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The Shelter of Each Other: Rebuilding Our Families
Chapter 1: Thirsty In the Rain
Families are being blamed for our cultural crisis. This is due to the media. Non-reciprocal relationships are being developed with celebrities. This prevents families from developing relationships within a community that shares or at least backs up our values. Television does teach values and behavior, but they aren’t our own. And those values aren’t what we want our children to be learning.
Our crisis is also due to culture and personality. Information that was once only available to adults is now accessible by all. Television news is shown at a time when parents are preoccupied with ending their day. They may want to wind down, or are cooking dinner. They are in a state of mind where they aren’t fully aware of what their child is watching. The lead stories, and headlines of newspapers, are often about crime, whether it is murder, assault, drugs, etc. Since the media has made us all equal, we are becoming a culture that is preoccupied with ourselves. We see commercials and think what can that product do for me.
Our cultural crisis is based on beliefs about families. A pastor once said in his sermon, “Home is where they have to let you in.” Family use to mean blood relatives. Today people are often separated from families, whether by choice or distance. They try to form their own families with friends. These formed families are not permanent. You do not have automatic acceptance into a group that is regardless of merit. People also move away. And they do not have to invite you to Thanksgiving or give you a loan until payday. We are encouraged to be independent in a time when we need to be dependent.
Families are being hurt by therapy. Therapy usually consists of a one-on-one relationship between a doctor and the patient. Without meeting all of the individuals involved, some therapists will base their findings on the one-sided view of the patient. Knowing only that one side, therapists will encourage a break from the family.
Finally, families are being affected by theories that are limited to a time and a place. Family issues cannot be handled as they were in the past. What worked for Freud, worked in nineteenth century Vienna. The theories of yesterday do not take into account the troubles of today. Theorists had no exposure to the gangs, drugs, and/or violence that our families are being exposed to.
Chapters two and three tell the tales of two families. One family lived in rural country at the beginning of the century. The other family lives in suburbia during modern times. These two chapters show how the years, and the technology, have changed the structure of the family.
Chapter 2: The Page Family
The Page family raised five children on the plains of eastern Colorado towards the beginning of the twentieth century. The house had two bedrooms and an attic upstairs. The house was an oven in the summer and an icebox in the winter. The father was a farmer. The mother was the moral authority. If she wouldn’t approve of something then it wasn’t done. At that time, one’s family was the source of everything. The family was the butcher, baker and candlestick maker. Everything was done on the farm. Nobody went off to work at a job. Technology was primitive and almost non-existent. Medical care was also primitive. People either died or recovered. Necessary drugs, such as antibiotics were non-existent. There was no such thing as mental health care. People were expected to suffer in silence. Food was plentiful and always made from scratch. Penny candy was a real treat to the children. Clothes were made. Neighbors lived far away yet there was still a sense of community. People helped each other. School was an important part of the community. Entertainment consisted of reading aloud to each other after dinner.
Chapter 3: The Copeland Family
The Copeland family is raising three children in suburbia. Each parent works. The father is trying to save his job by working long hours. When he comes home he uses the Internet to stay abreast of changing technology. The mother is on Prozac. The oldest daughter is anorexic and has accumulated major medical bills. The middle daughter was dabbling in drugs and alcohol. The youngest child is afraid to leave the house and spends all of his time watching TV. He doesn’t want to go to school because he is picked on for being different. Contact with the great outdoors is severely limited in this family. The family is being conditioned by peers and by mass media instead of each other. With the help of therapy, they are able to obtain some of what the Page family had. More time is spent together as a family. Media time is severely limited. A greater appreciation of the outdoors is developed.
According to today’s standards, the Page family had considerably less than the Copeland family does. Yet one has to wonder if they didn’t, in fact have more? They had each other. They belonged to a community. The Copeland family is at odds with each other. They live practically on top of their neighbors and don’t know them. For all that we seem to have today, via technology, what do we really have? We certainly don’t have the time to enjoy the accomplishments of the latter part of the twentieth century. And those that take advantage of technology don’t have each other.
Chapter 4: Then and Now
The danger with nostalgia is that one remembers only the good times. The bad times, that are forgotten, may very well be repeated. One can remember the free love of the sixties while conveniently forgetting the hundreds of thousands of men and woman who died far from home. Yet we need to compare today to the past to make sense of the world that we live in. Different times produce different families. In the 1920’s, all a family needed was a small house and a high school diploma to be successful. Today, how many cars you have, and where you went to school measures success. In the 1930’s food, shelter, and warmth were critical. Today, we have all that we need and then some.
Our society is in poverty. We have more than our ancestors did but we also have less. We are bored with all of the entertainment offered to us. There is no mystery surrounding sex, but there is also little joy. The feel good era has led to a state of numbness. We have little time yet time saving technology has a huge market. There are more books and fewer readers. All of the things that would have made life easier for our ancestors are meaningless to us.
Chapter 5: One Big Town
In past years, communities knew each other and their families. Today our neighbors are strangers. We have become one big town. Our society is no longer composed of small communities. We’ve moved from primary relationships to secondary relationships. In primary relationships everybody knows everyone and their families. In secondary relationships, we don’t know anyone. The most important loss is the line drawn between children and adults. The media treats us all the same: as consumers.
