Break-up of Family Life in the West
The family is the basic unit of the society. A sound and morally upright family means the building of a healthy and progressive society.
In view of this, Islam, as the universal religion of mankind, has stressed the formation of virtuous families within the harmonious framework of love, affection, kindness, unity and spiritual values. On the other hand, if the family bonds become weak, and if love, affection, unity and moral values are absent in a family, such a household won't last and may soon disintegrate. And if such is the case of families in a society that society would surely be heading towards morals and psychological disaster, as is the case of the secular societies of the West.
The family has a huge influence on the physical, psychological and spiritual well-being of individuals, and this is true in all societies, but in Western society, "the family", as an institution, is coming under increasing threats.
The role of family, as the basic building-bloc of society, has lost its importance and in Western families, husbands and wives have become rather "indifferent" towards their respective traditional responsibilities, duties and roles within the family unit. The family, as an institution, is the most important unit of the society. If we think of society as a "living body", with different organs, then the man and the woman are important organs of this "living body". If men and women perform their duties within a healthy family unit, then society as a whole will function properly and will be a healthy society. It is also true to say that a society which is made up of dysfunctional families, cannot possibly claim to be a "healthy society", since dysfunctional families mean a dysfunctional society. Also, the origin of anti-social behavior, and many of societies' ills are rooted in break-up of family units and the existence of dysfunctional families within society.
According to American sociologist and behavioural scientist, Phon Hudkins: "The family is the only social institution which is present in every village, every town, every tribe and nation throughout history. There is a genetic basis for the family unit, and 'family' plays a crucial role in the upbringing of children in virtually every society one can think of."
In other words, the family is the "link" between the individual and society and plays a most vital and indispensable role in connecting (or relating) the individual to society. The famous European sociologist, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, has emphasized in his many books that the family should be supported and strengthened as a natural "institution". In his book, "Social Contract", Jean-Jacques Rousseau writes: "The most ancient natural institution in all human societies is the family".
Thus, policy makers and planners, throughout history, and in many countries, have felt it their duty to support the family unit, to help promote family life and strengthen family life, in view of the family's crucial and unique role in society, and the family's essential role in the upbringing of children and youngsters.
Most sociologists and psychologists consider the family as the basic building bloc of society -- as the foundation of society -- and believe the family has a very profound effect on the upbringing of children and young people. Sociologists and psychologists believe that family has the most profound effect on children and the way they are brought up. Thus, the way children are brought up in families, is the key to the "culture of that society".
Well-known American psychologist, Abram Kardiner, says the family plays a very important role in development of an individual's personality. Kardiner says: "People of every society have common characteristics and qualities, and these characteristics or qualities form each individual's personality". These characteristics in turn emanate from primary social institutions, which in turn affect other social institutions.
In Western societies, the family has lost its status and position (as the most important building-bloc of society). Some Western sociologists believe that from 1920s onwards, families in the West were gradually transformed from their traditional setting, where father was the head of the family and managed the family, to a situation where "men and women were equal in the eyes of the law", and since self-gratification, and looking after oneself, is the ultimate aim of western society, both men and women try to provide for their own comfort, and they each try to defend their own rights. Thus Western men are more concerned about their own well-being rather than that of their wife and children. Thus Western men shirk their responsibilities towards their wives and children.
The family has a huge influence on the physical, psychological and spiritual well-being of individuals, and this is true in all societies, but in Western society, "the family", as an institution, is coming under increasing threats. The role of family, as the basic building-bloc of society, has lost its importance and in Western families, husbands and wives have become rather "indifferent" towards their respective traditional responsibilities, duties and roles within the family unit.
In today's Western family, the wife often fails to carry out her duties as a mother and a wife. A mother is the provider of the emotional needs of her children. Also husbands have abandoned their traditional roles in today's Western families. Men are supposed to be the head of the family, they are supposed to "manage" the family, to lead the family in a "correct" manner, but, these days, Western men seem to be pre-occupied with their own problems and pastimes, and they have all but forgotten about their responsibilities in the family. The family is not the top priority for Western men, and this has added to problems in Western society. Western capitalism and its selfish interests are also threatening Western families.
Very often, kindergartens try to substitute for the vital role of mothers and fathers in Western families. The mother is the primary educator of children within a family, and father is the main support figure. Kindergartens, however, can never be a proper substitute for mothers and fathers. In particular, Kindergartens can never provide for the emotional needs of a child, in the same way that the child's mother can.
Marion Blum, the head of education at the children's research centre at Wellesley College in the United States, has criticized kindergartens in the US. Marion Blum says: "For a 3 or 4 year old child, it is very difficult to spend 8 hours in a kindergarten, away from the family". Thus, the way kindergartens are used in the West can actually damage a child's emotional development. Western families today face enormous pressures, and enormous changes, and family members in the West (both husband and wife) spend much greater time outside of the family home. Alvin Toffler, the famous American writer and sociologist, has said in the future, instead of families, there will be temporary nuptials in the West. Life-long marriages, as we know them today, would be obsolete. Many Western intellectuals believe that Western family is falling apart – literally disintegrating – because of a variety of threats and factors. American writer, Patrick J. Buchanan, writes: "The sexual revolution in the West has started to swallow up children. Abortions, a marked increase in the divorce rate in the West, a fall in the birth rate, an increase in single-parent families, rising suicide rate among young people in the West, the widespread use of drugs and narcotics, mistreatment of women and children within Western families, and promiscuity, have all combined together to reduce the number of children in society, and this really heralds the death and disintegration of Western society".
To sum up, we can say that secularism, humanism, Liberalism and Feminism in the West have combined together to bring about a crisis in Western family. Unethical behavior and sexual promiscuity, and "cheating on your partner" have shaken the foundations of Western family life. Also Western media, with programmes which are anti-family, and seem to encourage unethical and immoral behavior, are actually contributing to the break-up of families in the West. The dimensions of this problem, namely the break-up of families in the West, should be studied from all sides and all perspectives.