MILWAUKEE — The existence of “virtuous families” isn’t an accident, said Marybeth Hicks during her keynote speech Aug. 5 at Marquette University.
“We aren’t just lucky that our kids are good, we meant that to happen, and virtuous families aren’t a reflection of luck or fate or genes or fairy dust or wishes on stars or even the result of prayers alone,” she said. “We ask God for the strength and courage and conviction to seek virtue for ourselves and our families, but he expects us to do our part. He instructs us to build virtuous families.”
Hicks, who shared “A Commonsense Message on How to Create for God a Family Known for its Virtue, Goodness, Strength and Faith,” was one of several speakers during the Marriage-Building Construction Zone International Conference Aug. 3-6, sponsored by the National Association of Catholic Family Life Ministers and the USCCB Secretariat for Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth.
“Virtuous families are built on that foundation of faith, but they also require three things: A clear vision, strategic execution and constant maintenance and protection to uphold their health and wellbeing,” said Hicks, who began her career in the White House, scribing special correspondence and talking points for President Ronald Reagan.
A syndicated columnist for The Washington Times, author of three books and a motivational speaker, Hicks said the world, nation, communities and parishes depend on the health, strength and faith of families, “yet at no time in our nation’s history have families been so challenged by the culture in which they live.”
‘America’s foundation is crumbling’
Hicks forewarned the group that what she learned through research for “Don’t Let the Kids Drink the Kool-Aid,” the book scheduled to be in stores Aug. 23, was “sobering.”
“If the family is the foundation of civil society, it’s fair to say America’s foundation is crumbling before our eyes and the effects of our disintegrating family structure are evident in the lives of our nation’s children, but that disintegration is also irreversibly altering the very fabric of our culture,” she said, citing a 2010 Pew Research Center study that reported about half of all adults were married as of 2008 compared to 72 percent in 1960.
Three steps to more virtuous families
Marybeth Hicks, syndicated columnist for The Washington Times, author of three books and motivational speaker, said that having a clear vision, strategically executing it and maintaining and providing constant protection to children to uphold their health and wellbeing is key to building virtuous families.
A clear vision
Hicks said that families, like people, have personality, character and virtue. Planning, working together to uphold family honor and helping family members correct mistakes that reflect on that person and the family as a whole are important.
“That’s something we’ve lost in our culture,” she said. “Our family name needs to be as crucial as it once was and we are responsible for it.”
“We need to stop buying the myth that the Catholic Church requires, but does not support, marriage, and we need to stop seeking the culture’s vision of a happy marriage and instead commit ourselves to God’s vision of a holy covenant,” she said.
Parents also need to be visionary by articulating their vision for a child’s character to give them an ideal to live up to – not mapping out their life plans or personalities, but never giving up on them, Hicks said.
“We have committed to standing out and being different and living up to the standards we set for ourselves that reflect God’s plan for us and, most of all, we can no longer assume that the culture supports the values that we are working to instill in our children and families,” Hicks said, explaining that a virtuous family is a counterculture family.
Maintaining and protecting
“Our children need to see us choosing behaviors that reflect our virtue and we need to require them to do the same in all avenues of their lives,” Hicks said, which includes developing a “vocabulary for virtue” and teaching children how they can exhibit virtues.
“We need to instill not only the Catholic-Christian virtues of prudence, justice, temperance, courage, chastity, patience, kindness, charity, humility, but also civic virtues like honor, magnanimity, reason, civility, independence, fidelity and citizenship,” she said. “The future of our families and thus of our nation does depend on it.”
She also noted that a 16 percent gap exists in marriage rates between college graduates and those with a high school diploma or less, compared to a 4 percent gap in 1960, making marriage itself seemingly a “luxury of the wealthy and well educated.”
Growing numbers of adults say marriage is becoming obsolete, Hicks said.
“In 1978, 28 percent of registered voters believed the institution of marriage was an outdated idea, and that number seems pretty big for the ‘me’ generation; today, nearly 40 percent believe that,” she said.
