381. Functional Families

Everything’s relative. But having heard gruesome stories about what has been happening in some families, I think, in retrospect, that my family has been relatively functional. I think many families have been. It’s traditional, in my crowd, to blame one’s parents for one’s problems, but I’ve heard stories that
make me grateful to my parents for only yelling at me or spanking me now and then. Not that I approve of yelling and spanking, but I’ve heard stories of much worse. And I never spanked my children, and I tried not to yell at them, so if there was a negative pattern, I tried to break it, and was somewhat successful.
It bothers me when politicians talk about families as if they consider families a top priority, and their opponents don’t. I’d rather take it on faith that most of us consider families a top priority. We disagree about what that means. Should it be illegal to hit children? When does life begin? Should parents of school-aged children be required to seek employment? Any of these topics and more could spark lively and maybe heated debate, but I don’t think they separate those who care about families from those who don’t.
A functional family does not have to look like Ozzie and Harriet. (By the way, if I remember correctly, they had school-aged children and did not seek employment. They were always home, weren’t they?) I think a family can be functional even if it has serious problems. It depends on what the problems are, whether they’re recognized, and whether solutions are being sought. I liked Ron Howard’s movie “Parenthood,” which depicted a family full of real problems, but gave me a feeling that solutions were going to emerge. Ozzie probably would have been totally bewildered by that family.
By my standard, there are some families that have been unfairly labelled “dysfunctional.” But there are still plenty that deserve the label. I don’t ultimately blame parents who abuse their children; they aren’t in control of what they do. Their lives have turned them into people who abuse children. But I blame them enough to believe that their children should be protected from them. I don’t know what form that protection should take, but it should be there.
Coming from a family I consider functional, I am not intimately acquainted with the subject of dysfunctional families. And so far, as a teacher, I don’t think I’ve encountered many abused children. If I’m right, there are many more functional families than talk shows would make you think. Maybe TV ratings wouldn’t be as high if people got on TV to tell us about their children’s soccer games or school plays. Too bad. But soccer games and school plays do happen.

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