We seriously need to change the conversation about family values. For far too many people (on both sides!), the term “family values” has become synonymous with the pro-life movement, and that’s stupid!
We need to change the conversation. We need to redefine what family values really are, because it’s not a single issue. Lots of families value lots of different things; but I guarantee most of them value their financial security (Or would, if they had any).
What are Family Values?
I’d argue that the term “family values” refers to things that families actually value. What an outrageous concept, right? Money (or lack thereof!) is really the thing that will make or break a household, isn’t it? So wouldn’t most families value things that help them thrive financially? Ideas and policies that ensure the success of families are the things that really should be considered family values.
Policies that Help Families Thrive
There are a ton of policies that we could focus on that would help families. Here’s a short list of items that should be considered by all people who care about family values:
- Family Planning
- Home Ownership
- Work Life Balance
- Financial Security
- The Environment
- Morals and Ethics
1. Family Planning
One thing that families really do value is the ability to decide when to have children and how many to have. Having a child at the wrong time can wreak havoc on a family’s finances- kids are freaking expensive! Family planning helps families thrive.
Unfortunately, most of the discourse on family planning is centered on the abortion issue. While that is a tool that helps prevent families from having children that they aren’t ready for, it’s not the only tool and it’s far from the most important. The most important tool (and the one that’s been proven again and again to reduce abortion rates) is access to contraception. Curiously enough though, many supporters of “family values” don’t support easy access to contraception. How does that make any kind of sense? No one likes the idea of abortion, but instead of banning it why not support policies that make it extremely rare?
Another major thing that most families value is actually being able to take care of their children – in a literal sense. People want to be home with their newborns, they want affordable daycare options, and they want to be able to take time off from work when their children are sick. These aren’t ridiculous asks, are they? I think more people would have families, and those families would be better off, if we as a society valued taking care of children in these ways.
Paid Parental Leave
Paid parental leave policies give parents the ability to stay home with their children during the crucial first few months of their lives. Unfortunately, the United States is leagues behind the rest of the world when it comes to parental leave. There’s the FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) which gives employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for major medical events, such as the birth of a child, but that’s all we’ve got. And remember its UNPAID! How are people who need that paycheck supposed so survive for 12 whole weeks without it? The answer is they’re not. Mothers are returning to work weeks after giving birth or going without. This should be an outage to anyone who claims to support family values.
Affordable childcare options would also help families thrive. Many families rely on extended family or un-registered facilities to care for their children while they work, as childcare costs continue to soar. How are people supposed to have children if they can’t afford to pay for their care? Parents are working extra jobs and extra hours just to make ends meet. Some are dropping out of the workforce altogether because their salaries wouldn’t even cover the cost of childcare (and lets not even get started on how this will affect the non-working parent’s lifetime earnings and retirement!).
Paid Time Off
Did you know that the US is one of the only countries that doesn’t require access to paid sick days? What if your kid is sick? In many low wage industries, that’s just too bad. Either come to work or don’t get paid. It’s unfortunate that those who are least able to afford it are the ones who are hit the hardest. This really goes to show how much of a privilege it really is to get sick.
Most families, even those without children, would really value access to paid sick days. Adults get sick too! And I wouldn’t want a cook or a server coming to work when they are sick. That one sick employee could infect everyone at the restaurant – but if they don’t come to work they won’t get paid. And many people can’t afford to miss a day of work. Paid sick days make logical sense for everyone.
All this talk about being sick brings me to my next point: healthcare. Families would definitely value affordable access to healthcare. People want to be able to take their children to the doctor when they are sick. Unfortunately, healthcare costs in the United States are ridiculous. The Affordable Care Act was supposed to mitigate this, but instead of ensuring that people had access to healthcare, all it did was ensure that people had access to health insurance. Some people have to pay such high deductibles on their insurance plans that they can’t even afford basic care. It’s a sham.
Outrageous medical bills are still the number one cause of bankruptcy in the United States. Way too many families are just one medical emergency from total ruin. That’s insane! How can any family thrive with that hanging over their heads?
