Editor's note: The following is an excerpt from "The Turning: Why the State of the Family Matters, and What the World Can Do About It," by Linda and Richard Eyre. The book will be released at the end of August.
Here are seven direct and effective approaches to strengthening, protecting and preserving our families. These approaches have always been important, but now, in the face of all that is happening to the family, they are more crucial and more necessary than ever before. They are listed here as seven suggestions to parents and then explored as seven steps that every family can take to save and strengthen itself. They are not precise formulas, but they point in directions that may serve as thought prompters for your own ideas on how to strengthen your own unique family.
1. Make a conscious, personal recommitment to the priority of marriage and family and to the seven unique family functions listed in Chapter 1 (procreation, commitment, nurturing, personal identity, teaching values, providing permanence and elder care). Truly turn your heart (your priority, your focus and your passion) to your children.
2. Teach and live by correct principles, which oppose, overcome and supersede false paradigms. Recognize the error and danger in many of society’s attitudes and “norms,” and see the wisdom in true and enduring principles as you teach them to your children.
3. Reinvent time management and personal balance with the priority and emphasis on spouse and children. As you plan your day or your week, set aside and reserve time for family. Set relationship goals and help children understand that relationships are ultimately more important than achievements.
4. Teach understanding and selective use of larger institutions. Teach children to recognize the good and the bad in media, government and business, and to use the one while avoiding the other.
5. Make communication the constant goal. Implement it, improve it, and insist on it — between spouses and between parent and child.
6. Create identity, security and motivation for children through family narratives and ancestor stories, through family meetings, family traditions, family rules and a family economy that shares household responsibilities.
7. Use “values therapy,” where the focus shifts away from what is wrong and toward the rewards and fulfillment of what is right. Focus on one of 12 basic, universal values each month, and build a family culture that is value-centered.
Let's take a deeper look at the first of the seven, recommitment. The pattern for the gradual loss of commitment is sometimes frighteningly predictable: In “early life,” we fall in love, begin our families and know the joys and sorrows that come with the risks of committed, caring relationships. But often, as we move toward mid-life, we grow impatient, disillusioned or just tired, and allow some combination of selfishness, foolishness and fatigue to turn us away from spouse or child. Or, we simply stop putting forth the necessary effort and let family relationships gradually slip and slide away. Then in later life we may realize that what we gave up was everything and what we traded it for is nothing.
It is in mid-life (sometimes very early mid-life — this time of slippage and selfishness) that we need a purposeful and powerful recommitment to relationships.
We tend to undervalue and underestimate commitment. We forget about its pervasive power. When real commitment is felt, and expressed, it has a way of shrinking problems, of making them look manageable. When commitment is thought of as unalterable, lasting and unconditional, problems can’t stand up to it — they can’t match it in its permanence. Whatever the forces are that undermine relationships and break up families, they tend to back off in the presence of deep, complete commitment as though they had a mind of their own and choose to go work on someone else where there is less commitment and where they can do more damage.
When there is commitment, true commitment, it fortifies a marriage and a family in truly remarkable ways. When adversity strikes a family — be it in the form of illness, accident, economic hardship or anything else — if commitment is strong, the adversity strengthens that family and brings its members closer together.
On the other hand, families without strong commitment are broken by adversity.
Commitment turns our hearts, locking them on the relationships that matter. If we want to fix our families, to shore them up against the false paradigms and the larger institutions of today’s world, to preserve them for our old age, to immunize them against all of their many potential destroyers, we must start with recommitment. Let the recommitment start in our heart, and then we’ll be capable of sending it out through our words and our eyes to reassure and bless the lives of those we love most.
The real question, of course, is how we apply commitment. After we profess it to those we love most, how do we demonstrate it in everyday life? The answer, and actually the beauty of it, is that different people will apply it in different ways. If your recommitment is real, it will manifest itself in ways that are tailored to your own situation and your own family’s unique needs. The techniques are not as important as the heart, the methods are not as important as the commitment.
To learn more about the book and the cause it represents, please go to www.The-Turning.com. The Eyres are donating all royalties from the book to charity.
Richard and Linda Eyre are New York Times No. 1 best-selling authors who lecture throughout the world on family-related topics. Visit them anytime at EyresFreeBooks.com or at valuesparenting.com, and follow Linda’s blog at eyrealm.blogspot.com.