Sunday, June 27, 2010

Increasing Family Dysfunction in America

As a Family Therapist I read research and news from other therapists and experts about the state of families in the USA. Frankly, many of the writers are deeply concerned about what they see as the fast growing decrease in the health of family relationships. We see at a remarkable and serious downturn in the ability of families and the institutions that impact families to deal with the natural, normal stresses of life.

In 1940 the American divorce rate was some 16% and now it is above 50% for a three fold or 300% increase. We know that in some instances people stayed together despite serious and unhealthy relationships but even it we doubled the percent of marriages that failed in 1940 we will still be shocked by how high the numbers are today.

Every marriage has ups and downs. They always have had highs and lows and they always will. However, one of the most important ways to discern the overall health of a society is how well they deal with tough times. A 50% divorce rate indicates that our society is in trouble; deep, deep trouble.

One of the most insightful lessons I ever learned about family life was to assess how well the entire family unit is functioning from generation to generation. Some of that health or un-health is based on the individual psychological functioning of each family member. However, when we look at how well a family deals with transitions from developmental stage to the next stage we get a new insights about the causes and cures of dysfunction.

Most of my Doctoral education in Counseling focused on the individuals inner life as the cause and cure of problems and successes. Over the years parents have brought their kids to me and said, "Fix this kid. I can't do anything with him or her". For a long time I would try to fix the kid as if he were the only one involved in the problem. Now I look at this kid's "problems" as indicative of the way the entire family relates to each other from generation to generation.

That does not mean that the kid is innocent. He is part of the problem and part of the solution if we will just listen to the reasons he/she is acting the way that troubles mom and dad.

Sometimes it is the only way the child can ask for help for mom and dad.

Sometimes it is the only way mom and dad will actually communicate with each other.

Sometimes the kid's issues are lengthening shadows of parental secrets and the need to confess to each other.

Sometimes it is the best way for a kid to obey the Bible's command to "Honor your father and mother so you days will be long and prosperous on the earth."

One thing is for sure about parenting. It is extremely difficult today in light of the downward spiral of the society. Recently a six year old boy was expelled from grade school because he made a hat like his dads for a school project. On the hat he made and place a tiny rifle just like the one on his dad's hat. But because the school has what they call, "A Zero Tolerance Policy" about guns in school, they had to expel the child.

As a society we are increasingly growing in our promotion of unthinking policies. This policy is so stupid, ignorant and ridiculous that no one with a brain of a marsh mellow would adopt it in the first place and certainly no one with the ability to reason rationally would implement it in this instance. This is only one small example of how unthinking and reactive our society is getting. And, it is occurring even in the halls of education by teachers and administrators. Any leader that does such an automatic, reptilian thing as this needs to be fired immediately.

How can parents rear peaceful, responsible and non reactive kids in such a climate? The only hope for parents is to build strong relationships with each other and our extended family members. Grandparents are very important to generational health as are uncles and aunts, friends and church members.

First, parents must work hard to heal all wounds from past generations. Forgive all hurts and sins of parents, grandparents, and siblings.

Second, get in a harmonious relationship with your spouse, even if you are divorced. (Divorce is easy but separation is impossible. Marriages last forever no matter what the court says.)

Third, develop healthy friendships for yourself as a support system. Fourth, get involved in a good, relational church.

We cannot outsource parenting.

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