FAMILY MELTDOWN
By Mickey Skidmore, ACSW, LCSW

I have never felt the need to apologize for being “left of center” on many social issues for most of my adult life. So it is with a touch of bittersweet irony that I have reached a conclusion that seems surprisingly “right of center” — namely, that many of our underlying social ills can be rooted back to a fundamental common denominator: the meltdown of the tradition family system as we have come to know it.

Like many of us, my change of thinking may be the result of growing older, and thus gradually becoming more conservative overall. Some have observed this to be the natural order of things. However, it may simply be the logical conclusion when one examines the adverse influences that have impacted families. From a sociological perspective there have been many: the civil rights movement; the women’s movement; the birth control pill; the increase in unmarried cohabitation; the rise of the welfare state; and the ease and acceptance of divorce just to name a few.

While these influences have been studied for some time now, today’s families are confronted with perhaps even more pressing issues. Cigarettes; drugs and alcohol; single parent families; dual-income families; latch-key children; day care; and of course the growing nightmare of kids going on shooting rampages in schools.

Navigating through our society today has become increasingly complex for families. Regardless of the complexities however, the fact remains that overall there is far less parental involvement and supervision with their children today than ever before. After raising two generations of children in daycare, should we really be that shocked that this might have an adverse affect on our culture? If parents are not around to supervise their children, should we be shocked that they experiment with cigarettes, drugs or alcohol? If parents are not involved with their children so as to instill their values, morals and principals, why are we surprised by their growing apathy, anger, disrespect and antisocial tendencies.

Baby boomers came to appreciate the benefits of the extended family when they had children of their own. However, in today’s increasingly mobile society, many families do not have the luxury of grandparents living within 100 miles to assist them. This has also contributed to difficulties with the other end of the family spectrum. Simply put, as a society and a culture we have done a poor job in determining how we will care for our elderly. Total family responsibility? Government assistance? Nursing homes? Assisted living?

So we are faced with a significant dilemma. There is no denying today’s family crisis. Yet does anyone want to turn back the clock? Would you want your daughter limited to the choices you had when you were a child or for her to have access to what is available to her today?

I’m not sure what the solutions might be. But I think the problem lies in the incongruent juxtaposition of assuming the institutional structure of the traditional family system of the past, with the emerging family adaptations of today’s reality. The institution of the family is still vital to our society, however, old assumptions may not help us obtain solutions to issues families face today.