Tue | Aug 22, 2017

Esther Tyson | Defending the family

Published:Sunday | May 22, 2016 | 5:00 AM

The best way to identify what is counterfeit is to study the original form. In today's society, we need to know and understand what is the original concept of the family, how it was intended to work, and what are the outcomes of this structure.

Family is the basic unit of society. Stable families produce a stable society, yet in Jamaica, our family structure is largely dysfunctional. Is it any wonder that our society, consequently, is suffering from a fragmented family structure?

The impact of slavery on our family stability has been discussed in various media. Fatherlessness is one result that is having widespread impact on the psychological, emotional and mental well-being of our children. This is compounded by the burgeoning poverty and joblessness. Our children are under threat because the family is under threat.

As a nation, we need to rebuild the family structure by strengthening the best foundation of the family, which is marriage. An attendant repercussion of slavery is that marriage has been denigrated in the minds of our people. Our men were brainwashed to see themselves as studs who procreate instead of as protectors and providers for their families. Women were breeders who kept the children. Why haven't we developed a greater awareness that this is a destructive pattern that has been bred into us by our slave masters?

Dr Michael Coombs, in a presentation in Barbados at the World Congress on the Family in April, made the following pertinent points:

Statistics from the RGD in Jamaica indicate that the number of marriages declined from 26,000 in 2005, to 15,500 in 2015 (preliminary figure for 2015). Bearing in mind population growth for this period, this represents a significant drop in marriage rates (number of marriages per 1,000 population). Coupled with this is the increase in divorce rates (divorce per 100 marriages). This increased from 6.96 in 2005 to 11.57 in 2010 (STATIN). There are very similar trends in Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States countries such as Barbados, based on CARICOM demographics.

This has undoubtedly contributed to the reality in Caribbean societies, where many children are born outside of wedlock. In Jamaica, 85 per cent of children are born to unmarried mothers (RGD, 2014).

These startling figures explain what we see being played out in the classrooms of this country. Teachers are spending 60 per cent of contact time with students dealing with behavioural issues. This is because many of these students are not being trained at home to develop good work ethics, good manners and self-control.

Discipline in the home is unknown to many students apart from being physically, verbally, emotionally and sexually abused. How can we counter this? We need to work on developing strong families grounded in healthy marriages.

Single mothers

Research indicates that children who are born to married parents do significantly better than those who are born to single mothers.

* Children raised in intact married families are more likely to attend college, are physically and emotionally healthier, are less likely to be physically or sexually abused, less likely to use drugs or alcohol and to commit delinquent behaviours, have a decreased risk of divorce when they get married, are less likely to become pregnant/impregnate someone as a teenager, and are less likely to be raised in poverty. ('Why Marriage Matters: 26 Conclusions from the Social Sciences', Bradford Wilcox, Institute for American Values, www.americanvalues.org/html/r-wmm.html)

There are some persons who would accuse me of not being realistic, but what is real is that our present way of parenting is not working. What works best, and is supported by the research, is that families based on marriage is the optimal way to raise emotionally, mentally and spiritually whole children.

In the West, the family is now under attack from another source. I endorse the views expressed by Cardinal Robert Sarah, Archbishop Emeritus of Conakry, Guinea, who was the keynote speaker at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC, on May 17, 2016 in a report on CNS News.com written by Barbara Hollingsworth.

In what he called "portentous times" for the Catholic Church and for the world, Cardinal Sarah condemned same-sex marriage, transgender bathroom laws, and attacks on the family as "demonic".

"This is not an ideological war between competing ideas," Sarah told the DC gathering. "This is about defending ourselves, children and future generations from the demonic idolatry that says children do not need mothers and fathers. It denies human nature and wants to cut off an entire generation from God."

"The rupture of the foundational relationship of someone's life through separation, divorce or distorted imposters of the family such as cohabitation or same-sex unions is a deep wound that closes the heart to self-giving love into death, and even leads to cynicism and despair. These situations cause damage to the little children through inflicting upon them deep existential doubt about love ... .

"This is why the devil is so intent on destroying the family. If the family is destroyed, we lose our God-given anthropological foundations, and so find it more difficult to welcome the saving Good News of Jesus Christ: self-giving, fruitful love."

In Jamaica, we must redeem our family structure from the ravages that slavery has heaped on it. We need to affirm that family is based on marriage of one man and one woman providing a nurturing environment in which to raise children. The Church needs to promote marriage as the best basis of families by seeking to strengthen the family structure among its members and further in the society.

We must not accept that because 85 per cent of our children are born to unwed mothers that this is an unrealistic ideal. We need not settle for the least effective family structure but seek to ameliorate the present family crisis by holding up the ideal and putting structures and policies in place to encourage it being a reality.

The best way to recognise what is a counterfeit is to study the original design. Let us focus on what is the real design of marriage and family.

- Esther Tyson is an educator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.