Family Breakdown and the Nation's Pocketbook

In the lobby of the Department of Health and Human Services is a large bronze sculpture of a solitary woman playing with her three children. That sculpture is called "Happy Mother."

Nothing better illustrates what's wrong with American culture today than the philosophy behind that sculpture -- that fathers are extraneous. Yet that myth is the basis of forty years of failure by the leftist research communities to honestly report on the problem of fatherless families.

Many social scientists now agree: A loving mother and father within a committed marriage is the very best foundation for the family, for the economy, and for the nation. Yet currently, about forty percent of American children are born out of wedlock. That fact affects everyone and all of American culture. Though many have tried, there is no way to separate the social and economic issues; they are intertwined. Family problems always hit our pocketbooks -- hard!

Bottom line: The family -- the glue that holds our communities, nation, and world together -- is weakening, and the moral foundation necessary for a civilized and well-functioning society is crumbling all around us.

When the family becomes nothing more than "any group of people living together," there is no moral authority in terms of standards of behavior. Children are left to drift aimlessly in an "anything goes" culture. The family is where a child first learns what it means to "share and care," to "take turns," and to be an ethical, moral, and empathic person -- one who will become a contributor to a good and prosperous society. These character traits are more "caught" than "taught." Children need to observe those authentic interactions day in and day out in the reactions and relationships of the adults around them.

American opinion leaders have for years advocated and modeled a self-indulgent lifestyle, claiming that there are no negative consequences. An endless stream of so-called research studies has obfuscated the causes of the nation's social problems. Reality, however, cannot be suppressed. Material prosperity will never compensate for moral poverty. Without authentic moral absolutes, America as we know it is at risk. Moral boundaries, not moral relativism, are the fiber of a strong nation. When truth and goodness are not vigilantly upheld, distortions, lies, and myths flood in to take their place like in sea-flooded New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.

History offers harsh examples -- Hitler's Youth Movement or Mao's Red Guards -- that show the terror that can be unleashed when solid moral principles no longer guide a nation. When marriage and family decline, the quality of community life erodes, and there's a corresponding breakdown in social cohesion. An examination of the world that our children inhabit shows the values vacuum created by those who disparage traditional morality, virtue, and good manners. The result is moral decay as vulgarity spirals downward into viciousness and crude immorality.

What is thriving in today's values vacuum? Rock music and pop stars push the envelope with a hedonistic lifestyle and songs with misogynistic, crude, coarse, and shockingly vile lyrics. Cartoons, popular movies, and television programs portray parents as out-of-touch, old-fashioned, and prudish. Defiant, rebellious children talk back to teachers and parents. Patriotism, family traditions, and religion are treated with disdain. Adults and authority figures with moral values are often held in contempt, subtly mocked, or openly ridiculed. A favorite tactic of television situation comedies is to poke fun at bumbling and inept fathers, school principals, and religious leaders. Weakening respect for parents and other adult authority figures tempts inexperienced youths to make far-reaching decisions or take huge risks with potentially costly consequences.

In analyzing these problems, we've seen that changes in grassroots attitudes and the cultural climate of a nation don't happen just because facts indicate the necessity for such changes. A sustained public effort is required in order to achieve needed social changes. Consider two efforts in America's recent history that show dramatic success in producing broad cultural transformations. Their purpose has been to convince women not to smoke or drink alcohol during their pregnancies because of the potential danger to their babies. Subordinate campaigns sought to convince parents that secondhand smoke is damaging to children and that drinking and driving can be deadly. The results have been overwhelmingly positive.

First, these efforts to change public behavior were based on solid research data showing that certain behaviors produce negative health outcomes, especially for pregnant women and their unborn children. Second, both campaigns for change included broad public relations efforts that focused on the whole nation and enlisted the efforts of a wide spectrum of opinion leaders. All these efforts produced amazing results at the grassroots level. Perceptions changed, values changed, and most importantly, behavior changed.

The burning question we face today is whether the epidemic of single parenting is likewise amenable to influence by researchers' findings and whether those who influence public opinion will support the effort to change those attitudes and behaviors that lead to the establishment of single-parent households. It is glaringly obvious that government solutions are never enough to compensate for the breakdown of the family.

Let us be clear. If America is to have a future as bright as its past, we must guard and maintain the fortresses of truth and knowledge against the unending assault of fallacies, folly, and myths. 

In the early 1900s, Robert Frost wrote a poem called "Mending Wall." That popular poem describes the experience of two neighbors meeting every spring to walk the fence dividing their properties and working together to repair the damage that occurred during the previous winter.

Today, we need a national application of the lesson of Frost's poem: The good walls of moral boundaries make for a strong nation. We need to walk together along the fence lines of the walls that protect our culture. Together, we need to look realistically at the numerous areas that have fallen. Then we must work together to rebuild and repair those walls. 

We must restrain the cultural pollution that poisons individual lives and destroys the potential of the whole nation. We must lift the heavy boulders of protection and replace them so that future generations will have a bright and prosperous future. Those who care about the future of America must be committed and determined to restore the moral foundation stones our founders laid for this great land.
In the lobby of the Department of Health and Human Services is a large bronze sculpture of a solitary woman playing with her three children. That sculpture is called "Happy Mother."

