Posts tagged ‘Kids’

Family Is Good, Even If It’s Not Good For You

New research from Northwestern University indicates that an intact family structure is important for the wellbeing of all children, but especially for boys. The New York Times reports:

Boys are more sensitive than girls to disadvantage. Any disadvantage, like growing up in poverty, in a bad neighborhood or without a father, takes more of a toll on boys than on their sisters. That realization could be a starting point for educators, parents and policy makers who are trying to figure out how to help boys – particularly those from black, Latino and immigrant families.[1]

This, of course, is not to say that girls do not suffer when a family is not in tact. Sara McLanahan and Isabel Sawhill, writing for Princeton and Brookings, talk about the effects of broken families and children in general:

Marriage is on the decline. Men and women of the youngest generation are either marrying in their late twenties or not marrying at all. Childbearing has also been postponed, but not as much as marriage. The result is that a growing proportion of children are born to unmarried parents – roughly 40 percent in recent years, and over 50 percent for children born to women under 30 …

The consequences of this instability for children are not good. Research increasingly shows that family instability undermines parents’ investments in their children, affecting the children’s cognitive and social-emotional development in ways that constrain their life chances.[2]

Families are falling apart. And the results are not good.

Certainly there is a theological argument to be made for the necessity of the family. Adam, Eve, and their command from God to “be fruitful and increase in number” (Genesis 1:28) speaks to the divine origin and order of the family and points to it as a gift from God to humanity. But there is also a teleological argument to be made for the necessity of the family. For instance, an article in National Review notes, “Married parenthood was a stronger predictor of economic mobility than was a state’s racial composition or the share of its population that is college-educated.”[3] If you want your children to grow up to be economically secure tomorrow, offer them a healthy family structure today. This applies, of course, not only to future economic mobility, but to future emotional, relational, and vocational stability as well.

So if this is the case, why is there no rush to trade the cohabitation, permissive divorce laws, and broken families of today for the nuclear Leave It To Beaver-style families of yesterday? The answer is, once again, teleology. The teleological argument for the family that focuses on kids assumes that the primary goal of parents is to want what is best for their kids. And many times, even in broken families, parents do want what is best for their kids. I know many single parents, for instance, who will sacrifice in any way they can right now to try to give their children the best possible shot at stability later.

But sometimes, among some people, the teleology of personal desire and pleasure trumps the teleology of the thriving of children. “Even if a traditional family is better for my kids,” some may say, “I don’t want to be tied down by the traditional accouterments and commitments of marriage.” “Even if a traditional family is better for my kids,” others may say, “I don’t like the sexual restraints that traditional family structures demand.” Though I doubt many people would be so bold as to outright say such things (although some have), the enticement of the teleology of personal desire and pleasure is powerful, even if subconsciously.

So as we talk about why the traditional family structure is good and why it should be promoted and protected, we also need to ask the question, “Good for whom?” If we mean a traditional family structure is good for children, we could not be more correct. If we mean it is good for selfish desire and pleasure, we could not be more wrong. Having a family of your own, much like being in the family of Christ, is a lesson in dying to oneself (cf. Matthew 16:25). And though this is good transcendently, it’s not easy practically. Nor is it always desirable personally. This is why for some, the demands of a traditional family structure are simply a bridge too far. They will not sacrifice themselves for the sake of another. But for those who do, even if their traditional family structure has been broken through no fault of their own, allow me to say “thank you.” You have discovered what matters most in life: others. And because you have discovered that, who comes after you will be better because of you.

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[1] Claire Cain Miller, “A Disadvantaged Start Hurts Boys More Than Girls,” The New York Times (10.22.2015).

[2] Sara McLanahan & Isabel Sawhill, “Marriage and Child Wellbeing Revisited: Introducing the Issue,” Marriage and Child Wellbeing Revisited 25, no. 2 (Fall 2015): 3-9.

[3] W. Bradford Wilcox, “Family Structure Matters – Science Proves It,” National Review (10.23.2015).

November 2, 2015 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Fairness Over Family

Family ValuesHow important is it to be fair?

This is the question that Adam Swift, professor of political theory at the University of Warwick, and Harry Brighouse, professor of philosophy at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, wrestle with in their book, Family Values: The Ethics of Parent-Child Relationships.[1] For Brighouse and Swift, the answer to the question of fairness is evident, even if it is admittedly difficult. Being fair is of preeminent importance. Indeed, being fair is so important to these professors that they are willing to severely inhibit one of society’s most cherished institutions in order to achieve their vision of equality: the family.

In their introduction, the authors explain that the family “poses two challenges to any theory of social justice.” One is the liberal challenge, which questions whether it is best to have a child’s parents “determine what [a] child eats or drinks, where she sleeps, what television programs she watches, what school she attends.” Liberals see it as “one of the state’s tasks to protect its citizens, and its prospective citizens, from undue interference by others, including their parents.” Though not advocating for the abolition of the family altogether, these authors do look at the family with a fair amount of skepticism.

