Quaker Universalist Voice

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For sound families, what are the standards?

The Secrets of Happy Families, by Bruce Feiler - A review

For sound families, what are the standards to which we hold ourselves?  Should all families be the same all the time or are there, for families, both universal standards and culturally relative standards to be respected?

This issue is important as we consider the worldwide migration of families to different cultures, bringing with them different family customs as they integrate into their new country.  Presently, we face issues of dress, the role of women, circumcision and family honor maintenance.

This issue of universal family standards is raised anew in any reflection on the new bestseller from the New York Times columnist Bruce Feiler entitled, The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play and Much More (HarperCollins, 2013).

Bruce Feiler has written a book for modern, liberal, urban American families.  It includes much sensible advice for American families, but what of immigrant families or conservative families?  Should the Feiler approach be the standard expected of assimilating immigrant families or is there a perpetual exemption, or a time-limited exemption from American standards during the assimilating transition to citizenship?  Can there be a continuing difference in standards after citizenship is established?  

The book is brief and breezy in tone. It offers an interesting mix of personal anecdotes and summaries of serious, current social science research regarding families in America, which Feiler weaves into his spirited narrative.  The endnotes are worth a separate reading.  The book lacks an index.  

However, substantively, his excellent book for Americans is problematic when applied in France, Turkmenistan, Libya or Zimbabwe, despite the clear trend over the last century that we are slowly growing toward common standards as a result of global media, communication and travel.

For example regarding grandparents, Feiler respects an independent grandparent role, recognizes the grandparent as properly aiding grandchild rebellion, suggests pauses before conflict and peremptory establishment of clear rules for grandparents set by their children.  For another example, Feiler advocates for flexibility in conflict, communication and doing activities together.

In the 18th century, Quakers provided a significant model in establishing the then American norm of the family model of the husband breadwinner and the mother at the hearth creating a nurturing home environment for child raising.

The introduction provides some good reflections about American family relationships and standards, but are these standards applicable universally for all families?  Can we recognize different family values and rules? 

Or, is it true that we do not know the answer for families in all cultures, but should leave these matters to cultures, except that we should all be subject to shared development of human rights limits?


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