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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.

This sense of being at home is impor­tant to every­one’s well-being. If you do not get enough of it, your hap­pi­ness, resilience, ener­gy, humor, and courage will decrease. — Cheryl Mendel­son in Home Com­forts

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. I’ve enter­tained chil­dren in my home who just flat don’t want to go back to where they live. They cer­tain­ly aren’t being abused or neglect­ed, nor were they being spoiled in my 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 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