Marriage and Family Policy in the West – where do we go from here?

Advocacy and capacity building

by Josef Gundacker,

Geneva, 1 of July 2014

Family Policies in the European Union have been introduced in response to the demographic changes unfolding throughout Europe as birth rates have fallen, solo parenting has become more commonplace and older family members are living longer. The contemporary family, according to OECD sources, is at the epicentre of that transformation. These changes are creating new problems and needs, especially for parents.

In general, the European Union views families as a source of economic prosperity and encourages the member states to incorporate family policies into their broader economic and social policies.

The family policy goals of the Member States’ focus on three dimensions or “aims”, they are (1) child wellbeing, (2) gender equality, and (3) balancing work and family life. Gender equality, based on the equal-pay principle (article 141 of the EU treaty), is an official policy of the European Union with important implications for families. – “Towards a Framework for Assessing Family Policies in the EU”, OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers, No. 88, OECD Publishing. Lohmann, H. et al. (2009)

You might be surprised to hear, that the family policy goals of the Member States’ are to a large extend counterproductive and a stumbling block for the wellbeing of our children and the family. Why?
1. Because under “wellbeing of the child” is only meant, that the state to provide for child care and the parents have to support the education and material wellbeing of the child. The emotional needs of the children are not mentioned.
2. The gender equality policy based on the equal-pay principle, concerns women´s rights, thinking when a woman is financially independent; she will better manage her interests and the family.
3. The idea, that individuals, who manage their time and resources, which are well educated and with enough financial resources, will be prosperous and happy, is a mistaken idea. The aim for balancing work and family life indicates that family is a private matter and man & woman can find primarily fulfilment through their job by organizing their public and private time. For many people not only their work and family are out of balance, but their whole life is out of balance.

Family is seen as a human resource for economic growth and wellbeing. The family is, according to the European family report, a dynamic form of human coexistence. However, many family forms and lifestyles are neither dynamic, nor supportive, nor responsible.

Family Researcher name as the main problems of families: Lack of material wellbeing, lack of education and health. This is however a very short-sighted perspective .

Material wellbeing, education and medicine can resolve some issues, but it cannot give us emotional stability, nor resolve and cure our relationship-problems! Unless we address the spiritual and moral vacuums and the issue of selfish individualism, which destroys the family relationships, we will not be able to strengthen the family! Families are supposed to be a support and resource for children’s growth, but too often they are a source of stress, distraction, and disappointment.

What is the core problem of the contemporary family? Our western culture aims to nurture men and women of independence. But by stressing independence and autonomy, we have turned away from family values and celebrate individualism, and a self-centred lifestyle. We place more importance on our career, because that brings us recognition and appreciation, the family seems to bring only trouble.

We have created a culture of mistrust and an atmosphere of scepticism toward parents. Women are often pitied, when as a mother she is only taking care of her child. Our culture doesn´t consider parents to be of importance for the wellbeing of the children.

What are the primary needs of a child, a teenager, a woman, a man, a mother or a father? Of course we need money to feed the child, to send it to school, we need a house to live in, a car to get us to work. We might need a smart phone to connect us to our workplace, our friends and family. But the real need of a child is to experience the trust and love of their parents. A child doesn´t

care how much their parents know or what they do, it only cares, who they are! “This is MY mom, this is my DAD. A teenager looks for guidance and hopes that their parents would trust and love them. A student once complained, “All I need is love, all I get is homework!” If parents are emotionally immature, their love for their children is often deficient, subjective and possessive. Such parents often seek to take advantage of the natural love and loyalty of the child for their own emotional satisfaction and destroy so the trusting bond and harm it.

A man needs a woman and a woman needs a man in order to be a complete human being. We need a partner to trust, to rely on and to love! These are our real needs. A woman who gets divorced, doesn´t have only a financial problem, she is often devastated, lost and hopeless. When husband and wife work together, keep their relationship alive, then they can manage the time and finances. It doesn´t make sense to first manage the external needs and neglect the internal needs.

Family is widely understood as a plural form of life, as an individual choice, a private matter. However, marriage, parenthood and family is not a choice – it`s a decision, it´s a life decision! Marriage is not just a loose relationship, it is a bond. When marriage becomes self-serving, thinking only about our own benefit and gratification, such a marriage is destined to break up. You can´t choose one day to have a child and the next day none, and when you have one, you can´t divorce yourself from it. You can separate from your parents, but you can´t divorce yourself from them. Family is an individual decision, but not a private matter, because the outcome of that decision affects the society. Family is not only a source of economic prosperity; it is the source of human prosperity, the most important human capital.

The defining value of the European Union is freedom. Article 1 of the UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS states: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” But more or less, we ourselves, from the individual level, to the family and society level are those, who destroy our freedom, our dignity and the spirit of brotherhood. The problem starts with our mind, our way of thinking and our value system.  In our materialistic society we are inclined to be self-serving, thinking first about our own interests and career. It seems that our value system is turned upside down.

We know what freedom is, but people often don´t understand the purpose of freedom and how freedom works. My freedom ends, where the freedom of my brother or sister begins, but by investing into the relationship and building a bridge to my brother or sister, the freedom increases. When I establish a relationship, looking for my own benefit, and the other person discovers that, freedom diminishes.

So, in order to help people and bring about positive change to the individual, the family and society, we have to understand the inner dynamic of life, love and relationships. If we want to build better families and a better and prosperous society, we have to think about the meaning, the purpose and value of marriage, parenthood and family and how the family works. If we don´t understand the dynamic of love and its uplifting or harmful influence on the life of a person, we won´t be able to help!

One thing I can say about my own family: “My Family, that is my wife, my children sometimes seem to be the problem – but they are also the solution!”

How does human life and human relationships function? – By the Principle of Give & Take

Have you thought about, why only about 100 years ago, the Wright Brothers managed to fly? Because, they understood the principle of aerodynamics and applied it. Why as human beings are we not capable of building peaceful relationships?  Because we violate the principle of give and take.

Dr. Sun Myung Moon (1920 – 2012), the founder of UPF and the Unification Movement always emphasized that the most precious philosophy is to live for the sake of others.

So, when a husband and wife invest, to build a relationship of trust, to live for the sake of the other they create then the environment for the family to grow and develop.

When we value family, understand the purpose of Marriage and treat Parents with dignity. When we learn to look and think differently – we act differently!

To conclude, because the family is the nucleus of society, the school where we all can learn the very basics in and for life, we have to think about the standard needed to make family a better place. In the educational system we constantly discuss educational standards to make our schools a better place, for the family system we want to do away with them.

The EU Member States need to

1.                  Look at Families as subject, as partner – not as object and dependent.
2.                  Pay attention to the role and responsibility of parents and think how to create a framework and healthy environment for families
3.                  Make “Family mainstreaming” the core policy

Thank you for your attention!