Wednesday, November 10, 2010

What 'Family Values' Should Mean

I've seen a lot of conservatives talk about 'family values'. Typically, what they mean is that only the traditional, nuclear family with a stay-at-home mother is acceptable. All other families are harmful to society as a whole.

That's not what family values should mean. It should mean valuing families as the foundation of a healthy childhood. Families hold our future, and how our families function determines what kind of adults will make up the next generation. And contrary to the well-known saying, happy families aren't all alike. Every family, happy or unhappy, is unique, because every individual is unique and families are made up of individuals.

Family values means setting in place policies to support families. Things like free, high-quality daycare, so families with single parents or with both parents employed can ensure that their preschool child is well cared for during the times that they're not available to care for the kid. Things like funding the school system, so they can afford to pay teachers well, and therefore raise the standards for teachers without suffering a shortage. And reducing classroom sizes, because it's a lot easier to treat 10 kids as individuals than it is to treat 30 kids that way.

And especially, policies to help the families and children most in need. Social services needs to be expanded and better funded, so that they can better distinguish between bad parents and struggling parents, and the latter can be helped rather than just losing their children. We also need more and better quality foster homes, and kids need to stay in a single home longer. We need more support for foster parents and adoptive parents, so they can manage the difficulties of caring for the children who are really hard to care for - especially since many of those kids became that way because they didn't have a consistent family.

We also need more support for parents of disabled children. We need schools that can teach unusual learners without damaging them. Better training, better funding and smaller classes would help with that. We need good quality respite care readily available for those children who are exhausting to look after. We need better services for disabled adults, because most disabled children grow up. And often when the services aren't there, parents take up the slack, caring for their child long after they've stopped being a child. And children usually outlive their parents.

We need a society that welcomes children, that supports and acknowledges the efforts of their parents. Instead of judging parents, we need to offer them a helping hand. We need to stop telling parents to be perfect, because no one is perfect. Instead, they just need to be 'good enough' parents. We also need to stop telling parents that their kids are damaged and offering dire predictions so we can play on their desperation. Desperate parents sacrifice things, and take risks, and the kids pay the price. We need to support parents to deal with what life brings them, and build something that works for their children.

That's real family values.


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