Everyone wants their kids to be successful, and the number one path to success for lots of people is still a college education. Unfortunately, tuition rates have been soaring for the past few decades, and most people can’t afford it without the help of student loans. So now, families have a terrible choice to make: do you take out thousands of dollars for that chance, or do you skip college and head straight into the workforce, lowering your lifetime earning potential but saving yourself from mountains of debt? That’s not an easy choice.
While its true that trade schools are a wonderful alternative for many students, they aren’t a one size fits all solution. We need kids to go to university so that we can have future doctors, engineers, teachers, biologists, and hundreds of other professionals that require advanced education. I don’t want us to turn into a country where only the rich can afford the training and education necessary for professional careers. We, as a society, should value education, and we should make it more affordable for everyone.
5. Home Ownership
What parent doesn’t want to raise their kids in a nice house with a little yard to play in? That’s the American Dream anyway, isn’t it? Unfortunately though, the housing market continues to soar and homes are unaffordable for many young families. That’s not the worst news though! Even renting is becoming unaffordable for low wage families! In the largest metro areas in the country, families would have to make a minimum of $22 per hour just to afford a two-bedroom apartment! How are families supposed to thrive if they can’t even afford a place to live?
How are families supposed to afford any of these things? Most people don’t want a handout, they want to work to earn their keep. Unfortunately, middle- and lower-class wages have been stagnant for the past few years, while the cost of everything else on this list continues to skyrocket. All people really want are jobs that will give them the ability to support their families.
7. Work-Life Balance
There is a caveat to valuing jobs. Jobs with living wages are great and all (and necessary!), but they don’t really help families if they suck all the parents’ time away. There needs to be balance. Parents need to be able to disconnect when they are home so they can focus on their kids. They need to be able to help with homework, take the kids to the park, and go to the school plays. Families value family time.
8. Financial Security
Unfortunately, with the threat of automation and outsourcing of high-paying jobs, it’s not always possible to find one that will support a family. Although I truly believe that most people want to work and don’t want a hand-out, I also believe that we are moving towards a post-work society. I don’t know the solution, but I do know that regardless of what happens in the world, families want the ability to take care of themselves financially. They value financial security. It’s important that we keep this in mind when discussing policies to help us move forward.
9. The Environment
Do you want your children and grandchildren to inherit a wasteland? No? Then your family values the environment! We all want to protect our resources, to ensure that the world is still here and working correctly for years to come. Families want to protect our National Parks so they have places to go camping. Families want to protect the climate so that the planet isn’t destroyed. Protecting the environment is immensely important. It may not be as immediate as the other things on the list, but if we don’t take steps now to protect our planet, it won’t be here for our children.
10. Morals and Ethics
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention morals and ethics in a post about family values. The entire conversation surrounding family values has been co-opted by a conversation around morals. But, it’s important. Families do value the opportunity to teach their children their own morals and ethics. Most people want to make the world a little better, and one of the ways they do that is by passing on their own moral codes to the next generation. It’s important that we continue to allow that.
What Are Traditional Family Values?
This entire post is about changing the conversation about family values. So lets examine some things that are traditionally thought of as family values, and see how they fit.
Traditionally, family values refer to ideas about a family’s structure, beliefs, and attitudes. These values usually include the roles of each family member as well. Often, this is framed around a nuclear family, which includes a working parent, a stay at home parent, and biological children.
In reality, the concept of a nuclear family doesn’t work very well in today’s society. We know that most families can’t afford to have one parent stay at home – this is why child care is valued so highly. We know that people have a variety of different belief structures, and we wrote basic rights into our Constitution to protect those beliefs. And we also know that some people can’t have biological children, so we have a variety of methods in place to give those families opportunities to raise children, if they so chose.
But the great thing about or society is that we allow people to chose for themselves. If someone wants to have a lifestyle that revolves around the traditional idea of family, they can. But if they want to have a different type of family, they can do that too. We as a society need to ensure that all of these options are available to everyone, and that they are all treated equally. We also need to ensure that we are enacting policies (hint – like those above) that support and encourage all of these different types of families.