Cohabitation, not marriage, is a trend
Trends among young adults include an inclination toward cohabitation without the benefit of marriage, and the acceptance of new family options, Hicks said.
“According to the Pew Center, by emphatic margins, the public does not see marriage as the only path to family formation,” she said, noting survey respondents’ definitions of family included unmarried parents and children, single parents and children and same-sex couples with children.
According to Pew Research, 21st Century America defines family largely by the presence of children, but not marriage, Hicks said.
“The only scenario that misses the majority definition of family is an unmarried couple without kids, proving that some conventions aren’t entirely lost, though may soon be meaningless,” she said.
The traditional married life – for adults and children – based upon studies and what God intends it to be is “what’s best for human beings,” Hicks said. “Studies show married adults live longer, enjoy better health, have fewer accidents, injuries, experience less depression and enjoy greater happiness than either single or cohabitating adults … and children who grow up in households with the married, biological parents achieved vastly superior lifestyles, better health and greater educational attainment than their peers who grow up in a single-parent home.”
Loss of traditional family is destabilizing
Conventional families are also good for society, Hicks said. She cited John Whitehead, founder of Rutherford Institute, a civil liberties defense organization, who said that loss of the traditional family structure has led to a destabilization in society, because properly functioning families, neighborhoods, schools, churches and voluntary associations limit government growth.
“When these structures break down, society and its people look to mega-structures such as the state for help,” Hicks said, noting that it equates to more money spent on things like police, prisons, welfare and court costs.
“But if family breakdown is dysfunctional and costly, and traditional families are such powerful boosters of health and welfare, why is the traditional family going the way of the dinosaur?” Hicks asked. “Could it have anything to do with the fact that our media, inarguably one of the most crucial influences on the attitudes, opinions, expectations and ideals of our children, relentlessly promote the idea that traditional families are obsolete, unnecessary, hypocritical and even a little absurd?”
Media touts ‘progressive’ families
Hicks said that television and movies have portrayed the diversity of family structures and the situations they encounter like death, divorce, remarriage, blending, adoption, dysfunction and estrangement for generations, but that structures trending today are single-parent and blended families.
“Perhaps the reason there are fewer conventional than progressive families portrayed in media is because shows with progressive family models make more money, yes?” Hicks said. “No.”
Ratings drop as sitcoms became more progressive and immoral, but viewers return with morality and traditionalism, Hicks said, according to her findings from Stephen Winzenburg, communications professor at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa, and author of several books.
“The Emmy Awards prove that the Hollywood community praises material that breaks taboos without upholding traditional values, such as ‘Sex in the City’ and ‘Will and Grace,’” Hicks said. “Instead, the industry needs to bring back the traditional foundation in which contemporary lies and characters struggle within a moral culture.”
Hicks also said that TV promotes and encourages specific values, but not traditional families because that “screams conservative.”
Hollywood’s release of movies like “The Switch,” a romantic comedy starring Jennifer Aniston, a single woman who uses donated sperm to impregnate herself – and later finds out that her son shares similarities with her good friend because she unknowingly used his sperm after the vile was spilled and refilled – say something to society, Hicks said.
“During the film’s press tour, when asked if it could be considered selfish for a single woman to bring a child into the world without a father or prominent male figure in his life, the actress was quoted as saying, ‘Family life has evolved from strictly the traditional stereotype of family,’” Hicks said, adding, “Leave it to Hollywood to call society’s vision of a family a stereotype.”
Entertainment media contributes to decline
Hicks said she isn’t suggesting that Hollywood alone is to blame for high divorce rates, unmarried parenthood, or that it’s leading the gay marriage and gay adoption charge.
“No, but does entertainment media marginalize the traditional family and thus contribute to its decline? You bet, and this is entirely by design,” Hicks said. “They simply do not believe in it.”
Against these odds, Hicks said Catholics are called to lead their families toward virtue.
“The growth of virtuous families is the only way to combat the measurable decay and degradations of this vital, God-given structure for human existence and human happiness,” she said. “It is through virtue that families will be preserved, and with virtue that the Christian family will endure for generations to come.’