It’s Time to End the 1984 Double Speak Surrounding Family Values

It’s time to reframe the conversation about family values. The terms became synonymous with the conservative moment in general, as they espouse what they call “traditional family values” and specifically the pro-life movement, as they claim abortion rights hinder families. 

We need to change the conversation. 

The right doesn’t have a monopoly on family values. Different families value different things, and it’s time to allow the term to encompass all of them, regardless of political affiliation. 

What Are Family Values?

Right-wing politicians claim they know what your family values. They’ve hijacked the term, forcing society to accept it means what they say it means. 

But they don’t get to decide what other people value. We can reclaim the term, making it mean what we all know in our hearts it truly means: policies and values that help all families thrive. 

Our Twisted View of Family Values

In politics and mainstream media, the term “family values” relates to a stringent set of values seeped in patriarchy. They’re all about subjugating women for the sake of “family” and elevating men to the top of the hierarchy. 

The party that shouts about family values supports:

  • Stripping women of bodily autonomy
  • Ending no-fault divorce
  • Banning contraception
  • Dismantling public education for children
  • Gender wage gaps
  • Allowing children to starve at school
  • Forcing mothers out of the workforce
  • The “nuclear family”
    • Mom stays home to raise the kids while dad works

In addition, their “family values” only apply to a rigidly defined idea of “family.” Gay couples don’t count. Neither do interracial couples. Single mothers are ignored at best but often ridiculed and forced into poverty. 

They proudly promote these policies, claiming they’re in support of families. But they’re really in support of a heteronormative hierarchy where white cis men lord power over everyone else. 

Their idea of family values doesn’t work for most families. 

“You Keep Using That Word, I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means” – the Princess Bride

Real Family Values

Real family values would support all families and allow each family to decide what is best for itself. 

The definition of family values must change to policies that help families thrive. 

Policies that Help Families Thrive

We could change our social and political system to support real family values if we wanted to, but it’s exponentially harder to do when we use 1984 double speak to define the term. 

Instead, we need to focus on policies that help families thrive. There are plenty of options, but this short list gives an idea of what family values should really mean. 

  • Family Planning
  • Childcare
  • Healthcare
  • Education
  • Home Ownership
  • Jobs
  • Work-Life Balance
  • Financial Security
  • The Environment
  • Morals and Ethics

1. Family Planning

In twisted 1984 double-speak, conservatives made the word “family values” mean the exact opposite of values that help families thrive. 

Deciding when to have children and how many children to have is one of the most crucial decisions a family can make. Having a child at the wrong time can wreak havoc on a family’s finances, especially with the ever-rising cost of raising children. 

Family planning helps families thrive.

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 they aren’t ready for, it’s not the only tool, and it’s far from the most important. 

Access to contraception has been proven to reduce abortion rates again and again. Comprehensive sex education also prevents unplanned pregnancies. 

With the fall of Roe, 43 states enacted some type of abortion ban, while conservatives are coming after contraception and IVF.  The same people seek to ban sex ed in schools. 

The party of “family values” is attempting to dismantle one of the most crucial things families truly value: the ability to plan their families. 

2. Childcare

Families value the ability to care for their children. Parents want to be home with their newborns. They want affordable childcare that allows them to continue in the workforce and the option to take time off work when their kids are sick. 

Our current system doesn’t support families in these ways, and the people who claim to support family values fight against them at every opportunity. 

Paid Parental Leave

Paid parental leave policies allow parents to stay home with their children during the crucial first few months of their lives. 

The United States is the only Western country without paid parental leave policies. Out of 193 United Nations countries, the USA joins a handful of small nations that do not support new parents. The US only offers FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act), which gives employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for major medical benefits, but only for workers who work at larger companies. 

How are people who need that paycheck supposed to survive for 12 whole weeks without it? 

They’re not. 

Mothers return to work almost immediately after giving birth. Those who can’t risk losing their homes and livelihoods. 

The lack of support for new parents should be an outrage to anyone who claims to support family values. And although it’s popular among voters, the politicians who run on family values vote in opposition to it at every turn. 

