Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Modern Threats To Family Life

January 16, 2006

Why are families in such disarray? What is different in our culture that makes the quality of our home life such a struggle? Why are marriages failing? Why do teens struggle so much? Here are nine ideas that may lie close to the heart of the problem.

The challenge of materialism. We live in a culture that confuses wants and needs. Our material well-being provides an abundance of things that inherently don’t satisfy the soul. With our comfortable lifestyles and materialistic carrots in front of us, we don’t experience enough compassion for the problems of others nor do we avail ourselves of the opportunities for service to others.

Children grow up with a sense of entitlement for material comforts and experiences that are self-serving and narcissistic. Parents give them too much and they don’t connect readily with the world of work and responsibility. With our abundance, the seeds are sown for disappointment and perceived deprivation when in fact the opposite is true.

Not enough love in marriage. Marriage is about meeting needs, putting the marital partner first, thoughtfulness and consideration. Many of our marriages lack basic respect, compassion, acceptance, apologies, forgiveness, generosity and love. Instead we get marital partners who expect marriage to meet "their" needs, show little inclination to sacrifice for the other and put other things ahead of their relationship. Couples settle for a mediocre or poor marriage when all that it takes is a willingness to give rather than expect.

The electronic media is a powerful, new source of influence. The media has emerged as a penetrating and pervasive source of influence displacing the home, schools, peers and religious institutions in the lives of youth. Besides subtracting valuable time from primary relationships and productive activities such as spontaneous play and reading, it also portrays poor role models, demonstrates poor conflict resolution skills and communicates course values with violence and permissive sexual relationships. A pop culture is indiscriminately invited into our homes with its emphasis on entertainment, cynical humor, and immediate gratification.

Competing priorities for time, attention and resources. The plethora of choices we have with our careers, hobbies, entertainment, children’s activities, technology, and bringing work home demands more and more of our time and energy. Families are divided and going in different directions. Parents are exhausted. We are too busy to be together. Our complaint is that there isn’t enough time. The problem is the choices we make with our time.

Not enough parenting. It takes time, commitment and dedication to be a parent. It takes time to discipline, to serve, to monitor, to teach morals, values and religious instruction, to read to children and to laugh and play with them. It takes time to prepare and gather children together for a family meal.

It takes a willingness to put children ahead of our own needs and to live the example we are trying to teach. Parental absence during infancy and early childhood disrupts the attachment bond upon which future relationships are built.

6. Weakened commitments. The cultural acceptance of premarital sex, cohabitation, divorce cohabitation and infidelity weaken the foundation of marriage. The structure of the family has changed away from loving, two-parent families to less stable families such as single parent families, cohabitating couples, unwed parents, and step-families.

Though these other forms of family life can be strong and healthy places for children to be, the overall risk is greater for negative and debilitating consequences. The biological bond and the presence of same sex and opposite sex loving role models in the home provide the best condition for rearing the next generation of good parents.

7. Lack of emotional and self regulation. More and more young adults are coming of age with poorer control over their moods, temper and ability to delay gratification. The emotional arousal and lack of self-control they experience interferes with their ability to be reliable and trustworthy partners in relationships.

Their lack of emotional control makes them self-centered. The result is poorer listening skills, less tact and respect in conflict resolution, an unwillingness to compromise, and an inner neediness that leads to demands and possessiveness. They lack the ability to empathize and give to others.

8. Weakened community and extended family support. Families and children have fewer and fewer community supports to sustain them. Grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins are far away. Our institutions, communities and businesses become larger and more impersonal. Families need the support of a caring community and friends to share each others’ burdens.

Old neighborhood ties are replaced by "virtual" communities with less face-to face contacts and real involvement with others. Without developing their own support system, families are more isolated and alone in their struggles.

9. Life without meaning. Without a belief in God and a spiritual orientation to life, people struggle with knowing right and wrong, how to live, who they are and what is important. They are also "wishy-washy" with their children and don’t teach strong values in order to make good choices in a permissive, materialistic and hedonistic culture.

Our society is on a slippery slope where is it easy to be distracted from the principles of integrity, honor, honesty, obeying the law, respecting the rights of others and governing oneself. People with religious faith live happier and more fulfilling lives because of their adherence to time-honored and God-inspired rules for living