have always been of critical importance to humanity.
Anthropologists see them as the basic units by which genetic
information (genes) is transmitted by reproduction and cultural
information (memes, etc.) is transmitted through imitation, instruction,
etc. Recognition of the
importance of families to society goes back twenty six hundred years to
the Chinese philosopher Confucius.
He taught that happy
societies are built on a foundation of disciplined individuals in
disciplined families. He preached filial piety: devotion & natural
obligation that exists between parents and children. Civilization has grown
up around family—some fear its collapse if families break down.
Stresses on families and traditional values in the last half
century have been discussed elsewhere (see Discussion, theme #34).
Throughout those years in some Western societies —most notably
the U.S.—the term "family values" has increasingly become a
politically divisive term that means different things to different
people. To those linked
with socially conservative religious
movements it means one thing, to the liberal progressive community it
means something else.
As Andrew Dobelstein puts it, "A politician might campaign
for office by declaring that if he is elected he will recreate welfare
programs 'to protect and promote family values.'
Some would understand this to mean denying welfare to mothers who
have children born out of wedlock believing that marriage is the
universal foundation of family values; others might take the position as
one of a willingness to provide affordable daycare to working single
While both may embrace the "Valuing Family" theme as
described above, those who also like "Valuing Traditions and
Traditional Gender Roles" (theme #34) may do so more
people tend toward conservatism. While
family can be defined in various ways, for them it refers to the
traditional nuclear family (husband, wife, and children) and can extend
to include grandparents & other relatives.
A 2007 book called this the "natural family" (see
Figure #38a). Typically
part of such narrow conceptions of family is belief in the sanctity of marriage.
According to this, certain things (having sex, bringing children
into world, etc.) should not happen unless two people are a happily
married heterosexual couple.
Researchers recognize that this primary interpersonal
relationship—which provides the family's origin and foundation —is
maintained for various reasons: love, emotional attachment, sexual
gratification, for the sake of children, for convenience, for financial
reasons, out of fear, to maintain the status quo, etc. (Figure #38b).
The relationship takes various forms based on how compatible the two
principals' attitudes, beliefs, lifestyles, etc. are.
Likewise, communication patterns in relationships vary.
and communication problems are two of the three leading causes of
divorce—infidelity being the third.
While children bring joy to parents, they also
bring stress. Before they can teach them, parents must control their
children. Thus different parenting styles emerge based on parents'
differing behavioral control strategies, and the degree of parental
responsiveness (warmth and supportiveness).
Ideally children grow up in healthy, cohesive families—where
they are loved, nurtured, taught, comforted, respected and receive the
support, fellowship and moral guidance that allows them to become
independent, self actualized adults.
Alas, some grow up in dysfunctional families—characterized by
chronic turmoil, inappropriate behavior, conflict, frequent failure of
parents to meet their responsibilities, children not knowing what to
expect. Their needs often go unmet, and, in some cases, they're abused
(verbally, emotionally, physically, or sexually).
Family dysfunction can often be traced to parental alcoholism
& substance abuse, emotional and mental problems, or parenting
Critics of those on the political right, which often promotes
both family values and less government, argue that government services
can strengthen families. They
call for government to 1)
help low income parents by subsidizing
child care, 2) pass more generous parental leave laws, 3) support public
education after school programs for older kids and Head Start for
younger ones, and 4) expand social programs for parents.
These include mental health & substance abuse counseling,
parenting classes, family planning (see Figure #38c), etc.
courtship, romance, mating, cohabitation, wedding, procreation, raising
happily ever after,
separation, relationship breakup, divorce