Thursday, November 08, 2007

Family Values? Which ones?

Not too long ago, I read a news story that caught my attention and got me thinking profound thoughts. We'll see how well those profound thoughts translate to a blog.

The news story was about how "The Mob" is having hard times lately. The reasons stated involved tougher law enforcement and a decay in family values. Apparently, the younger generation of mobsters are more ready to rat each other out to avoid jail time. Besides finding this somewhat amusing in itself, it got me thinking about family values in general. For instance, what family values is "the Mob" known for? Family secrets stay family secrets. Family honor is prized highly enough to die over. "The Family," both born and made, work together to benefit "the Family" regardless of legality.

OK. That's just what I could think up in a few minutes, based on my viewing of numerous movies that stereotype this group, plus a bit of U.S. history that I know which mentions them. Does it hit you as a little weird that a network of crime families is troubled because they are losing touch with their traditional family values? Do criminals have family values? Well, yes they do in fact. Actually, we are so used to hearing "Family Values" being talked about by politicians and an assortment of talking heads on T.V., we forget that the words have meaning of their own.

I don't know what you think about when someone starts talking about family values. After thinking about it, I generally think about quality of family life, family friendly society, family friendly entertainment, government programs to aid families such as education, welfare, social security, and medical care. Why do I think of these things? Are these the things I value for my family? The closer I look, the less I see these things as what I really value for my family. I do want a good quality of life for my family, but what I see as quality of life, may not be what you think of and almost certainly isn't what can be given to me by anyone but my family and me. I can't do much about society in general except to try to live among people with which I want to be in society. If I watch entertainment that isn't family friendly, I have only myself to blame. No one is forcing me to watch. As for various government programs mentioned above which were intended from the beginning to improve life for families one way or another, I have various disagreements with them too. I don't believe that the government should have a monopoly on educating the children. In my family's case, we homeschool instead of using the local government funded school, believing this helps our family fulfill our family value on education. We are doing our best to avoid welfare. Watching the last 50 years or so of the use of welfare in U.S. history, our family sees danger in relying on welfare beyond a quick help in dire emergencies. Social security was also designed to help out the older members of our families and lighten the burden a family bears when the older members can't work anymore. It has it's good reasons indeed. However, I have been told since I was a child that my generation probably wouldn't get any benefit from it since it will probably fail in the retirement of the Baby Boom generation. At the rate the people in charge have been fixing this problem, that prophecy will probably be true. My husband and I have made our own retirement investments and see paying into Social Security as helping our parents. As for medicine, I don't want a government program to dictate my medical decisions or my doctors' practice of medicine. We are perfectly happy with our HMO.

I value for my family, love, fun, security, home, and faith. How that works out seems to be what people in politics like to argue about. I value being, with my husband, the primary decision makers about how we achieve the best situation we can for our own family. I value spending time with others who have similar values as ours. I value relationships and institutions that build up my family and don't tear it down.

Now, it is tempting to me to think that everyone else must value the same things. I may have thought that once, but I don't anymore. Every culture around the world has a set of family values that have developed over many generations. There are a few similarities which are usually due to the fact that they are meant to strengthen families in each of those cultures. However, in most of the world, family values are about the family in the large view. My family values are much more independent minded than those in the rest of the world. I am looking at my husband and me, as the parents, and our children as one family. Many in the rest of the world think of a patriarch or matriarch and adult siblings who have their children and the addition of assorted other aunts, uncles, and cousins. This is the biggest difference that I could think of in my family values and those of the rest of the world.

Now, I care about my extended family. I am still close to my parents and visit with them often (although we moved away from them to be able to more easily afford a house). I try to keep up with what's going on with my brothers (although I admit most of that is hearsay through my parents and a couple of short visits a year). I am fond of my aunts and uncles and cousins but haven't actually seen very many of them for years since they live on the other side of the country and I don't like to fly (my parents were the ones to move away in their generation). Growing up, my parents made spending time with family including the extended family a priority for us. We went on family vacations for our nuclear family on weekends, especially long holiday weekends. My dad saved up vacation time over two years to drive across country every other year to visit my grandparents and other relatives. When my brothers and I grew up, we didn't move out of our parents' house until our own marriages or an urgent family need arose (a grandparent moving in). I remember several years ago when my Dad was recovering from a bad car accident. He was out of work for a long time recovering and some of his co-workers would occasionally come to see how he was doing. I remember distinctly one man who was originally from India. I was working only part-time at the time and was able to be at home much of the day to help my Dad. This co-worker complimented my Dad on having a traditional family where an adult daughter was at home to take care of him. I'm not sure how traditional we are if you look closely, but on the surface it looked like it. I suspect that my family tends a little more toward the traditional extended family viewpoint than many other American families.

OK, where am I going with all this? I think the point I want to make is that it is useful to give some thought about what you value. Don't just assume that it will work itself out. Life is lived out whether we plan things or not, but with a plan in mind we might actually get where we want to be. What do you want your family to be like? What do you want your children to learn from you? Do you want your grandchildren to value the same things about your family that you do? How can you help that happen? Here in America (and a few other places too) independence is so highly prized that some of our independent choices are tearing families apart. Could it be that we might need to rethink some of those choices to start putting the families back together again?

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