Sunday, 11 March 2007

What exactly is pro-family?

On the whole, children having to grow up in unstable, dysfunctional families tend to suffer more problems than children brought up by loving, dependable adults with a steady relationship. The more parental figures there are – biological, adoptive, grandparents, guardians – the more support there is likely to be compared with a single individual with no help. For the sake of all children, it is fairly obvious that we should all be in favour of strong, happy, caring families everywhere.

But if you think that means ‘pro-family’ ideas must be about identifying and countering what undermines flourishing families, you’d be in for a surprise. Many of the self-styled champions of the sacred, precious institution of family are actually fixated about the legal protection of heterosexual marriage as the respected norm in society. They want to give people in that form of relationship more rights, more tax benefits, more dignity than anyone else. Whatever causes them to think like that has very little to do with the parental capacity of different forms of family arrangements.

There is no evidence that married heterosexual couples raise children more effectively than an aunt and her companion, two devoted dads, a loving mother supported by her mother, or any other combination. The only constant factor is sufficient attention being paid to the needs of the children by adults who share a deep concern for the wellbeing of those children without being torn apart by stresses and strains placed on their own relationship.

So anyone whose real interest is in the upbringing of children would focus on the factors which prevent those with a parental role from carrying it out effectively. And it is here that we come upon the obstacles about which many ‘pro-family’ advocates are so resolutely silent. The long hour work culture that keeps parents from their children, the work pressures that spill into destructive stresses that pull apart parental partners, the diminishing job security that creates uncertainty at home, the expectations to uproot families or leave them behind to get work, the consumerist measure of parents’ ability to buy things for their children linked to their level of earnings, the substitution of time with one’s parents by the acquisition of status symbols (from toys through to cars) via their purchasing power.

These factors are of course inter-connected. They are all related to the socio-economic changes which have been accelerating since the second half of the twentieth century. It is not some mindless defiance against the moral duty of being good parents that suddenly erupted and destroyed the capacity of families to bring up intelligent and responsible children. The Anglo-American market model which values above all economic growth as an engine to drive the plutocratic concentration of wealth in the few has been growing in strength from the late 1970s, when its political sympathizers on both sides of the Atlantic won the power to roll back the checks and balances against corporate greed.

Now we see the consequences of this relentless expansion of the commercial hierarchy – the top rejecting taxation and regulations as fettering their golden ability to generate wealth (for themselves), the middle perpetually anxious that they would be ejected as inadequate and must therefore work harder than ever to prove themselves, and the bottom convinced that they (and their children) have no future, no respect from anyone else.

Anyone wanting to stand up and claim they are pro-family had better from now on start by explaining how they are going to tackle corporate irresponsibility.

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