Nothing better illustrates what's wrong with American culture today than the philosophy behind that sculpture -- that fathers are extraneous. Yet that myth is the basis of forty years of failure by the leftist research communities to honestly report on the problem of fatherless families.

Many social scientists now agree: A loving mother and father within a committed marriage is the very best foundation for the family, for the economy, and for the nation. Yet currently, about forty percent of American children are born out of wedlock. That fact affects everyone and all of American culture. Though many have tried, there is no way to separate the social and economic issues; they are intertwined. Family problems always hit our pocketbooks -- hard!

Bottom line: The family -- the glue that holds our communities, nation, and world together -- is weakening, and the moral foundation necessary for a civilized and well-functioning society is crumbling all around us.

When the family becomes nothing more than "any group of people living together," there is no moral authority in terms of standards of behavior. Children are left to drift aimlessly in an "anything goes" culture. The family is where a child first learns what it means to "share and care," to "take turns," and to be an ethical, moral, and empathic person -- one who will become a contributor to a good and prosperous society. These character traits are more "caught" than "taught." Children need to observe those authentic interactions day in and day out in the reactions and relationships of the adults around them.

American opinion leaders have for years advocated and modeled a self-indulgent lifestyle, claiming that there are no negative consequences. An endless stream of so-called research studies has obfuscated the causes of the nation's social problems. Reality, however, cannot be suppressed. Material prosperity will never compensate for moral poverty. Without authentic moral absolutes, America as we know it is at risk. Moral boundaries, not moral relativism, are the fiber of a strong nation. When truth and goodness are not vigilantly upheld, distortions, lies, and myths flood in to take their place like in sea-flooded New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.

History offers harsh examples -- Hitler's Youth Movement or Mao's Red Guards -- that show the terror that can be unleashed when solid moral principles no longer guide a nation. When marriage and family decline, the quality of community life erodes, and there's a corresponding breakdown in social cohesion. An examination of the world that our children inhabit shows the values vacuum created by those who disparage traditional morality, virtue, and good manners. The result is moral decay as vulgarity spirals downward into viciousness and crude immorality.

What is thriving in today's values vacuum? Rock music and pop stars push the envelope with a hedonistic lifestyle and songs with misogynistic, crude, coarse, and shockingly vile lyrics. Cartoons, popular movies, and television programs portray parents as out-of-touch, old-fashioned, and prudish. Defiant, rebellious children talk back to teachers and parents. Patriotism, family traditions, and religion are treated with disdain. Adults and authority figures with moral values are often held in contempt, subtly mocked, or openly ridiculed. A favorite tactic of television situation comedies is to poke fun at bumbling and inept fathers, school principals, and religious leaders. Weakening respect for parents and other adult authority figures tempts inexperienced youths to make far-reaching decisions or take huge risks with potentially costly consequences.

In analyzing these problems, we've seen that changes in grassroots attitudes and the cultural climate of a nation don't happen just because facts indicate the necessity for such changes. A sustained public effort is required in order to achieve needed social changes. Consider two efforts in America's recent history that show dramatic success in producing broad cultural transformations. Their purpose has been to convince women not to smoke or drink alcohol during their pregnancies because of the potential danger to their babies. Subordinate campaigns sought to convince parents that secondhand smoke is damaging to children and that drinking and driving can be deadly. The results have been overwhelmingly positive.

First, these efforts to change public behavior were based on solid research data showing that certain behaviors produce negative health outcomes, especially for pregnant women and their unborn children. Second, both campaigns for change included broad public relations efforts that focused on the whole nation and enlisted the efforts of a wide spectrum of opinion leaders. All these efforts produced amazing results at the grassroots level. Perceptions changed, values changed, and most importantly, behavior changed.

The burning question we face today is whether the epidemic of single parenting is likewise amenable to influence by researchers' findings and whether those who influence public opinion will support the effort to change those attitudes and behaviors that lead to the establishment of single-parent households. It is glaringly obvious that government solutions are never enough to compensate for the breakdown of the family.

Let us be clear. If America is to have a future as bright as its past, we must guard and maintain the fortresses of truth and knowledge against the unending assault of fallacies, folly, and myths. 

In the early 1900s, Robert Frost wrote a poem called "Mending Wall." That popular poem describes the experience of two neighbors meeting every spring to walk the fence dividing their properties and working together to repair the damage that occurred during the previous winter.

Today, we need a national application of the lesson of Frost's poem: The good walls of moral boundaries make for a strong nation. We need to walk together along the fence lines of the walls that protect our culture. Together, we need to look realistically at the numerous areas that have fallen. Then we must work together to rebuild and repair those walls. 

We must restrain the cultural pollution that poisons individual lives and destroys the potential of the whole nation. We must lift the heavy boulders of protection and replace them so that future generations will have a bright and prosperous future. Those who care about the future of America must be committed and determined to restore the moral foundation stones our founders laid for this great land.

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