Families see a subtle, lasting shift in values
Several weeks after the September terrorist attacks, Jennifer and Jeff Arnold of Waukesha, Wis., found themselves engaged in what she calls a "regrouping of values." Saddened by the death of a business friend in the World Trade Center and weary of demanding clocks that left them little time together, they resolved to make changes.Skip to next paragraph
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"My husband and I reevaluated our marriage and our schedules," says Mrs. Arnold, marketing manager for a financial firm in Milwaukee. She and her husband, a contractor, now devote evenings to 20-month-old Jeremy and 10-year-old Emily. Household tasks, such as laundry, wait for the weekend. They also try to spend time with her parents and her husband's parents on weekends.
"We're focusing entirely on our family," she says.
In the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, sentiments like hers abounded. The autumn air echoed with earnest talk about how families were reordering priorities, patching up old feuds, and spending more time together. "Nesting" and "cocooning" became the operative words.
Today, 3-1/2 months later, the family remains a refuge from uncertainty and danger. But beyond extra hugs and heartfelt exchanges of "I love you," how much has really changed? Are good intentions becoming a reality?
Parents around the country offer varied opinions. At the same time, experts with broad perspectives on social trends see signs of a quiet, but potentially profound, shift in values that goes beyond changes in individual families. The result, some say, could strengthen families, modestly reshape the workplace, and influence public policies affecting children and parents.
For those who lost relatives or friends in the tragedy, everything is forever altered. Other families, unaffected personally, report that little has changed.
"For people who didn't know anybody in the disaster, a few months go by, and everything is pretty much status quo," says Peter Baylies, of Andover, Mass., the father of two school-age sons and director of the At-Home Dads Network.
Among the 125 men who attended a national convention of at-home fathers in Skokie, Ill., last month, the subject of Sept. 11 barely came up, according to Mr. Baylies. These men, already heavily invested in family life, feel little need to change.
To Eric Piper of Lynnfield, Mass., a department manager at a supermarket and the father of two daughters, 10 and 13, the talk about new priorities is "a lot of media hype." Referring to his own family, he says, "We're doing all the same things we always have - eating dinner together and spending time with the kids."
Yet change, however subtle, is in the air. Even before Sept. 11, signs of what could be called the New American Hearth began appearing in everything from books promoting marriage to calls for better work-life balance. Now those yearnings have intensified.
"There's just a definite shift in the larger environment," says David Blankenhorn, president of the Institute for American Values in New York. "It's the first time in a long time that there's been a clear, overriding national goal that dominates everything else. The seriousness of that, the stakes of that, the danger involved in that is going to indirectly affect family life."
He and others caution that it is too early to gauge long-term effects on marriage and divorce rates. But Mr. Blankenhorn speculates that the combination of a recession and a war could keep some couples together. "That has happened in previous eras. When there's a period of loss and danger, you kind of cling."