Our National Treasure

familyIn my years as an educator I learned that family is the true bedrock of society. When families are socially, emotionally, and economically healthy they not only survive, but they actually thrive. The description of a family as a unit comprised of a man, a woman and their children has morphed over time. There are many configurations of family life these days that are highly successful in spite of being different from the traditional norm. I’m living proof that offspring living without a single parent can and do survive and develop into well adjusted adults. In fact, I can point anecdotally to people who grew up in nontraditional environments who are quite happy and successful. The key to a healthy family is not tied to a single definition but rather to the efforts of all of the members to build a sense of stability, security, and safety. Love is a key ingredient, but other needs must also be met.

I often recount stories of my mother joking that our little fatherless family had a money tree in the backyard. Her tall tale came about because we were smart enough to realize that she was struggling financially and she did not want us to worry. Obviously we did stew over our economic situation in spite of her reassurances. She used the moments when we were most worried to teach us how to save, sacrifice and budget. She showed us that teamwork, ingenuity and hard work were ingredients for getting us through the bumps that life sent our way. We may not have had the newest car or the latest fashions but she kept up the payments on the house and used creative recipes to stretch the food budget. Our lights stayed on so that we might study and prepare for the future. She prioritized at every turn and encouraged us to focus on our blessings rather than stewing over our wants.

When the most basic needs of food and lodging are in jeopardy a great tension is placed on a family. I have known homeless students who suffered both physically and psychologically because they lived in a car or someone’s garage. It’s a daunting situation for a family to deal with the loss of control and it comes about for many reasons that are not always the fault of the adults who head the household. While there are certainly people who are poor because they are addicts or simply lazy there are also those who encounter a run of exceptionally bad luck that often ends in physical or mental illnesses that preclude them from holding jobs. The family unit struggles to survive in such situations. When the most basic needs are not being satisfied it is difficult for children to concentrate on schooling or even social interactions. They become troubled and troublesome. So many of the problems that teachers observe began in the collapse of family health. Unless such difficulties are addressed immediately there are often lifelong consequences.

We worry about so many different aspects of society but all too often do little to address and support the family unit. We tend to be judgmental rather than helpful. We suggest rather than creating mechanisms that insure a basic level of security for all families. We are afraid to intervene in the most toxic families before real tragedies ensue. We make it far too difficult for families in crisis to find the help that they actually need.

The strength of families lies in helping them to rise in the hierarchy of needs. Self actualization rarely occurs when the most basic human necessities are not being met. A hungry, sick, or frightened person has difficulty focusing on anything beyond the mundane human demand for security.

So many of the present ills of our nation can be easily traced back to broken families. We want to help but it sometimes feels hopeless. We are unsure where to begin and we differ on how much to give families in need of help versus insisting that they pull themselves up on their own. We worry that our morals have deteriorated and that so many have turned away from religious guidance. We grieve the loss of our national innocence and despise the materialism that is seemingly overwhelming us. The traditional crowd longs for the yesteryears when families seemed more sound while at the same time doing little to help those that are struggling to survive. The progressive crowd wants to provide more financial security to families but also encourages the destruction of unborn life.

As people we are confused about how to proceed and we spend far too much time fighting each other rather than getting down to the work of saving our most precious natural resource, our families. It is certainly a complex issue but not one that can’t be addressed. We need to determine how to combat the crisis of addiction that plagues the very fiber of far too many families. We must make people our priority by helping those who are troubled before their situations become dire. Healthcare is critical and it must address both physical and mental ailments equally. We must walk out our front doors and embrace our neighbors. It’s time we returned to a community mindset rather than being one issue voters. The future of our nation is in our families and we must strive to make all of them as healthy as possible.

We will soon be engaged in a national debate over who our next group of leaders will be. In my mind the most important topics should relate to the health of families. People are our national treasure and their stories begin inside families. It’s time to focus on making them strong.