In 2018, Senate Republicans attempted to repeal the paltry federally mandated sick and parental leave policies already in place, seeking to replace them with a patchwork of state-run programs. The “anti-family” preserved it. 

Many “family values” politicians refuse to discuss their stance on paid parental leave. The ones who do offer policy ideas that make things worse for women and families in the long run couched in 1984 terms like “pro-family.” 

Paid Time Off

Parents value the ability to take time off work to care for their sick children (or manage their own illnesses), but the US is one of the only countries that doesn’t require access to paid sick days. 

Every family, even those without young children, would value paid leave for illnesses. 

Many low-wage workers can’t take time off to care for their sick children. They must make an excruciating choice: come to work or lose a day’s pay. They’re already struggling financially, so a single day of wages can make or break their budget, but the daycare facility won’t take sick kids. In the US, being sick is a privilege only the middle class can afford. 

Paid sick leave is a common-sense policy that also promotes public health. Sick employees spread their illnesses to coworkers and customers alike, but they have to come to work because they won’t get paid if they don’t. 

Most paid sick leave policies get rolled into the parental leave policies, and we’ve already seen the voting records. Family values politicians tend to vote “nay.”

Day Care

Families with small children face a no-win situation. They can either pay outrageous daycare costs so both adults can work or opt for one partner to stay home, reducing their family income and harming the stay-at-home parent’s career prospects and lifetime earnings potential. 

Many families rely on family members (typically grandmothers, aunts, or sisters) to watch the kids or send them to dangerous, unregistered facilities, the only option they can afford. 

Often, mothers get forced out of the workforce, as their salaries don’t even cover the cost of daycare. Not only does this affect their future social security earnings and retirement security, it also leaves them vulnerable to domestic abuse. And since they can’t work, they can’t escape. 

The party that claims to support family values typically votes against policies that would ensure parents can take care of their children. Only 18 House Republicans supported the 2020 “Childcare is Essential Act.” In 2021, all 212 House Republicans voted against the “Build Back Better” Bill, which included $400 billion in funding for childcare. The bill ultimately failed in the Senate because all 50 Republican Senators and a single Democratic Senator opposed it. 

3. Healthcare

Healthcare debt is a leading cause of bankruptcy, with over 66% of filers claiming medical debt directly caused their bankruptcy. An additional 40% say they fear they won’t be able to afford healthcare. 

Families need healthcare to thrive. Pregnancy is a serious medical condition requiring constant monitoring and numerous doctor’s visits. Most mothers seek hospital care for childbirth, an expense that grows higher and higher each year. 

Medical costs don’t end after birth. Children get sick. They break bones and need urgent care visits. Families want the option to take their kids to the doctor whenever they need it, but many can’t afford to. 

Congress attempted to fix the outrageous cost of healthcare on numerous occasions, and you can bet the “family values” party opposed any meaningful change that would help families thrive. 

The Affordable Care Act passed in 2009 with very little Republican support. The same politicians often host ceremonial votes to repeal the act, with no hint of an idea of how to replace it. The Act has numerous flaws, but it did help many people gain insurance coverage. 

Democratic, or “anti-family” politicians, constantly introduce bills to promote universal healthcare for all Americans, but they’re always opposed by the party that claims to support families

4.  Education

Everyone wants their kids to be successful, and a college education is still the number one path to success for many people. 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: 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? 

Trade schools are a wonderful alternative for many students but aren’t a one-size-fits-all solution. We need doctors, engineers, teachers, biologists, and hundreds of other professionals who require advanced degrees. With rising tuition rates, we’ll soon become a dystopian society where only the rich can afford the education and training necessary for professional careers. 

Access to education starts well before college, and the family values party attempts to strip that access at every turn. 

They refuse to increase funding for public schools, instead offering “vouchers” to fill the pockets of religious indoctrination facilities under the guise of “school choice.” They’re banning books, removing vital history from the curriculum, and firing teachers who dare teach students the truth. 

