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America’s First Family

Back in 60s, there were 23.5 million households made up of parents and children. As of this year, that number was 23.6 million.

In that same 50 year span, according to the Census Bureau, the total number of households rose from 53 million to 116.7 million.

The total number of households has more than doubled – but the number that made up of parents and children hasn’t changed in 50 years.

Traditional family units are no longer the majority of the American households anymore. What is pushing this huge shift in household demographics?

According to the John Burns group, the answer is a combination of evolving social norms and the lingering effects of the Great Recession.

Or is America losing its grip to one of the most fundamental building blocks in the evolution of a society – the Family and Children? According to The State of Our Unions 2005, a report issued by the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University said that only 63% of American children grow up with both biological parents — the lowest figure in the Western world.

“Cohabitation is here to stay,” says David Popenoe, the report’s co-author. “I don’t think it’s good news, especially for children,” he says. “As society shifts from marriage to cohabitation — which is what’s happening — you have an increase in family instability.”  Popemoe added that the United States has the weakest families in the Western world because it has the highest divorce rate and the highest rate of solo parenting.”.

There are divergent theories as to where the American family is going now that it has reached some kind of sociological crossroads.  Dr. Carle  Zimmerman, a distinguished sociology scientist from Harvard University offered his hypothesis which 50 years hence, has still found its relevance in today’s headlines.

The moral of his history lesson is that the collapse of the world’s two great civilizations, Greece and Rome, ran parallel with the disintegration of the Greek and Roman families. Zimmerman thought back in the 50’s that the factors that would be causing the decay within the American family in the 21st century were the same components that plagued the ancients: the growing concept of marriage as a personal affair rather than one having real religious significance; the increased use of “causeless” divorce (for minor or meaningless grounds); the decreasing number of children per family (the average now is about two); the growing acceptance of sexual promiscuity and perversion.  All of these are signs that Zimmerman lists as evidences of recurring atomism  — a chain-reaction breaking down of our society that will not stop with the family unit but will spread through the entire social structure until America goes the way of Greece and Rome.

In 1960, married couples comprised a full 75 percent of total American households. By last year, that number had fallen precipitously to 48 percent. The decrease corresponds to a similar rise in non-family households: single people, roommates and unmarried, co-habitating couples.  Let’s face it, this new relationship paradigm is more socially acceptable in the 21st century than it was 50 years ago, which partially accounts for eight specific patterns which currently rule domestic behaviors and practices:

1)    Marriage has lost its sacredness, frequently broken by divorce.

2)    Alternate forms and definitions of marriage have arisen, and traditional marriage vows have been replaced by individual marriage contracts such as prenuptial agreements or out of community of property marriages, out of community of property with accrual, etc.

3)    Acceptance of feminist and women empowerment movements, which lead many women to lose interest in child bearing and mothering, preferring the pursuit of power and influence.

4)    Increased disrespect for parents and authority and oftentimes manifested publicly.

5)    Acceleration of juvenile delinquency, promiscuity, and rebellion.

6)    Refusal of married couples to accept family responsibilities.

7)    Increase in desire for and acceptance of adultery.

8)    Rise in tolerance for sexual perversions of all kinds, particularly homosexuality, with a resultant increase in same-sex co-habitation and gay marriages.

This only illustrates how these behaviors and practices have backfired on the proverbial image of the Joneses as the cheerful all-American family that made them for a while the envy of the working class around the globe.

To many Americans, this may come as totally without significant basis but America’s leading conservatives say that the moral decline in America rapidly accelerated following one event – the U.S. Supreme Court’s removal of prayer from the nation’s schools. On June 25, l962, 39 million students were forbidden to do what they and their predecessors had been doing since the founding of America as a nation.

They insisted that since the banning of this single most sacred volitional act of man, the youth of America have been under siege by social factors as manifested by these numbers –

Nationally syndicated columnist William Raspberry writes:“Almost every commentator on the current scene bemoans the increase of violence, lowered ethical standards and loss of civility that mark American society. Is the decline of religious influence part of what is happening to us? Is it not just possible that anti-religious bias masquerading as religious neutrality is costing more than we have been willing to acknowledge?”

Zimmerman has some immediate remedies for this danger.  First, he recommends the average family must have more children, preferably three to six in order to reproduce itself.  Secondly, he likes to see revival of family activity and spirituality among the learned and leadership classes, who were the first to weaken under the competition of outside forces like the school, the office, the sacrosanct adult activities that excluded children.

“We have on the one hand an institution which is breaking up because (people believe) it is not needed and, on the other hand, a great many juveniles who are breaking up because they do not have a strong family foundation.” Zimmerman thinks that the family should have consistent domestic level of unity, mutual interest and authority which reside with either parents. And for families whose household members have their own separate interests, amusements and social agenda, such individualism is not so bad in itself, but it is a symptom of something which will eventually wreck society if it is not replaced by a strong family system.  “There is little left now within the family,” he warns, “or the moral code to hold it together. America has consumed not only the crop but the seed for the next planting as well.”.

Dr. Carle Zimmerman’s book, “Family and Civilization,” is a scholarly work, pure history, sociology, and science. Far from being current rhetoric from the “religious right,” the book was published in 1947. But how will America respond to the almost prophetic writings of this respected man of letters, whose work predates most of the symptoms of a sick society?

Despite his extraordinary credentials, when a conservative person of faith speaks out for family values in today’s troubled society, one is quick to label his message as  “right wing religious propaganda.” It’s easy for one to discount his views like a patient who refuses to listen to his doctor until his symptoms become irreversible.

That America is a nation in decline is irrefutable. Is it too late to reverse that decline? I don’t think so. Such reversal will require men and women willing to stand firm for the moral and ethical values that made America a great nation. It will require an average urban American willing to place scruples before personal gain, families before job promotions, and children before golfing buddies. It will require families to shed off their self-centeredness and open up with their neighbors. It will need men of all stripes to humble themselves before God, seek His face and mend his ways. It is a big job, but it’s possible—if America truly takes the matter about its future to heart.

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