are not perfect, but remember that our children are watching. They are watching us when we are successful. They are watching us when we fail. They see how we accomplished both success and failure, but more importantly, they see how we respond to each as well.
When we succeed how do we treat those around us? When we are bigger, stronger or smarter how do we treat other people? They are watching. When we succeed how to we celebrate? Do we celebrate together, or do we celebrate other’s failure? Do we bring people closer in our success or do we humiliate?
When we fail, how do we respond? Do we blame others? Do we blame the circumstances? Do we look for a way out? Or, do we learn something? Do we become better? Do we stand firm in defeat, and congratulate the victor?
A personal story, skip ahead if you don’t want to hear a dad brag about his children. We run with our children, and both of them are pretty good runners. They have both had high moments and low moments in their running careers (as we all have), but one of the things I am most proud of is the response at the finish line, whether they have won or lost.
When my son wins a race, he will not leave the finish line. He waits. He is patient, and he accepts the congratulations from his parents, his coaches and his teammates and friends, but he is resolute. He does not leave the finish line. When the 2ndplace runner and the 3rdplace runner crosses the lines, my son cheers for them, he also shakes their hands and tells them “good run”. In victory he has learned humility. He has also learned that there is not victory without others pushing you forward, those who compete against you make you better.
When my son loses a race, he waits for the next guy. He finds the guys who finished in front of him, and he shakes their hand. He tells them “good run”. The lesson in defeat is the same as in victory, he realizes that he cannot blame someone else for being faster than him…he can only look forward.
Both our children do these things. My daughter hugs every runner that comes in before or after her. The victory is in the run for her, not in the finish line. While she likes to win, she does not let someone else define what victory looks like for her.
I am proud of both of them, and truth is I am proud to be their parent. I hope and pray that they learned some of that from their parents, along with their coaches and friends. I hope that their family helped them become better. I hope that they have seen me do the same thing, at work, at life, at play…we are role models.
Not the End, Just the Beginning
Healed families will not solve all the woes of our society. As a matter of fact, is will take years to feel the impact of a corrected family structure. Don’t listen to some politicians who will tell you that this problem will solve every other, it just is not true. Correcting this problem will allow us to see the other problems with more clarity.
The fact is, this will only give a solid foundation for everything else that happens. There are plenty of other external forces that impact our children, and there are families that will never be capable of meeting this ideal (through circumstances outside of control).
This will only allow us to isolate other issues, but right now, this is the starting place to fix many of our society’s ills. Our next generation deserve, require a family unit that has structure, is present, is a quality caregiver, educates and places the family in high-esteem.
Are we willing to admit that the degradation of the family has created some of the societal concerns and issues that we have right now? We should not be looking to repeat or duplicate some false idealistic image of the 1950’s “Leave it to Beaver” nuclear family. Families can look different, they can be different from one another. We do not need cookie cutter families, but we need stronger families and we need to create safe places in our homes for our children.
The greatest and most influential leaders of the future are being molded in our families right now. We are making wholesale decisions for our future right now with the way that we are raising our children.
(Paul Hamlin is running for US House of Representatives as an independent candidate in New Jersey’s 1st Congressional District. You can find out more about him and his candidacy at paulhamlin.com)