Home as Center
Many people don't seem to have a home any more. I'm not talking about the dispossessed people living on the streets or in homeless shelters, but the average, middle-class citizen of the United States. Many of them have nicely furnished houses or apartments or other places where they sleep or keep their stuff, but it isn't really home.
What makes a place home? I'm still working on my own definition, but to me home is that place where you're most at peace, where you're refreshed, where you feel safe and loved and comforted. It's the place where you want to spend time, whether that's wherever your loved ones are or the place where you control the environment and can do as you please. It's the physical representation of whatever is most central to your life.
I see people who don't want to leave work because there's nothing in their expensive, empty condos to make them want to be there. I've known people who hate being with their kids for any extended period. We've entertained children in our house who just flat don't want to go back to where they live. They certainly aren't being abused or neglected, nor are they being spoiled in our home. I honestly think that these people don't truly have a home, a place that's their favorite place in the world.
Some of the most meaningful compliments I've ever received have been from those who have said something like, "Your house feels like a home. I always feel good/welcome/comfortable here." One friend said she loves to be here because there's always something going on. All five of us might not be doing the same thing, but we interact with each other constantly and lovingly, and she said that's the kind of home she wants when she has a family.
We live in a society where most people entrust their children to strangers every day. They wouldn't even consider loaning their cars or credit cards to the same people, but they blithely drop their children off at daycare centers or put them on school buses with little consideration—because that's normal. It's what everyone does, right?
Wrong. I'm one of a growing number of people who have looked at the changes in our society that have coincided with a movement away from home in general and realized that something is seriously wrong.
Throughout most of our history, adults and children have spent most of their hours at home or in family businesses of some sort and with their nuclear or extended families. Since the beginning of the industrial age, more and more of us have shifted to being in factories or offices for most of our waking hours while our professional educators or childcare providers have raised our children.
During that time we've also seen increased incidence of violent crime, especially among the young. We've seen more substance abuse. We actually have a less literate population in the United States than we had two hundred years ago. There are few intact nuclear families and many people don't maintain any significant contact with their extended families.
Many people feel isolated, depressed, angry, joyless. They can't even figure out why they feel that way, because they know they are living in a very prosperous time. They are surrounded by the best of everything, and it seems drab, somehow.
I truly believe that what people are feeling is the absence of home. I believe that our society is seeing the ill effects of treating children as afterthoughts rather than precious gifts and shuffling them off to institutions for no crime other than not fitting in with our normal workaday lives. How can children avoid knowing that they're a problem, an inconvenience, when any illness means their parents are either missing work and having financial or other problems because of it, or frantically trying to arrange alternate child care because they can't miss work and the child can't go to school or daycare with a fever? Why should children believe us when we tell them they're important to us if they spend most of their hours with other people? When they know that the daycare people care because they're paid to care, and the school personnel care because they're paid to care or because there are laws saying they have to do so?
Before you decide I'm one of those people insisting that if women had just stayed at home rather than going to work everything would be better, I'm not. Historically, most women throughout the history of civilization who have worked in some way to contribute to the economic success of their families every bit as the men have. Children contributed as well!
What has changed is that most people, male and female, now do some sort of work that is completely separate from their homes and families. While children were usually present while their parents farmed or ran family businesses or raised livestock, there is no place for children of a retail clerk on the floor of the department where he works, or for the offspring of a computer programmer in the cubicle farm where she spends most of her hours. Most people (in the United States, anyway) no longer live near their extended families. If they do some sort of work that cannot include their children, they probably don't have siblings or grandparents who can take care of the children for them. Even when we do live near our extended families, most of those siblings and grandparents are also working. The result? Their children are displaced.
Every morning, most American children are taken to daycare centers or sent off to schools. Their parents rush off to work, and pick the kids up on the way home. Other children come home to an empty house and wait for their parents to get home. By the time everyone is home, there's little time or energy left for much interaction. Most people insist that nobody has time for regular sit-down family dinners any more. Weekends are often full of work brought home and soccer games or other scheduled activities. Home just isn't all that central to most people in any real sense any more. Work and school are the center of most people's lives, and most schools are designed to prepare children for being good little employees.
I sincerely believe that the devaluation of home and family leads, very naturally, to the disintegration of being in community in any real sense. That disintegration is rotting our society from the core. I don't honestly think any of the high dollar "government initiatives" will do a thing to reduce crime or combat substance abuse. I do think that a grassroots movement back to the home as the center of our lives will naturally improve those problems and make many more positive changes in our society. Again, I'm not talking about women leaving the workforce. I do not believe it's truly healthy for children to be around either men or women exclusively, but that they should be raised equally by people of both genders. What I am talking about is a movement away from working for other people and going to work every day and back to doing meaningful work that is an integral part of whole, healthy lives. I'm talking about concentrating on having better lives instead of more material things, and about living in community rather than networking.
I'm not a sociologist or a psychologist or any other person with a degree or special study. I've just observed certain truths around me and compared the changes in our society to the history I've studied. I can't help but notice that A happened, then B happened, and that there's correlation and (I believe) causation. I'm certainly not the only person saying these things and I certainly wasn't the first. I'm seeing articles in everything from mainstream newspapers to new age magazines about the return of the home. I could pull all manner of statistics out of various sources and quote them to support my opinions, but I'm not going to do that because I don't make any claims beyond the fact that I sincerely believe that destroying the home as the center of our lives is destroying us. I'm not even going to provide a bunch of links to the sites of people who agree with me or whatever. I'm just putting my thoughts out here.
Much of my personal philosophy is completely incompatible with that of people like Phyllis Schafley and James Dobson. They are representative of the people who most often come to mind when anyone starts talking about rebuilding our homes and families. I don't think "traditional family values" are necessarily good ones, nor are they actually traditional. I define family in a much broader way than most of those people would accept. I'm not interested in trying to force my definitions on anyone else, but in encouraging every member of our society to devote him or herself to family in whatever form is right for him or herself. That may be a nuclear family, a blended family, a family of unrelated adults who have chosen to come together, or any of an infinite number of combinations. A couple made up of two men or two women can, as far as I'm concerned, every bit as good at parenting as a couple made up of a man or a woman. I don't think every family should necessarily have only two adults in it. I don't believe that someone with two X chromosomes is automatically better suited to caring for children than a person with one X and one Y chromosome.
I know that most of the changes the feminist movement has brought to our society have been positive ones. Eroding sex-based stereotypes is a good thing. It's ridiculous to think that more than half the humans on this planet are only suited to being mothers, wives, teachers or nurses. It's just as silly to think that men somehow aren't as suited to jobs traditionally relegated to women. We still aren't anywhere near true equality, but we're closer than we were in 1950.
We've thrown the baby out with the bathwater in that the very notion of being a homemaker and caring for children has been devalued. Perhaps they were devalued before, or they wouldn't have been considered "women's work" in the first place. In any case, they certainly aren't according the respect they deserve.
Last updated January 26, 2001
graphics created by Sam
Chupp and Cynthia Armistead
This file last modified 01/26/09