Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Monday, October 25, 2010
Friday, October 22, 2010
Blood Relatives: If grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins live in the same community or close by, that’s great. There’s your wider family support system right there (it’s not the only one that should be available, but it’s one of the best). Unfortunately, this is not always the case – in fact, quite often it is not. We live in a much more mobile society than those of the past, and consequently our domestic and extra-domestic family units do not always stay together. We have to come to terms with that.
Neighborhoods: Neighborhoods have tremendous potential, especially when they include families with young children. And yet how many people nowadays even know their neighbors? Unfamiliarity within the neighborhood is not uncommon, as I suggested (albeit indirectly) in part 2. Recognizing this, the Drug Free Communities Coalition has worked with neighborhoods in the recent past. But we can each take some responsibility for this on our own, in terms of getting to know our neighbors. Granted, there are some obstacles involved, but whatever little we can do could go a long way – even if it’s something as simple as having some leftover brownies we’re not going to eat, and going over to ask the next door neighbor if he/she would like some.
Churches: The parish has the potential to be not only an invaluable support system for the domestic family, but also a source of affirmation – that is, affirmation of the family and of what the family is all about. But I could pose this question to anyone reading this post (and to myself as well): How many people do you know at your church? On a typical Sunday morning (or Saturday evening, if that’s when your church meets for worship), would you know the person sitting in the pew in front of you? Or behind you?
I have visited some churches right here in Batavia where the community and family aspects of the faith-based life are very strong. This tends to be the case in smaller churches. The pastor is almost like another family member, the church community an extension of the family. Any time the domestic family has problems, they can turn to their “family in faith” for support, encouragement, and help.
Schools: First of all, parents and teachers are partners. Both are involved – not equally, of course, but surely – in the development of children. Both are helping to shape the generation that will be the future of our society. Secondly, kids from many families come together to take part in the school community. Parents of children in the same classroom often network and form lasting relationships (sometimes the teachers even get in on that, too). The parent-child, student-teacher, teacher-parent relationships are complex, sometimes frustrating, and always interesting; how much more so are the student-to-student and family-to-family relationships?
The opportunities for communal fosterage in the schools are so diverse that I could subdivide this section into further categories – but for the reader’s sake, I won’t.
The Workplace: Most of us work with other people. Most of the people we work with have families. People who work together support their families through the work they do, and the latter unites them in a common purpose. Like it or not, if you work with others, your family and theirs are connected.
Coworkers should get to know one another’s families. You might say that just as the church is an extension of the domestic family, coworkers’ families form an extension of the professional family (or community, if you’d rather use that term); as such, company families can encourage and reinforce people in their mission with regards to the work they do (after all, no matter what type of place you work for, your workplace is performing some service that has a place in society as a whole).
As we celebrate Red Ribbon Week, let’s take time to consider the indispensability of the family in communal life, and of support systems for the family. My advice to myself and to us all is that we should sharpen our appreciation of our respective family lives, as well as any support systems that make them possible.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Monday, October 18, 2010
High divorce rates, child abuse and neglect, single-parent homes – these are only a few signs of the disintegration of the family in our time. Is this a sad occurrence? Certainly. Is it something that’s easily ignored? I don’t think so – people bemoan the trend all the time. And rightly so, I would say. After all, so much of society’s welfare depends on the stability of our families.
Many people consider this matter especially significant in light of the fact that American families were relatively stable for many, many years, right up until the 1960’s. I’ve heard different theories as to what could have hurt the American family so badly, and I’m sure there are at least as many remedial ideas.
In a nutshell, what I submit to you is that the so-called “nuclear family” fell apart because of one thing: non-self-sufficience.
Think about it for a second: What does “nuclear” mean? The first and most obvious thing that comes to your mind is probably stuff that blows up. Granted, even the best family situations can be…well, explosive. But the word nuclear also brings to mind high school biology lessons on the nucleus, which is the central part of a cell. I think that’s probably closer to the intended meaning of the word nuclear as applied to the family. So yeah, I guess you could say that the idea of the centrality of the family is inherent within its designation as nuclear.
Here’s the thing, though: The word nuclear can also denote isolation, sequestration, being cut off from contact with the surrounding world.
If we look at the history of humankind, we may come to find that people across time and in all cultures had a very different conception of the family, one that pretty much endured right up until the modern era. At this point in history, we can barely hear the word family without thinking of the nuclear family – that is to say, a husband, a wife, and the children they have together, all living within a single household.
This is most definitely a correct notion of the family – and, indeed, is the most critical component of any individual’s family (the whole concept of family is, I might venture to say, almost useless without it). And you do see both the existence and the importance of this family situation in pre-modern cultures. However, this is not all that you see.
Throughout most of human history, the place of the immediate family was within a wider network of familial relations. In tribal cultures, for instance, the tribe itself was considered an extended family. To try to conceptualize family apart from this context was unthinkable.
We can see traces of this mentality even today, in what we might call “pre-industrial” communities (for example, the Amish). Among some of these communities, it’s not too uncommon for three or more generations to live together under a single roof, with siblings and cousins relatively close by.
