Friday, April 13, 2007

Sacrificing Our Families' Health for Wealth

I know on the last blog I strayed from physical health into the realm of spiritual health. Well, I’m going to stray again; this time I want to address the health of our nation’s families. I think the main culprit is divorce.

I know, I know. We all dread going to yearly family reunions and grandma’s house for Christmas. But family is very important and it impacts us a lot more than we may realize. It shapes our values and character, and passes heritage on to us, giving us identity and self-awareness. So, while all family is important, I am really going to focus on the immediate family here. After all, that is our main social dynamic for the first 20 odd years of our lives.

First, a few numbers:
1. 41 – 43% of marriages end in divorce.
2. A 1996 study shows that because divorce is almost always preceded by years of emotional estrangement, fighting, bitterness, and trial separations, children are actually affected prior to the divorce because they witness these things. Oftentimes, the children are caught up in the fighting and relationship strains too.
3. 2 studies (Amato, 2000; Furstenberg & Kiernan, 2001) suggest that children from divorced homes score lower than children of first-marriage homes on social development, emotional well-being, academic performance, self-concept, educational achievement, and even emotional health!
4. Another study (Demo and Acock, 1996) shows that children from divorced homes adjust differently to life than children from two-parent homes. During their adjustment they tend more toward delinquency, social difficulties, and low self esteem.
5. Yet another study (Wallenstein ) found that parents often suffer from depression after divorce, causing the “overburden child phenomena.” This means many children end up taking a role in comforting their parents and even being in a care-taker role emotionally, at the cost of their own needs.

I am not going to blindly make a blanket statement about how divorce rates were so much lower “back in the day,” because marriages were much happier back then. I know that this is very likely untrue. Marriages were often arranged, forced, and impossible to get out of. Unhappy women could do nothing because they were property. So, I can almost guarantee that divorce is higher now because it is a socially accepted, legally valid option available. I do want to look at some modern factors, however, which I think do make divorce rates higher.

As a married woman, I can say that marriage is so much fun. BUT it takes a lot of work, commitment, and a willingness to yield at times. When I married my husband, I did not lose myself in any way. However, our lives became entwined, and now when I make any decision, I think about how it impacts “us” and not just “me.” That being said, I think I can say with some firmness that our highly individualized, selfish, competitive, give-it-to-me-now society has spawned a generation of people who, when they enter into a marriage or other committed relationship do not know how to consider their significant other or their family.

This type of society, I think, is the total result of our extreme wealth and productiveness. As a result, we have become spoiled I think. In addition, to make more money, to “keep up with the Joneses,” and to buy more, more, more, our nation, as a whole, works long hours and rarely take vacations. What happens when our people are spoiled, selfish, competitive, not content with what they have, and want everything NOW?? The family suffers.

A successful marriage means spending time together, communicating, and working things out if a problem arises. However, if we work all the time, trying to make more money to “keep up with the Joneses” or just spoil ourselves with more fancy things, there is no leftover time to spend with our significant other. If we concentrate solely on our own selfish desires without considering anyone else, we are less likely to compromise or sacrifice of ourselves to make it work. These same principals apply to children and the resulting family that normally follows marriage or long-term relationships.

I am not a psychologist, and by no means claim to know much about childhood development. However, studies prove, and common sense tells us all, that children need love, attention, and a supportive, warm home to grow up in. Long hours, high stress, and exhaustion resulting from our overworked, too-competitive society lead parents to barely be able to get a half-decent dinner on the table before putting the kids to bed. Quality time as a family, even if it is over homework or a board game, is nonexistent in today’s typical family.

Our country is wealthy because of its citizens’ work ethic and competitive nature. But when we cross that line to overworking at the expense of our family, we may want to rethink our priorities, before we lose our family completely.

Studies cited:

Amato, P. R. (2000). "The Consequences of Divorce for Adults and Children." Journal of Marriage and the Family 62:1269–1287.

Demo, D. H., and Acock, A. C. (1996). "Family Structure, Family Process, and Adolescent Well-being." Journal of Research on Adolescence 6:457–488

Furstenberg, F. F., and Kiernan, K. E. (2001). "Delayed Parental Divorce: How Much Do Children Benefit?" Journal of Marriage and Family 63:446–457.

Wallerstein, JS. Corbin SB. The Child and the Vicissitudes of Divorce.

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