from The Worldview Literacy Book   copyright 2009            back to worldview theme #38


    Families 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 parent females."

     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 enthusiastically.  Such 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.  Incompatibility 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 style.

     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.  

      Figure #38a:                                                                                      The Natural Family, by A. Carlson & P. Mero

What is it? "The answer comes to the woman and the man who take the risk of turning their love into promises of lifelong devotion."
This book "issues a personal call to men and women to rediscover this fundamental source of life, joy and freedom."  It also is "a manifesto" with a platform and program for action:

Platform  Plank:              What the Plank will involve doing:

1) "build a new culture of marriage" (not define it out of existence)


"craft schooling" to portray positive family values; protect marriage legally; transform social welfare programs to bolster marriage; recognize marriage as economic partnership
2) "welcome and celebrate more babies and larger families" (not continue war on fertility) end programs promoting "contraceptive mentality";  "end mass slaughter of the innocents" (abortion); end population control programs; write family friendly tax laws
3) "find ways to bring mothers, fathers, and children back home" (not divide parents,  children) "end all discrimination against stay-at-home parents"; promote home-based employment; promote policies favoring family businesses and farms, end those favoring large business
4) "create true home economies" (lessen big government,  corporate control of families) "encourage employers to pay a family wage to heads-of-households"; protect home schools; "encourage self-sufficiency"; "end the culture of dependency found in the welfare state."

Figure #38b:

Primary Relationship

Major Events, Stages

meeting, courtship, romance, mating, cohabitation, wedding, procreation, raising children,

living happily ever after,


infidelity, separation, relationship breakup, divorce

Figure #38c: Facts About Family Planning (adapted from The National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association)

The United States' Title X program, established in 1970 with bipartisan support and now a critical component of our public health care system, provides high-quality family planning services to those in need.  Eighty-nine percent of voters favor public funding for family planning services.  Contraception prevents unintended pregnancies, and thereby reduces the need for abortion.  The United States has one of the highest rates of unintended pregnancy among Western nations.  Each year, half of the more than 6 million pregnancies in this country are unintended, and nearly half of those end in abortion.  Publicly supported family planning services, help to prevent 1.3 million unplanned pregnancies / year, which would result in 632,300 abortions.  Goals of family planning are to make sure all children 1) are truly wanted, and 2) can be adequately supported and raised to adulthood given available resources. Title X is a public health success story according to a 2005 government review.    

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