Families in Need

FAMILIES everywhere share the same needs. Obvious among these are stable income, decent housing, and nutrition. Less obvious, but even perhaps more central to family well-being, are the commitment and selfless love that enable parents and children to form enduring, strengthening relationships.

These two sets of needs, spiritual and physical, are not as distinct as they may sometimes seem. And both can be difficult to satisfy in a world of rapidly changing social and economic conditions and crumbling traditions.

A report issued this week by the New York-based Population Council specifies many such changes: Marriages are becoming shorter-lived, not just in the United States where divorce rates have been a concern for years, but in most developed and developing nations; women are increasingly shouldering a larger share of families' economic responsibilities; unwed motherhood is much more common.

The initial response to findings like these is often alarm. What about the millions of children growing up in homes deprived of the stability of two parents, at least one of whom is usually close at hand for comfort and guidance? Is the scene being set for a global wave of antisocial, criminal behavior?

That line of thinking sells short the adaptability of human beings, and their access to spiritual resources. The changes in family life shouldn't be seen only through the dark tints of financial stress and, often, irresponsibility on the part of parents who fail to support their children after a marriage dissolves. Underlying many of the changes churning today's families is a revolution in the role of women as contributors outside the family. People worldwide are still learning to adjust to that.

In countries as different as the US and Bangladesh, the nurturing and breadwinning responsibilities of fathers and mothers are in the process of being redistributed. The result, eventually, could be a new, stronger foundation for family life.

Crucial to this better future are such spiritual resources as love, caring, and courage -- all the qualities that form the real glue of families. And their availability is not tied to financial or social conditions.

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