BY KRISTOPHER PRICE
The American family is in a state of decay. Contrary to what some people might tell you however, it is not because of the increased acceptance of gay marriage, decreasing religiosity of Americans or independence of young women.
These bogeymen actually take away credence from real issues threatening the filial integrity of families across the country. These issues are a combination of American individualism at its worst, and nonexistent social and welfare policies for new parents and families.
One of the proud cornerstones of American culture is its individualism. People are encouraged to go pursue their own dreams instead of being tied to a family company or farm; there is the common, now increasingly questioned, assumption that with enough effort, you can become anything.
However, this spirit of individualism has a dark side.
Many millennials are familiar with their generation being shunned for not immediately leaving home after graduation, due to not being able to afford a new home. The idea that moving out and buying your own house is what every young adult is supposed to do is actually only a couple generations old.
During the Baby Boom, millions of Americans bought houses in the suburbs, and so did their children. But now people who do not do this and remain living with their parents or relatives are often depicted in the media as immature, lazy, loners or freaks. There is a clear discouragement of living with your immediate family upon entering adulthood present here.
Another consequence of this is the eventual isolation of parents as they grow older after their children grow up and move out. If they do not live with a relative, a senior citizen can often become lonely or depressed, not to mention being less able to take care of themselves.
An interesting thing is that this discouragement of living with your family is not present in other countries. In Italy or Spain, for example, it is very common for someone to live with their extended family under one roof. If these cultures have no problem with this, then why do we?
Another significant problem affecting families is the distinct lack of paid parental leave in America. The United States is one of only eight countries in the world that does not require employers to pay parents of newborn children. The consequences of this are new mothers having to bring their babies to work, or one of the parents having to make the tough decision to stay home to take care of the kid. This can be very stressful on parents.
A more beneficial and healthy system would require employers to pay both parents, not just the mothers, while they take mandatory leave for an extended period, from six weeks to three months to even a year, to raise their child. This will give mothers more time to recover from giving birth, and let parents take better care of their child by spending more time around them.
You might be wondering why the integrity of families in America is important. The interesting thing is that happiness has been found to correlate strongly with how close ties are between family members in a given country.
For example, Venezuela might not be the first country people imagine living happily in, with its corrupt government and insane economy. However, it ranks seventh among the top happiest countries, ranked by positive index scores. Family bonds are highly valued in Latin American cultures, so this correlation between family and happiness holds true here.
People on the far right often attack new or alternative forms of family, such as gay couples or polyamorous relationships. But the fact is that these groups of people are just as capable, and sometimes better at, raising children than their heterosexual and/or monoamorous counterparts.
Gay couples, for obvious reasons, are not at risk of accidentally conceiving a child. This gives them the chance to think more carefully and be more prepared for having one. Not much research has been done on polyamorous relationships (romantic relationships between more than two people), but there is no logical reason to think that a larger set of people would be less well equipped at raising a child.
The consequences of the decaying state of American families may not seem immediate, but they will become apparent over time if not addressed. Without a reliable support network to fall back on, many Americans will become more and more isolated, some of them even falling through the gaps in the system. There might even be effects on our mental and emotional health as well.
This is why it is important that we ameliorate these issues, and could start with something as simple as paid parental leave.