Because many of us have never experienced the benefits of the family culture in our lifetimes, we may not even recognize our collective loss. Imagine with me, if you can, a culture where you are surrounded with people who know and love you…Allow me to outline some of the paradigm shifts that have occurred in American culture over the past 150 years, bringing about a disconnected and individualist society which has replaced the previous family-centered culture.
Although it is never objectively accurate to say that a certain time period was “the good old days,” there are many positive values that our society has lost in the past 150 years. One of the most tragic of these losses was the disintegration of the family culture, and especially multi-generational connections and legacies.
Because many of us have never experienced the benefits of the family culture in our lifetimes, we may not even recognize our collective loss. Imagine with me, if you can, a culture where you are surrounded with people who know and love you. There are parents, uncles and aunts, cousins, grandparents and even on occasion great-grandparents. Living, working, playing and worshiping with these loved-ones creates a wonderful sense of security and stability. You know who you are, to a great extent, because of your relationships with those of your surrounding family. Family can serve as a fixed reference point, linking you to geography and to the past in a way that no other friendship or community can.
Allow me to outline some of the paradigm shifts that have occurred in American culture over the past 150 years, bringing about a disconnected and individualist society which has replaced the previous family-centered culture.
The Breakdown of the Family Culture
I would say that the breakdown of the family culture in America began largely after the Civil War in 1865. Over 620,000 American men died in a war that left virtually every family without a loved one. In the Reconstruction that followed the war, men often left their homes and began to work in factories, taking advantage of the new breakthroughs of invention and industry. Prior to the Civil War, the majority of Americans were agrarian and rural, and worked on family farms or in family-owned businesses.
The Industrial Revolution
At the turn of the 20th Century, it became clear that the machine was the way of the future. From Eli Whitney’s cotton gin, to Henry Ford’s automobile, from the steam engine to the success of the Wright Brothers’ flying machine, people were finding faster and more efficient ways to do everything, including get around.
Wise families started their own businesses and hired family members to keep their income “in house.” Around the turn of the 20th Century, many families became famous for developing financial systems that grew the family wealth exponentially. The Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, Studebakers, and later the Kennedys, are all examples of family wealth. Whether you admire or disdain that kind of economic nepotism, you have to admit that they knew the collective potential of the family culture.
For most families, however, mass production and factory labor took at least one parent (usually the father) away from the home and children, and into the “workforce.”
In 1840, Horace Mann had established the first state-funded, compulsory, government-controlled school in Massachusetts. This model spread around the country and before long, not only was the father removed from the home, but the children were as well. Instead of children working alongside their parents, receiving an education through family enterprise (and supplemented with either homeschooling or formal academics in a community-controlled “Common School”), students were now enrolled in “assembly-line” educational factories that utilized the Modernistic principles that were revolutionizing every other industry.
More important than the physical separation that occurred through mandatory governmental education was the emotional distance that was experienced as children embraced the culture of “social education.” Friendships through the “peer group” replaced the family as the child’s primary, foundational relationships.
Eventually the 20thCentury “Feminist Movement” put mothers into the workplace as well, effectively removing the central hub of the family from the home. Mothers were convinced to leave the education of their children to trained and certified “experts.” With the additional tax burden placed on families because of state-funded schools, many families felt the need to have two incomes just to make ends meet. There is no way to estimate the effect that the so-called “Women’s Liberation” movement has had on the lives of millions of children. Children need both parents (ideally) to be emotionally and socially balanced, but they especially need the daily nurturing of their mothers.
While some point to the positive gains made through “equal rights” movements like Women’s Liberation, the “freeing” of women from their families has devastated the family culture. Women’s Liberation mainly “freed” women from their children and made them slaves to their jobs. It’s not merely a matter of men and women working a job outside of the home, it is a mindset-shift from parents being responsible for the care and nurturing of their own offspring, to an expectation that the government is supposed to provide for all of our needs from the cradle to the grave, and we all work to support an over-grown bureaucracy that seeks to do for us what we should be doing for ourselves.
More than any other factor, Mass Transportation destroyed the extended-family culture. As new economic opportunities beckoned, families uprooted from the old home-place and took off across the country. The railroad, and later the automobile and the airplane, gave people a new mobility that changed the landscape of America.
Since the telegraph, and eventually the telephone, allowed families to keep in touch over the miles, many families made the choice to exchange local relationships with their extended families for distance ones. This geographical distance removed economic interdependence, and thereby removed a primary reason for staying connected. Working together for a common goal is great cement to bond relationships.