Lack of community support and control
Increased family dependence on mass institutions
Development of a youth culture
Little parental stake in children’s marriages
Lack of ties between extended families
Diminished parental authority
Equalization of power within the family
The family as a self-contained unit
Extrafamilial care of children, the elderly, and handicapped
Alternative family forms
Dominance of Commodities
Integration of society around economic values
Separation of economic from church life
“Commodification” of social life
Dominance of technical means
The family as the unit of consumption instead of production
Separation of work and family life
Individual and family worth determined by economics
Assessment of the fair market value of housework
Community through consumption
The family as the center of cottage industry
Full employment for both husband and wife (careerism)
Fragmentation of Consciousness THE PROB LEM
The fragmentation of consciousness has produced a crisis in the areas of morality and authority within the family. Each family must construct its own value system, usually without the support of the extended family. Difficulties are especially likely to arise when children reach their teenage years and begin to compare their family’s system of morality with that of their friends. Parents are placed in the position of having to defend their view of morality
against the view of their children’s peers. The crisis in authority brought about by the fragmentation of consciousness also includes questions of the authority of the extended family over the nuclear family and of the husband over the wife. The current redefinition of sex roles comes into play here.
The fragmentation of consciousness has also led to a dichotomy between public and private life. In traditional societies, there tends to be little separation between the two; the primary social unit in both work and private life is one and the same—the family, the clan, or the tribe. In contrast, the recent separation of work and private life has led to two levels of social functioning. While working, individuals experience others as relatively impersonal beings and themselves as anonymous functionaries (Berger, Berger, and Kellner 1973, 34). This anonymity precludes any involvement on a plane higher than what might be described as pseudointimacy. People attempt to find genuine intimacy, meaning, and fulfillment in their private lives. But we suspect that modernity may have so weakened the private institution of the family that even here intimacy and fulfillment are not possible.
As the Christian community has felt the crisis created by the fragmentation of consciousness, a major response by conservatives has been traditionalism —an attempt to restore the family to what it was in the past. With the confusion created by modernity, many Christians are quick to hold up the nineteenth-century American version of the family as the biblical ideal. We believe that this is a false hope because it is less the biblical perspective on the family in modern society than a defense of what the family has been in the past. Christians commonly fall into the trap of assuming that the particular family form existing in their culture is God’s ideal. They read their own cultural standards into Scripture and accept all biblical accounts of family life as if they were normative. But some of the accounts of how the family was organized during biblical times were never intended to dictate how it should be organized in all cultures at all times.
A second response to the fragmentation of family consciousness is to rely on expert opinion, another false hope. Parents often experience a crisis in confidence and are unwilling to trust their common sense out of fear that they may be doing something wrong in rearing their children. Such self-doubt frequently occurs in the Christian community, where many parents hold to a
deterministic view of parenting: they wrongly believe that correct parenting is a guarantee of God-fearing children. Unfortunately, this view is reinforced by a variety of self-proclaimed experts, who attract large numbers of parents eager to be relieved of the agonizingly difficult task of parenting in modern society.
Another false hope is the privatization of family life, an offshoot of the dichotomy between private and public life. When couples or families construct self-centered meaning, it can be an artificial reality that does not comport with external reality. The privatization of family life can easily lead to an amoral familism, where the family is so preoccupied with its own concerns that it fails to serve far needier people. The amoral privatized family dishonors the biblical concept of family life.
Complexity of Communication THE PROB LEM
The complexity of communication in modern society saps vitality from family life. That there is no exact universal understanding of words such as family, love, parenting, intimacy, and sharing complicates communication and relations. To the extent that a husband and a wife come from diverse backgrounds or experience differing patterns of growth, they will encounter difficulty in communication. It may very well be that the seemingly unending search for intimacy in contemporary society is an attempt to fill a void resulting from a lack of shared experiences.
Parents with teenage children are quick to realize that a good part of what is referred to as the generation gap is in large measure a gap in communication. With the emergence of the adolescent subculture come not only new meanings for old words (cool, hot, tight, square, rad) but also new words (dope, lit, low-key, hi-key, cash money, swag, epic, epic fail). To appreciate the complexity of communication among adolescents, one must realize that there is no monolithic adolescent subculture; rather, there are adolescent subcultures (stoners, jocks, rockers, new wavers, surfers, goths, and straight edge), each developing its own style of communication (much of it nonverbal).
Overreliance on the techniques of communication is a common response to the complexity of communication in the family. One need only glance at the many how-to books written on marital and family communication to realize the heavy emphasis placed on technique. But a focus on technique can actually reduce communication. Spouses may find themselves talking about talking rather than engaging in genuine dialogue. The overreliance on technique has spread even into the area of sexual communication; manuals promise a couple complete sexual fulfillment if they will only follow the suggested step-by-step procedure.
Another response to the complexity of communication is to isolate communication from our customary activities. Many parents, realizing the need to explain to their children the reasons for family rules and values, set aside time for discussion rather than having such conversations as a natural part of life together. Essentially, then, family communication is removed from the normal course of activity and becomes one more task for the modern family. It is better to explain family rules and values whenever a suitable occasion presents itself. Communication will be greatly improved if it is embedded in the common experiences of developing family relationships.
Disintegration of Community THE PROB LEM
The nuclear family has replaced the extended family in most modern societies. With the uprooting of the nuclear family from its extended family, clan, or tribal base comes the loss of community support and control of family life. The isolated nuclear family in modern society is a very fragile system. Gone is the day-to-day support provided by the extended family. The young married couple must go it alone. With no one else to share in the task of childcare, the absence of either husband or wife (or both) from the home can be severely disruptive. In their review article on understanding families with children, Crosnoe and Cavanagh (2010, 8) point to the need to “better situate families within neighborhoods . . . [so that] we can know more about the places that families live over time, how they influence what goes on inside the family, and how family life is experienced by youth.”
The lack of community moorings has freed family members to become part of social networks over which the family has very little control. As mentioned previously, teenagers have become part of adolescent subcultures.
Modern ideology has set the individual above the traditional community in an emphasis on individual growth and the nuclear family over extended family. Modern ultra-individualism, with its lack of accountability to the community, increases the fragility of the family in terms of relationship support and connection.