I saw this headline (Antidotes to the Cultural Poison That Is Ripping the Family Apart) at the NCReg, and predictably, the commentator limits himself to the usual conservative bugaboos: abortion, divorce, and contraception. I also think that for a wider audience to take these issues more seriously, the blame may well need to be widened.
A serious commentary might include other factors, since various agents over the centuries have torn apart families.
- Until a century ago, disease and illness tore apart families. One or both parents died. Lots of mothers died in childbirth, and if you’re in the Third World today (or an American woman of color) the odds aren’t quite as good as they are for the white 1%.
- Human beings have waged war, sending young soldiers to fight and die. Sometimes the causes were deemed just. Sometimes so-called just war was just an excuse for the bruised ego of a monarch or aristocrat. Husbands went off to die; widows and orphans fended on their own, with charity if fortunate. Just cause or not, every soldier-parent who doesn’t come home signals a family torn apart.
- Even in the modern world, the engines of industry have put men, women, and sometimes children to work for long hours in dangerous conditions. Conservatives are happy to tout the man-at-work, the wife-at-home, the kids-raised-well. Like in the 1950s. But that too was a luxury of the upper class. In American families of color, both parents often worked. Sometimes the man was sent off for slave labor in the prison system.
- And speaking of prisons, the US incarcerates quite a lot of people. Many of those people have spouses and children on the outside. Many of those folks have committed serious crimes and are serving lawful punishment. And sometimes not. Either way, this situation produces rips in a family. Do innocent children matter?
- While sweatshops are mostly beyond the US borders these days, many businesses and corporations promote all sorts of things that divide families: long working hours, travel, relocation of families, to name the ones on my mind. Do bosses and owners need a spot on the wall of shame next to divorce lawyers and pharmacists? I dare you: argue that one against the modern grain.
Even looking on the positive side, the average marriage in the 21st century lasts longer than the average marriage of two centuries ago. Think about that one. If the Church is looking for ways to support marriages and families, why not recognize that we lay people are, on balance, achieving much more for much longer than our ancestors did. From there, provide assistance for the key points in a marriage: job changes, deaths of parents, children coming and then leaving the nest behind.
I know I’ve harped on this point for years on this site: the best thing for marriage and family would be a groundswell of support for Marriage Encounter and Retrovaille. Married couples need more than NFP. We need more than lobbyists in state legislatures and with the federal government. We need tools to communicate, pray, and reconcile differences. The focus from the institution is too often on political issues that don’t register with us: same sex unions, abortion, and such. The money poured into lobbying would be far better spent subsidizing sending wives and husbands of less financial or child care means on the Marriage Encounter weekend.
Dr DeMarco’s opinion piece offers the usual pile of complaints–any NCReg reader could’ve written them. Only this conclusion:
The family must be restored to its God-given nature, a task, however, that is as difficult as it is necessary.
Actually, it’s not difficult. Just focus on marriages. Just focus on the people who are still in the Church. Help people with the opportunities for good marriages, and let grace happen. No, conservative politicians can’t do it and don’t have the answers. Sometimes they work against the very virtues they claim to promote.