Almost 20 years ago, while studying at Brigham Young University, I listened to Margaret Thatcher, former prime minister of the United Kingdom, speak to the student body.  The message I heard that day was that the strength of any country is dependent upon the strength of its individual families.  Among her remarks was the following statement, “The greatest inequality today is not inequality of wealth or income.  It is the inequality between the child brought up in a loving, supportive family and one who has been denied that birthright.”

Interestingly, last month, George Will, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, spoke to the BYU student body about income inequality and its relationship to the disintegration of the family.  He believes the real problem is the number of children born out of wedlock.  “Today, the figure for all Americans, all races and ethnicities is 34 percent . . . We know what this means.  This means a constantly renewed cohort of somewhat tenuously parented adolescent males.  We know what that means.  That means disorderly cities, schools that can’t teach.  No one wants to talk about it this because we don’t know what caused it, and we don’t know how to cure it.”

The Holiday Season typically turns the minds of many to family.  It is a time of year when we seek out the company of our families – college students return home to be with family, brothers and sisters who have grown up and now have children of their own travel to be with one another so their children can share the season with relatives – aunts, uncles, and cousins.  And perhaps this is why family has been on my mind.

I am only 41 years old.  Notwithstanding my youth, it is easy to look at the numbers and see that children without stable family environments tend to have more difficult lives, from childhood through adulthood.  What is it about a loving, supportive family that sets us up for success in life?  Why is it that children born out of wedlock are found lacking?  What can be done to strengthen the family?

Family life is an ideal environment to learn the virtues that help us to live together successfully – patience, kindness, service, and love.  Parents do their best to model such behaviors and teach by example, employing a “do as I do” philosophy.  Living in close proximity we learn to be tolerant of one another’s imperfections.  We learn to encourage one another toward achievement.  It is within the family that we are taught of respect, responsibility, hard work, and sacrifice.

Mr. Will pointed out the main reason why children born out of wedlock struggle, they are “tenuously parented.”  Single mothers are often young and ill equipped for the rigors of parenting.  Economically speaking, single mothers simply do not earn as much.  Many work two jobs, and some work three to make ends meet.  This leaves little time for teaching children and it leaves children with many unsupervised hours.  Children are less likely to concentrate on education and learning life skills than they are on video games and glitzy fashion magazines when left to their own devices.

So, what can be done to strengthen the family?  It is very difficult to undo what has been done in the past.  We cannot simply give money to those with less.  The lessons that need to be learned will not be taught.  In Ms. Thatcher’s words, “Beware dependency on the state.  Once used to such support, people would never be satisfied to have it otherwise.  The enterprising spark of society would be extinguished and a poorer nation would result.”

The Family: A Proclamation to the World states, “Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities.”  This year my wife and I celebrated our 15th anniversary. Together we have three beautiful daughters, Emma, Maia and Noelle. In our lives and those of whom I would consider to be successful families around us,  I have watched how the above principles, have built character, strengthened, and formed successful family units.

As we move into 2014 I invite us to examine how we incorporate these principles into our lives as well as supporting them in the lives of others. Healthy families create healthy families and inevitably a healthy nation.

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Dr. James Burneson

Our practice is working together to realize a shared vision of uncompromising excellence in dentistry.

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