They won’t stop until they completely destroy public education, an American institution that significantly improved the health and well-being of the populace. 

5.  Home Ownership

Most parents dream of raising their kids in a nice house with a little yard in a good school district. 

Unfortunately, with rampant inflation, especially in housing, homeownership moves further and further out of reach for young families. Even renting is becoming unaffordable, meaning low-wage workers with kids struggle to provide the most basic necessities.

Families value affordable housing, yet Family Values politicians constantly work to cut funding for any program that makes housing more affordable. 

6. Jobs  

Most people don’t want a handout; they want to work to earn their keep. Parents want jobs that will pay them a living wage to support their children. 

Unfortunately, middle—and lower-class wages have stagnated for the past few years while the cost of everything continues to skyrocket. Family values politicians fight against unions, labor reform, minimum wage increases, and other programs that would help families secure good jobs. 

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. 

Some politicians introduced legislation to promote greater work-life balance, such as four-day work weeks, but there is no political will on either side of the aisle to implement them. 

8. Financial Security

Families value financial security. 

Parents want to create a good life for their kids. They want to provide homes, nutritional food, education, and opportunity. They want to buy their kids neat toys and take them to Disney without harming their own future security. 

Financial security encompasses many policies we’ve already discussed, like affordable healthcare, housing, and education. Family-values politicians vote against every policy that would improve the populace’s overall financial security. 

9.  The Environment

Most parents don’t want their children to inherit a wasteland. 

Families want to protect national parks, natural resources, and the climate for their kids and grandkids. 

Unfortunately, environmental concerns tend to take a back seat to the more immediate economic needs. Families must make tough choices between paying for life today and supporting the wellness of the Earth into the future. Of course, they choose today; if they don’t, they won’t have a tomorrow to worry about. 

Family values politicians don’t support environmental protection policies. They don’t care that your children will inherit a desolate wasteland. They don’t value your family’s continued wellness. 

10. Morals and Ethics

Parents value the ability to instill ethics and morals into their children. 

Freedom of religion is a fundamental right built into our constitution, so every family deserves the opportunity to raise their children with whichever religious backing they deem appropriate—or without religion if they so choose. 

However, the modern rendition of the “family values” crowd only allows one standard of “morals.” They refuse to acknowledge that different people hold different values, instead wishing to enact laws that support their own faith to the detriment of millions of others who don’t believe the same thing. 

What Are Traditional Family Values?

Traditionally, family values refer to ideas about a family’s structure, beliefs, and attitudes.  There’s no strict definition of what that means. Families from around the globe and throughout time have valued different things. 

In America, a certain political movement hijacked the idea of traditional family values, rigidly defining them around a Christian patriarchal idea of the 1950’s “nuclear family,” which included a working parent (father), a stay-at-home parent (mother), and biological children.

That definition doesn’t work for the majority of American families. Many can’t afford to have a stay-at-home parent, even if they wanted to. Others scoff at the notion that gender defines a role in the family or that the definition of “family” is limited to biological children. 

Family Values Mean Choice

American culture celebrates freedom, and parents should have the same liberty when defining their personal and family values. 

People who want a family built on the modern definition of a “traditional family” can do so, while others are free to pursue a different route. 

Society must fight to ensure that everyone has the freedom to choose their own path, but family values politicians don’t want that. They want to shove everyone into their strict definition of family, limiting freedom and choice for those with different values. 

A true family values politician would support a family’s ability to thrive and freedom to choose its own values.

9 thoughts on “It’s Time to End the 1984 Double Speak Surrounding Family Values”

  1. You make a good point that family values is really all encompassing to make sure you’re raising your family to be a valuable part of our society and of course part of that is going to be financially.

  2. I usually only hear of ‘family values’ in a political context. Which I hadn’t realized until this article. Strikes as a bit odd. Hopefully this article starts a conversation!

    • I agree Melissa, I’ve only heard of family values in that political sense. That’s why I wrote the post, family values should encompass way more than one thing!

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