Familial Extinction

Sometimes I wonder if the family is becoming extinct. One day it will show up as part of a display in the natural history museum, with mannequins playing the part of mommy and daddy, and the little children. Invariably a dog and cat will be in the background of the display.

The other day I realized that among the marriages of my parents and their siblings, only 20% of them are still together. That’s an 80% divorce rate. A little higher than the national average, and I can’t help but wonder if the national average is climbing.

I can never help but wonder what causes such familial unrest. It seems the American concept of individualism has quickly degraded to selfishness. We no longer understand sacrificial love or the common good of the community. We only understand me; my wants, my needs, my desires, my passions, my dreams, my hopes.

Such thinking is fueled by our very society, where advertising becomes culture in a vicious downward spiral. Yesterday I saw novelty T-shirts at the department store featuring the ad slogans on TV. Kitsch is cool and you’re now a walking billboard. Such thinking is fueled by malls where stores don’t simply sell products, they sell philosophies as well. Such thinking leads to the discarding of relatives who don’t support the cause, no matter how close the relation: brother, sister, mother, father, husband, wife.

But simple selfishness can’t be undermining half of all marriages in this country. There has to be something more. Perhaps it’s laziness. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my seven and a half months of marriage it’s that marriage is hard work. And I don’t mean roll-up-your-sleeves hard work, although it involves plenty of that. Marriage involves the kind of pride-swallowing sacrifice that is just plain hard to do. You have resist every bodily urge to lash out, to scream, to bicker, to argue, to nit-pick. You have to resist the urge to throw up your hands and retreat another room of the house. You have to grapple with the negativity that quickly encroaches and can squelch a marriage in a heartbeat.

Perhaps our modern laziness encourages us to take a dive rather than work it out. After all, taking a dive means a new start, which means another trip to the mall for a new philosophical outlook. My Gap approach to life didn’t work, perhaps I’ll try an Old Navy.

But whatever the reason for our inability to hold a marriage together, we’re leaving a wreckage of children in our wake. Children who will grow up with the kind of emotional baggage that would weigh an elephant down. Children who will have seen the example of laziness or selfishness or whatever-ness and will follow like trained monkeys, yet rebelling in their own individual way. A generation of children will grow up with live-in boyfriends for dads, live-in girlfriends for moms, and we’ll wonder why they end up on Jerry Springer. We’ll wonder why sex is so cheap and commonplace, we’ll wonder why babies are abandoned in dumpsters, we’ll wonder why children don’t obey their parents.

One day a neat and tidy explanation will adorn the museum display. Social scientists will have pinpointed the problem and an intern will write the placard copy. Nondescript visitors will read the sign, chuckling to themselves at that once quaint notion of a family. Their significant-other-for-the-week will squeeze their hand, and they’ll move on, calling for the rent-a-child they took out for the day.

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