I recently had the opportunity to read Richard and Linda Eyre’s new book promoting the family as the most basic and powerful building block of society. They define family as the unit proximal to each individual which performs the following roles: procreation, modeling commitment and cooperation, nurturing, forming identify, instilling values, offering love and fulfillment, and caring for the elderly.
The authors posit that those roles combined with elements of love, commitment, time and communication are ideally provided by the family, but that our society is experiencing a crisis in that the importance of these roles are being undermined by larger, less efficient institutions, which can actually be antagonistic toward and fragment the family. They offer evidence that this process is leading to broad range social problems which ultimately influence both micro and macro levels of society.
Before I was a marriage and family therapist, I was a “family scientist,” by training. I spent several years examining closely the unique elements of families, their system dynamics, and their relationships to larger societal systems. I wish I could disagree with the Eyres, but sadly, I think they are right on the mark.
My favorite part of the book was addressed in what the Eyres call “The Cure,” in which they offer suggestions for strengthening family relationships. As a marriage and family therapist, I work with families at the micro level every day, and can only speak anecdotally; yet, my years of experience with families personally and professionally lead me to believe that the family is indeed a powerful and under-acknowledged unit of influence for the mental, emotional and physical well-being of individuals.
In general, children, including adult children, are sad when parents divorce and disrupt the family system. This undermines their confidence levels in generating and sustaining their own families in the future. I have had adolescents in front of me crying that their parents were divorcing because they had the foresight to realize they would not be able to take their children to visit their grandparents in an intact home.
In short, families matter. A lot. The real devastation I see over family disruption in the therapy room is rarely if ever portrayed in the broader media. I don’t watch a lot of family dramas, but when I do, what is presented is not what I see on a daily basis in my office. Children don’t negotiate those shifts without paying a price and suffering, at least temporarily, and sometimes unalterably.
I especially appreciated a subheading in chapter 9 entitled, “No parent ever fails until they give up.” This reminded me of the many instances of healing I have seen in family therapy in which parents repair relationships with adolescent or adult children where there has been regret. Anyone who has witnessed any of these scenes could not deny the power of family relationships, and the endless capacity to heal those relationships.
Lastly, after raising awareness about the problem of family demise, the Eyres offer specific suggestions for how to combat the problem with grass roots efforts. They offer hope with their call to action.
As usual, the Eyres have been thorough in their assessment. For anyone who understands and appreciates the importance of families, this book will be affirming and inspiring. For those who failed to experience the safety provided in families, this might help them understand in logistical terms why the family does indeed matter and why a “turning,” is essential to maintaining the beneficial elements in our society.