Technology has eroded our communities. People stay inside their air-conditioned homes instead of sitting outside. We use computers to communicate with family and with strangers. People need to be in charge of technology and not the other way around.
Television is the most powerful media shaping our electronic community. It has become our lifeline. Friends are made, news is shared, and the coffee klatch all occur in front of the television. TV and movie stars are better known to us than our neighbors are. We have become mixed up over fantasy and reality.
Today, advertising is more sophisticated then ever. We are manipulated into being unhappy. We always need the newest and the best. What should be important has become unimportant. War and hunger take second place to bladder control. The idea of spending money is patriotic. As a consumer based society, we create jobs if we spend money. Telling people that their life will be better if they spend money has led to bad decisions. There are now more bankruptcies than ever.
Opportunists are treated like kings in our society. We are encouraging survival of the greediest. A popular bumper sticker reads “He who dies with the most toys wins.” We are no longer held accountable for our actions. Tobacco companies know the dangers of cigarettes yet they still sell their product. Profit is more valuable than well being. At one time the tallest buildings held the highest value. That use to be churches, but today it is banks and businesses.
We are learning to devaluize our families. What happens at home is no longer private. We are not supporting our communities either. Communities represent families. Families have become the roots of all evil. Poor parenting creates dysfunctional individuals. Parents also prevent their children from becoming consumers.
Chapter 6: Therapy, The Trojan Horse
One of the first psychoanalysts, Freud focused on biology. Who we were was innate. He ignored the cultural aspect of society that is fundamental to psychoanalysis today. In the middle part of this century humanistic therapy emerged. Parents were encouraged to show unconditional love for their children. That is useless today in a society where “tough love” is often the only cure. There is also popular psychology, which is seen as a business. At best, the buzzwords created teach communication skills, stress management, and impulse control. At worst it is oversold. Words like dysfunctional and inner child are a common part of our language. We are labeling each other rather than fixing whatever ails us.
Pipher has identified ten mistakes that therapists make:
- Most therapists only hear the patient’s side of the story but his or her troubles are blamed upon others within the family.
- Women are being held responsible for the well being of their families.
- Therapists are treating our emotions. Love is no longer a wonderful feeling. It has become codependency. Empathy has become a bad word.
- Who, or what, has hurt us has become more important than how we have bounced back. Yet kids who have dealt with stress are often made stronger by their experiences.
- We label ourselves and use that as an excuse for which we’ve become. Someone might say that they are from a dysfunctional family. This is supposed to excuse them from their actions.
- Patients are becoming narcissistic. By focussing solely on the patient, the patient begins to think that he or she is the one and only, and often at the expense of others.
- Morality has become a personal matter. We are no longer concerned with how our morals or lack thereof, affects ore community.
- People are not being held ethically responsible for their actions. An example of this is the “Twinkie Defense” used in a murder trial. The defendant claimed a sugar high from Twinkies made him kill two men.
- Patients have become too dependent upon their therapists. Yet just like celebrities, a therapist won’t help you change a flat tire.
- Therapy has become more important than life.
Chapter 7: How Therapy Can Help – The Shelter of Each Other
A good therapist should be warm, empathetic, and respectful. He or she should give the patients uninterrupted time. Therapy should not revolve around theories. It should revolve around common sense. Pipher has identified fifteen goals of family therapy.
- Families need to learn how to protect themselves. That often means putting the family first before work, and other activities.
- Families need to be connected to its extended members. This helps to build a support system.
- Therapists need to give patients hope. When the family looks back at therapeutic goals with pride, they begin to look forward with hope.
- Respect is key. Therapists need to respect the whole family and just not listen to one side of the story before offering suggestions.
- Therapy should not excuse actions. It should help people deal with reality. What’s done is done, and patients can learn from that.
- Therapy can help families make good decisions. Contrary to popular belief, we can’t have everything. Therapy helps define what is important.
- Therapy teaches empathy. It helps patients to appreciate the world around them even though it might not be what they are expecting.
- Therapy encourages patient’s to be himself or herself. This makes patients truthful to themselves and each other.
- Therapy needs to promote openness. Family secrets can tear us apart. By talking about those secrets, the patient is dealing with reality.
- Families need to learn how to cope. No matter what the situation, if there isn’t a way of coping, families will experience bad times.
- Families need to define what is good enough. To often they are searching for that which they don’t have instead of focusing on what they do have.
- Therapy can teach when to be alone and when to be together. We all need the help of our families but there is also a time when we need to do things for ourselves.
- Families need to achieve balance. We can learn to accept our shortcomings and still strive for improvement.
- Therapy teaches humor. We can always find humor in something.
- Therapy teaches us to be human.
Chapter 8: Character
A person needs to be taught character. One’s character grows over a lifetime. It should not be confused with self-esteem. Character is our morality. It helps us to make wise choices in life. Self-esteem should be the result of character. If we live our lives wisely, then we can feel good about that.
In the first narrative, Victoria is looking for a quick fix to her son’s low self-esteem. Andrew and Victoria have lived all over the country. Andrew has never formed any close relationships, other than with his mother. He has few expectations to live up to. The family has plenty of money. By offering him a chance to be apart of his extended family, Andrew’s self-esteem is growing. While his mother does not plan on spending a lot of time with them, Andrew is making a wise choice that benefits him. Family is what he needs, and he’s choo.............
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