In modern Western culture, this type of thing tends to be the exception rather than the rule. Whereas the most basic and important family unit – consisting of the mother, father, and children – has/had the benefit of a larger support system, to which it has/had constant access, in modern non-industrialized/less-industrialized societies and in pre-modern societies, it’s basically on its own in the modern, mainstream West.
Let’s say you have three children. Given the state of the culture, don’t be too surprised if, when they are all married and have families of their own, one ends up living in New York, one in California, and another in Louisiana. You never know, one of them might even end up overseas.
When external support systems are removed from the immediate family unit, which then takes upon itself more than it should have to bear alone, what happens? Pressure is inevitable, internal hardships more intense, disintegration seemingly imminent.
But this was not always the case -- even in the modern West. For a long time, it was standard practice that the mothers would stay home while the fathers went off to work. Being at home for most of the day, the women in each neighborhood were able to network and foster communities that supported the family. Since then, the majority of women have entered the workforce, and neighborhood bonding has slowly dwindled. So, obviously, this particular opportunity to foster a larger support system for the so-called “nuclear” family has become attenuated.
I’m not suggesting for a moment that we need to go back to the ways of tribal societies, much less that women shouldn’t go into the workforce. But we have to take account of what factors are affecting the modern family and figure out where we can go from where we are. This will be the focus of the third part of this post.
Photo courtesy of Shannon Ford.
Friday, October 15, 2010
The DVD presentation is very short, but also very informative. It highlights a study (with the same title as the DVD) that Pam Erickson, a former alcohol regulator here in the U.S., conducted on the effects of alcohol deregulation in the United Kingdom (UK), which she believes to be the center of the country’s current “epidemic.”
Here are some of the key points:
1. According to Erickson’s study, which includes information on problems that were identified by members of the British Parliament, there is virtually “no effective regulation” of alcohol at the regional or national level in the U.K. The production’s narrator contrasts this situation with that of the U.S., where alcohol is regulated by each state.
2. Another difference between our two countries is that there is a clear distinction between manufacturers and retailers here in the U.S. The narrator characterizes the purpose of this distinction well: “To provide transparency and accountability.” There is very little such distinction in Britain.
3. Alcohol is very inexpensive in the U.K. Retailers sell alcoholic beverages at prices below cost in order to lure customers.
4. In addition to being cheap, alcohol is also available 24/7 in the U.K.
The chart above includes some of the statistics that correlate with the U.K.’s alcohol deregulation. Sorry I couldn't make it bigger -- the first set of bars represents the number of youth who reported drinking alcoholic beverages in the last month, the second represents the number of 15-16-year-olds who reported having been drunk in the past month.
In the year 2006, the following alcohol-related illnesses were reported in the U.K. (Source: Hospital Episode Statistics, The Information Centre, 2008):
Thursday, October 14, 2010
The approach of Red Ribbon Week reminds us all of the fact that community, at its best, tends to be among the most effective antidotes to drugs, alcohol and tobacco. Community can, of course, take many forms – whether it be municipal (your town), professional, faith-based, neighborhood or otherwise.
But I would agree with commentators from different schools of thought who have said, in so many words, that the foundational community is the family.
Admittedly, this statement sounds a little simplistic. Our research, however, suggests otherwise. When we started our community coalition work in Genesee County, we conducted a needs assessment using the Communities That Care (CTC) Youth Survey; from the results, we were able to identify two primary risk factors for alcohol, tobacco, and other drug (ATOD) use, and one of them was Favorable Parental Attitudes and Involvement in the Problem Behavior (also, a recent study in Orleans County identified sibling drug use as a key risk factor). Likewise, we identified four protective factors for improvement, and two of the four were: Family Attachment and Family Involvement. In the cases of both risk and prevention, then, family relations are a good half of the overall picture.
Why is this, exactly? I’m no psychologist, but I think I can point to some key things that everyone can recognize about family. In the midst of a loving and supportive family, people gain a sense of who they are and a sense of belonging.
No family is perfect, and oftentimes the more tightly knit a family is, the more fighting (in the more benign sense) there tends to be. Those of you who have had the experience of being parents and/or siblings can attest to this, right? But at its best, being part of a family can give each individual a sense of his/her part in a communal situation and of his/her responsibility towards others. By the same token, growing up within a broken or troubled family environment can impede one’s development in these areas.
While this is not always the case, people often turn to drugs and alcohol to fill some kind of “gap” in their existences, to compensate for a lack of meaning in their lives. Could it be that the general sense of meaning that comes with and from family life (along with the headaches) has been weakened in recent years, and that this is a key contributive factor behind the aforementioned phenomenon?
A lot of people have talked about how the American family has suffered over the last 30-40 years. Certainly, the family lives of many of today’s youths are cases in point. I’d like, in the next segment of this 3-part post, to talk about my theory of what exactly has happened to the American family, before suggesting a remedial approach in the third part.
Photo courtesy of Shannon Ford
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Click here to read the Yahoo! News article.
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
Click here to read.