Term:family values

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The term family values is a kind of inverted thought construct. Going by the way English usually works one would interpret it by analogy to something like "union preferences," i.e., "the way that unions would prefer to have things work." So family values ought to mean the things that families happen to value. Of course that isn't the intended meaning at all. Judging by the way the term is used in everyday discourse, saying that somebody "has family values" must mean that s/he favors the family, or perhaps it means that s/he has values that favor and/or promote the family.

If a politician says, "I have family values," his/her intent is likely to encourage the belief in each member of his audience that the politician values the family and/or values things that support the family. But which family is this? Each audience member is supposed to interpret it as the kind of family s/he regards as "normal" or "ideal."

If pressed to explain which kind of a family s/he values and wants to promote, s/he probably would sketch out an ideal family according to a conservative set of mores: one male and one female parent, married and sexually faithful to each other, with at least the hope of children, whom they will raise and train in accordance with the mores, political convictions, etc. that the politician claims for his own and associates with his political base.

The family of a widow or widower would, under that understanding, be less highly valued than a two heterosexual parent family. A family raised by any or all of the grandparents would be less highly valued, and so forth.

Missing from their appreciation of the family is any concern for, or awareness of, the quality of parenting provided by the family, and, consequently, any awareness of the preconditions necessary to promote the formation of a good family. What family characteristics are actually the most productive of good outcomes for the children and all concerned? If one parent is not present, is there anything that the community can do to be helpful in this situation? Is the nurture provided by one unmarried parent or two homosexual parents necessarily inferior to the nurture provided by any "normal" married couple?

Since Republican policies have probably done more than their share to make the single breadwinner family an impossibility, it would be interesting to explore how they square their "family values" with families that miss the Ozzie and Harriet ideal by having Harriet away at work all day with David and Rickey having the status of latch-key kids.

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