Last week I established the centrality of family to building a strong nation. A nation that desires great success cannot afford to ignore the pillar of family, or the best model of family, for nation-building. The evidence clearly suggests that the quality and rate of national development is limited to the strength of family.I recall reading somewhere that “Family is both the problem and the solution to social ills.” Weak family structures cause the problems and strong families provide the solutions.
A consultation paper entitled ‘Support for All: the Families and Relationships Green Paper’, prepared by the UK Department for Children, Schools and Family in 2010, states: “Strong families give children love, identity, a personal history, and secure base from which to explore and enjoy life as they grow up. Strong families also help build strong communities, so they are crucial for a successful society.”
J’can family models
Having established the intact or nuclear family last week as the best model for personal character development and national development, let’s look at the other forms of families in Jamaica and their effects.
1. The nuclear common-law family: Similar to the traditional intact family, but the parents are not married.
3. The single-parent matrifocal family: Mother is the only permanent adult figure in the family. There are a number of variations to this unit: Mother brings up her children alone; mother has ‘visiting’ relationships with a male or a number of males; mother and children live in a group, usually made up of mother’s mother and other female relatives and their siblings, with adult males only visiting.
4. The single-father family: There is no permanent adult female in the mix.
5. The sibling family: Elder sister or brother is raising their younger siblings without father or mother present.
The disadvantage of single-parent models
Single parents, single mothers in particular, face a multitude of problems, chief of which is that single mothers have, on average, the lowest median income and net worth of all family types with children. The children of single-parent families are more likely to have lower academic attainment, workforce engagement, and lower levels of income over their lifetimes. We must face the truth that these families are faced with more challenges and need greater levels of support from government and community development agencies. These realities clearly indicate that these are far weaker models of family life with greater levels of dysfunction than the intact family. These family structures have the greatest negative impact on the social fabric and cost to society.
This being true, then these models should not be promoted or encouraged. Therefore, every step must be taken to stem the increase and redirect the behaviour of our people to the best practice, in the best national interest.
Effects of dysfunctional families
The research is conclusive that dysfunctional families are at the root of a high percentage of crimes and other social ills that plague nations, and this is certainly true in Jamaica. A great number of homes in our nation today are headed by single mothers, and in our inner cities — the hotbed of crime — that number increases as well as the number of teenage mothers. This highlights the acute issue of fatherlessness — proven to be one of the main causes of crime.
Weak families are a great cost to society. Our nation is unable to meet this cost, and one ripple effect is the ever-worsening social and economic decline. Despite the clear evidence of the central role and place of the strong intact family, government and citizens alike choose to ignore it to the nation’s peril.
Sometimes we elevate and vigorously promote the things that degrade and destroy healthy families. Listen to the content of much of the music — the “gyal inna bungle” mentality we encouraged in the 90s; the pride our men take in bedding and impregnating as many women as they can; and the social conditions that encourage women to seek financial benefits from men by having their children.
We must be bold enough to say to our people that for their own dignity, safety and economic well-being, and the good of the nation, they must discipline themselves and commit to a strong, healthy family life. Weak, broken families are the problem; strong, intact families are the solution. A nation must choose.
Compounding the problem of an already weak family structure is the sidelining that the family gets in an increasingly profit-driven world. The workplace, in order to increase profits, cuts staff and demands more time each day from fewer employees — even seven-day workweeks in some cases. This robs staff of the necessary time to spend with their families. This spells more danger for the well-being of society and should be a concern for both government and private sector.
It is clear that the rise or fall of a nation is determined by the condition of the family. The aim of any good and wise Government should be to strengthen the family. The enemy of the strong family is the enemy of our country.
Our modern world has seen the addition of many types of family compositions. We are being urged to adopt and normalise them all. Governments of developing nations are being put under severe pressure to do so, despite the clear decline being experienced in many of these First-World nations. The research shows that these models do not work.
Why should we experiment with anything else, when all the international research agrees that a household with a father and a mother in a strong relationship provides the best environment for overall socialisation of the members of the family? We want to use best practices in all other fields to guide development processes. Intact families are undoubtedly the best practice that our Jamaican planners and policy makers should follow. Wha’ mek wi fraid fi say so and do it?
We must encourage the intact family as the preferred model to achieve the highest level of national development. This should include tax and other incentives to intact families. We should reward the behaviour that is desired.
We also need to teach our people how to love and relate in family as priority #1. Every student should do at least a basic course on the best practices and benefits of marriage, family and parenting — it should be compulsory in order to graduate from high school, college or university.
Government is a macro version of the family. The same principles in the management and development of the family apply to the management and development of the nation. The same approach in dealing with family should be used in governance. If we thought that way, we would not do some of the things we do. No responsible parent creates debt to leave for his children. A good man leaves an inheritance for his grandchildren. Mortgaging the future generations is not responsible.
Current methods of judging economic prosperity sometimes indicate growth, where there is no corresponding improvement in the lot of the citizens. Big business may be prospering, but can we say that families are prospering?
I suggest that a better way to assess and evaluate growth and economic development is the felt impact on the average family in the nation; for example, their ability to meet their basic needs and save for the future. This is the best way to tell the real effects of economic growth and development.
Given the realities of the microeconomics and the factors of the macroeconomics, we need to direct our energies towards how to enable the family to best manage and use their cooperative will and abilities to increase productivity and growth of the economy. This could be called Family Economics, where we make family the focus of all our planning. Their own self-interest will inspire families to make sacrifices and will generate commitment to the development process, because they will clearly see that they are the beneficiaries.
Government should practise family economics as a national approach to evaluate success or failure of social and economic policies and programmes. A set of evaluation indices should be developed to measure the impact of government policies on the family. Do they make it stronger or weaker, richer or poorer?
That could be scary for politicians, as we prefer generalisations that do not hit where the rubber meets the road. Any party or government should be evaluated at the end of the day on the betterment of family in terms of quality of life. This method would expose the reality of leadership’s action in constituencies, especially garrisons. I have said it before and it’s worth restating: If family focus and family economics were practised by leaders, we would not have the poor conditions that currently exist.
Jamaica’s current leaders must be courageous enough to withstand pressures injurious to the national interest. It is time to give this nation-building bedrock called family the important attention it deserves. And, not just any family model, but the model that has been proven to be the best for nation-building. Let’s get this right for a prosperous Jamaica.
Copyright © 2017 by Rev Dr. Al Miller.