Oh, Those Family Values
I was born into an ordinary family in the 1940s. I did most of my
growing up in the '50s in a small community in Iowa, one of those delicious little towns
where everyone knows the name of every dog on the street and neighbors take chicken and
noodle casseroles to bereaved families. I have wonderful memories of my childhood despite
the financial difficulties our family often encountered.
Somehow the six of us struggled through the contradictions of low income and
lay-offs in a land filled with promise and dreams. We were surrounded by families who had
far more than we did and a few with far less. Lack of income didn't blight my father and
mother's notion of how we ought to be raised or what we needed to know to become
responsible adults. We attended church every Sunday and when the church bells were finally
silent, the peacefulness of the day settled over the town and our family. Sundays were a
simple and secure confirmation of life.
Each of us has a different notion of why and when that way of life, the security
and social values of that time, began to change. It's no longer relevant to me why it
changed, only that it did. Simple to suggest, I suppose, that somewhere along the line we
chose to swim against the current, or perhaps we swam with it.
The American way of life in the '90s addresses the turbulence and uncertainty of
life as well as the marginality of family values. Family values is the political
"in" topic of the day, as it rightfully should be, and nothing ignites a
politician's social insight more than the family values issue.
Allow me to share with you Iowa State Senator Tom Vilsak's (Dem. Mt. Pleasant)
statement from the headline article in the March 25th issue of the Des Moines Register.
"...I'd stack being able to ensure a family with a living wage against all the other
social proposals that are currently being discussed about changing divorce laws or
protecting children...You give me a living wage for most Iowans and I'll give you family
The Senator has chosen a very narrow road on which to ride the family values
issue. When, exactly, did money become the primary cause in the devaluation of family
life? Senator Vilsak is nearing an elegant slide toward arrogance when he suggests lower
income or poor families do not put enough emphasis on family and moral responsibility
because their financial portfolio doesn't match his. While it is true low income and
poverty level families experience far greater stress than upper middle-class families, it
is also true that millions of families with large incomes lack the same family values the
Senator speaks of.
Statistics indicate the cost of living has gone up while wages have not. Income
has a substantial impact on how a family will survive, class of living, and whether two
parents will work instead of one. Income, however, does not shape the articles of faith
that hold a family together, nor does it dictate a parent or spouse's moral
Income, or the lack of income, has little to do with the disturbing subtext that
flows through the heart of American families today. Multiple factors influence family
behaviors and practices that result in personal and social devastation. America may be
socially polarized financially and morally but one isn't necessarily the cause of the
We live in a society that upholds the family as the ideal unit of human community.
Seldom does the unthinkable occur to us, that the family is a perfect containment center
to vent bitter, twisted emotions like rage and jealousy, lust, hate, disrespect, and the
need for power or control. More and more often, the American home is not a safe haven but
a dangerous proving ground filled with threats of domestic and sexual abuse, violence, and
hate. Human emotion can create a snake pit of pathology within the home, a terrifying
thought...because for most of us, home is where the heart is.
At some level, we all know this. Even in a "functional", nonviolent
family, where no one is killed or maimed, feelings are often hurt by insults and
rivalries, even as we're loving and sharing... experiencing the finest things humans can
learn from each other. Financial want or need for more than we have has never excused a
parent from parenting, and any decent parent will agree, nevermind their financial status.
The desire to provide a loving home, to stand firm in our beliefs, and to instill moral
understanding in our children and our life begins in the heart, not in the wallet.