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Each household needs its own 'Family Conference'

Trying to identify the major issues confronting families today is like trying to find the cause of traffic jams in every city. The problems are complex, controversial, and often require more than the engineers of the family -- mothers and fathers -- to find solutions. Yet each state has been asked to identify the most pressing family issues and chooose delegates to represent them for the three White House Conferences on the Family this summer (in Baltimore, Minneapolis, and Los Angeles).

Recently, this writer went to a regional meeting preparing for the conferences. It was launched with the idea that the family is evolving into a better, more democratic institution with young people having a greater part in decision making today. The keynote speaker described the family as "the mighty fortress of society." He went on to say, "Far from being at the end of the family, we are at the beginning."

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With this common faith in the family, everyone divided into 11 rooms to discuss different goals for action. Here groups divided again into smaller sections so that each person could speak on the assigned group topic. The education group, for example, debated day care, parent education courses, television, gifted children, and many others before voting on the three most important items.

The day concluded by compiling the 33 final issues and voting on 11 to send to the White House Conferences. Sounds like the democratic process at work? Yes, but only to a degree. The voting results showed that the hearing was dominated by special-interest groups.

Abortion ended up as the number one issue, and one participant protested, "Right-to-life was vastly overrepresented compared to its actual strength in the population at large."

A mother, who conducts statewide workshops for new parents, observed, "Why weren't any of the delegates representing the parent who makes a career of raising children?" Instead, all of the elected delegates were members one of two slates: anti-abortion or pro-freedom-of-choice in abortion.

And a father noted, "Of the approximately 430 participants, only about 10 percent were men. . . . Why weren't more men present to voice their concern?"

The national conference chairman, Jim Guy Tucker, recently reported on the top issues raised at various regional meetings in other states. The sensitivity -- or insensitivity -- of federal, state, and local government toward families ranked first, followed by economic factors, including inflation and poverty. Support for family structures was ranked third, child care fourth.

At best, the final White House Conferences on the Family will have a grassroots representation, as was originally intended. But if the primary purpose, strengthening the American family, is smothered by special interests, then a worthy goal will be missed. The goal of stronger families is an ongoing concern for all citizens if the family is to remain "the fortress of society."

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Following the lead from the conferences, perhaps individual families will design a "conference" for their own house. Here each family "delegate" can identify the immediate issues of importance for improving their family life, and join in working towards lasting solutions.

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