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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Putting the ‘I’ back in ‘family’

    You may not know it, but the American family is on the decline. That is, according to academia – check out the sociology classes of any major university, and you will inevitably find a course entitled the Decline of the American Family.

    They mean the attrition of the traditional ideal of the American nuclear family – two parents and 2.6 children. And they are right: Americans, on average, are having fewer children, divorcing more and spending less time with their families.

    Of course, our model American family isn’t so much waning as it is changing. Just because modern families don’t necessarily resemble the Cleavers doesn’t mean they’re fundamentally flawed. Rather, the change reflects the evolution shaping contemporary society.

    For one, ours is the first generation to have grown up fully immersed in the Internet culture. Facebook and e-mail communication has partly replaced substantive personal interaction. Especially now that we’re in college, e-mails, text messages and IMs necessarily substitute family exchanges over the ceremonial evening meal. Such perquisites of technology don’t so much erode our traditional family values as they sustain them when we are apart. However, our generation’s unabashed devotion to the value of individualism and self-determination has demoted the value of the family. Our family unit is not something we have to work to sustain as much as an essential element of our being.

    Granted, the American ardor for individualism is nothing new; our nation was founded on the value of independence and the importance of liberty and self-resolve. What’s different now is many are willing to sacrifice the pursuit of the archetypical American family in favor of our own objectives. Increasingly, some are finding that their personal and professional goals are

    Rather than narrowly following our own manifest destinies, we should welcome the idea that personal fulfillment occurs not in isolation but in a social framework.

    mutually exclusive, and they are now more willing to bench having a family in the quest for professional fulfillment – for our societal climate no longer frowns upon it.

    In many ways, the growth of feminism has modified the American family paradigm; women empowerment has catalyzed the increasing numbers of women receiving advanced degrees and holding higher offices.

    Yet, although feminism and individualism are as virtuous as they are inalienable, we should not use the fulfillment of own autonomy as an excuse for abandoning the value of family. Robert Putnam, in his book “”Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital”” discuses how the rise of individual bowling in America has replaced the league bowling popular in America for decades. Putnam explains how bowling trends symbolize the erosion of community spirit and the rise of “”atomistic individualism.””

    How far are we willing to let individualism eclipse every other aspect of our lives? Will ardent, Howard Roarkian attitudes of self-reliance trump other important social and moral values?

    Rather than narrowly following our own manifest destinies, we should welcome the idea that personal fulfillment occurs not in isolation but in a social framework. We should emphasize the interest of our families and communities as integral components of our individual satisfaction.

    I spent the beginning of this year living with the Maasai tribespeople in southern Kenya. What struck me was their emphasis on the well-being of the community as a whole – success was construed collectively. When one particularly bright student went off to study at a top university in Nairobi, it was a triumph and source of pride for the whole community.

    Similarly, despite the fundamental alteration of our traditional notions of family, we need to embrace the merits of promoting the interests of our family and community, whoever that might be. Part of attending college is fulfilling your individual academic aspirations and caprices, yet, hopefully, we’ll let our individual growth correspond with the development of the relationships with the people we care about.

    So use Family Weekend as an opportunity to foster those relationships, whether it is with your parents as they visit campus for the first time or your roommate whom you’ve slowly grown to appreciate. The traditional American family may slowly be disintegrating, but the value of an American family, in the broadest sense, certainly has not.

    Christina Jelly is a senior majoring in
    biochemistry and philosophy. She can be reached at

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