The other challenge the family poses to social justice is the egalitarian challenge, which:

… focuses on the distribution of goods and opportunities between children born into different families … Economists tend to focus on expected income over the life-course; sociologists investigate chances of social mobility; philosophers typically think in more abstract terms such as resources or opportunities for well-being. But however we frame or measure the inequality, it is clear that children born into different families face unequal prospects.

For Swift and Brighouse, these “unequal prospects” between families just won’t do. Indeed, in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Swift offers an example of an unequal prospect that particularly troubles him:

The evidence shows that the difference between those who get bedtime stories and those who don’t – the difference in their life chances – is bigger than the difference between those who get elite private schooling and those that don’t.[2]

How does one deal with the challenge of unequal prospects between families who do and do not read to their children before they go to bed? Swift answers:

I don’t think parents reading their children bedtime stories should constantly have in their minds the way that they are unfairly disadvantaging other people’s children, but I think they should have that thought occasionally.

Swift and Brighouse stretch their apologetic for equality as far it can go. Even if a parent won’t stop reading bedtime stories to their children, the fact that there may be other children out there who don’t get read bedtime stories should at least make that parent feel occasionally guilty for “unfairly disadvantaging” those other children.

This line of reasoning is very strange to me. Although I would agree that equality is important in its appropriate context, I would not consider it to be of highest importance as Swift and Brighouse do. Here’s why.

As a Christian, I know – and can empirically verify – that sin has en inevitably entropic effect on society. Thus, to seek equality by trying not to “unfairly disadvantage” others rather than by pursuing what is advantageous for others will only create an equality of increasing pain, suffering, and wickedness, which, interestingly enough, is precisely what the Bible affirms as the only way in which, left to our own devices, we are all truly equal: “There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:22-23). It is hard for me to understand why Swift and Brighouse would advocate guilt over a good thing for the sake of equality with a bad thing.

As I think about Swift and Brighouse’s near deification of equality, I can’t help but think back to an era before 1954 and Brown v. Board of Education when “separate but equal” schools for black and white kids were commonplace in our educational system. Part of the offense of “separate but equal” schools was, of course, that they were not, in fact, equal! But for the sake of argument, let’s say we were able to create schools that were truly separate but equal. Let’s say they had equal funding, equal caliber teachers, and even equal outcomes. My guess – and my hope, quite frankly – is that we would still be indignant at such an arrangement. Why? Because even if such an arrangement could keep in tact the value of fairness, it would break the law of love. After all, it’s hard to love someone when you intentionally separate yourself from someone for no other reason than the color of his skin.

This is the danger in Swift and Brighouse’s proposal. In their efforts to orchestrate fairness between families, they undermine families themselves. They advocate limiting the ways in which parents can love their children, thereby breaking the law of love, for the sake of a disadvantageously normed equality. But families who struggle do not need families who are in better shape to be equal to them out of misplaced pity, they need families who are in better shape to serve them, mentor them, sacrifice for them, and, ultimately, love them. They need these families to be a family to them. Such an arrangement will not create perfect equality. But, then again, though Swift and Brighouse may be loath to admit it, perfect equality is not possible. Beautiful love, however, is. This is why we should strive for love – even over fairness. And where can love grow best? The family.

Maybe we should keep it around.

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[1] Harry Brighouse & Adam Swift, Family Values: The Ethics of Parent-Child Relationships (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014).

[2] Joe Gelonesi, “Is having a loving family an unfair advantage?” abc.net.au (5.1.2015).

May 11, 2015 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Ghana Eye Clinic – Day 3

Today’s numbers:  We shared the gospel with 354 people and gave away 253 pairs of glasses.  This was our biggest day yet!

Check out the pictures and captions below to find out more about today’s clinic.

Pam works hard sorting reading glasses for the hundreds that need them.

Pam works hard sorting reading glasses for the hundreds who need them.

Arnold and Tristina have been working hard all clinic!

Arnold and Tristina have been working hard all clinic long!

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Our host, Ivan, talks to the pastor who is the president of the Lutheran seminary in Ghana and is taking some time out of his busy schedule to share the gospel with hundreds during the eye clinic.

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Tristina poses with one of our fabulous volunteers, Justice. Justice works hard routing people through the clinic to make sure everyone gets to the right place.

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More of our fabulous volunteers! This devoted group sat outside all day in the hot Ghana sun welcoming visitors to the clinic.

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Tristina and Pam are still smiling even after a long day at the clinic.

Michael

This little boy’s name is Michael and our team has decided to “adopt” him. He has a degenerative eye disease and will need ongoing medical care to preserve what little vision that he has.

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Michael’s eyes.

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Our host, Ivan, has a friend, Mustapha, who works to build bridges between the Muslim and Christian communities in Accra. Thankfully, the relationships between Muslims and Christians are very good in Ghana. Mustapha has invited several of his friends to the clinic.

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Tristina uses the portable autorefractor to measure a boy’s eyes for new glasses.

The children of St. Paul Lutheran School in Accra are a talented bunch!  Check out this video of their mad musical skills.

November 20, 2013 at 3:47 pm 1 comment


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