It has been said that the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world. A decline in the stability of family life and an increase in single parenting over the last several decades has contributed to a variety of societal problems.
Family advocates Richard and Linda Eyre say about the decline of traditional family life, "Centering on the young, and ranging from teen pregnancy to drugs and alcohol and from crime to violence and abuse, this curse produces poverty and isolation, bloats our welfare and justice systems, and imposes oppressive taxes to pay for for ineffective "finger-in-the-dike" government solutions."
A study by The Heritage Foundation found high-crime neighborhoods are characterized by high concentrations of families abandoned by fathers. A state-by-state analysis showed that a 10 percent increase in the percentage of children living in single-parent homes leads typically to a 17 percent increase in juvenile crime. This is something we should all be concerned about.
In their new book, The Turning, the Eyres outline seven critical roles families play in a good society.
Almost half of first babies in the US are born to unwed mothers. Researchers have determined there is a 13 percent chance that married couples with a child will split within the first five years of the child's life. If the couple is unmarried but living together, the chance they will break up increases to 39 percent.
These children are more likely to face poverty, suffer abuse, experience unstable living arrangements, have low educational attainment, have lower occupational status, and have troubled relationships in the future according to childtrends.org.
Being born in a stable family relationship with married and committed parents can set up a child on a trajectory for success.
2. Learning committment and cooperation
Living together in a household and working toward common goals as a family are essential to developing children into productive adults. Family can be seen as a microcosm of society. Everyone has jobs, and your fulfillment of those things affects those around you. Kids learn their choices are never made in isolation and learn to care for the larger group. In this way, they learn to be better members of society in the future.
3. Nurturing children
No one loves a child like the parent. While there are instances of abuse by parents, mostly parents are willing to go to bat for their kids more than any other group of adults. Teachers and other caregivers are focused on 20 to 30 kids at a time, parents are focused on just a few. A parent is concerned about a child's success and well being in all aspects of life, while a coach or mentor may just be concerned with the areas they have focus and expertise in. While other adults come into a child's life for a time, a parent is there for the long haul.
4. Providing lasting identity
Children are identified not only by their own name, but by those of the parents. The family name means something and most families teach it is something to cherish and protect.
Families also cultivate a family culture. For instance, the Lopez's love to camp, the Scott's are all musical or you can always count on the Peterson's. This helps give children an identity and sense of belonging.
In a family, there is an understood rule that parents, children and siblings will protect and help one another. Children with unstable families are more likely to turn to gangs for this kind of identity.
5. Instilling values
The best place for children to learn values is in the home. Knowing children are looking to them for leadership, parents are also more inclined to live a value based life.
A study from The Heritage foundation found that even in high-crime inner-city neighborhoods, well over 90 percent of children from safe, stable homes do not become delinquents. By contrast only 10 percent of children from unsafe, unstable homes in these neighborhoods avoid crime.
People with strong moral values make better friends, neighbors, employees and members of society.
6. Offering love and fulfillment
Harvard psychology researcher Daniel Gilbert, PhD, said, "Married people are happier than unmarried ones, perhaps because the single best predictor of human happiness is the quality of social relationships."
A relationship in which you feel needed, loved, cared for and valued is a key to happiness.
A study by Chris Herbst of Arizona State University and John Ifcher of Santa Clara University found parents are happier than their childless counterparts. They find fulfillment in not only watching their children grow and achieve, but in just being with them. The involvement in the community around them that kids provide to parents also increases their happiness.
"Parents are more likely to spend time with friends, get the news, be interested in politics, think people are honest, have faith in the economy, be trusting," Herbst said. "We think that parents remain better attached to society, and we think the linchpin of that attachment is kids."
7. Caring for the elderly
According to a New York Times article, perhaps 4 percent of older adults are "the unbefriended elderly." These people are facing critical health and financial challenges without friends or family to assist them.
Whether by providing care themselves, or arranging for professional help, families help the elderly have a better quality of life. They also play a key role in helping a person make key decisions about when they should stop driving, can no longer live alone or end of life care.
Should you care about your neighbor's marriage? Yes! Stable families lead to stable, safe neighborhoods, cities and societies. For more thoughts on why the world should make families a top priority, click here.