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Why God, Family and Tradition Do Not Equal Happiness

Conservatives are freaking out about the death of the traditional family. But the family appears to be getting better.

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That kind of push-back could be the key in making work-life balance a reality. Historically, women's work has been undervalued and disrespected. One reason "work-life balance" is discussed but not actually executed is because, I suspect, it's women – and the most disrespected and undervalued group of women, mothers – who that balance is perceived to benefit. So what if this new group of highly effective, highly motivated, hard-working young single people are now demanding more balance and reasonable work hours and leave policies? Everyone benefits.

Women today also want relationships that are mutually supportive and egalitarian, something they might struggle to find – but not for the reasons conservatives seem to think . Lots of men haven't caught up, and still want wives who will be subservient and financially dependent. For men, getting married and having kids comes with increased social status and emotional benefits, not to mention actual salary increases and workplace opportunities. For women it's the opposite: motherhood brings with it lost income and opportunity. There simply aren't enough subservient women who are willing to put themselves in financial, social and sometimes even physical peril to have a "traditional family".

Despite its reliance on rightwing values, there is much to be gleaned from this report. It identifies a place where liberal feminists worried about gender equality and conservatives worried about fertility rates can come together to promote both of our goals. Make reproductive freedom a priority, including the right to have healthy babies. We do this by promoting healthcare that covers the family planning tools that lead to healthy, wanted pregnancies. Federally mandated parental leave and other family-friendly policies like state-sponsored childcare would also make it easier for women and men to work and raise families. More affordable housing programmes would make it more plausible for parents to stay in the places where they choose to live, and where they have put down their social roots and earned their stripes at work. Real investment in public education would relieve much of the financial burden for parents who want their children to have the same opportunities they did.

Finally, support a variety of lifestyles and choices. When the traditional family model isn't something that everyone is expected to personally sacrifice to create, we can construct and implement policies that benefit actual families, in all of their incarnations. When they are not a crass economic contract where financial support is traded for housekeeping and child-rearing but instead a unit based on love, respect and mutual support, marriages last longer. The conservative and religious promise that there is only one best way to live, one that requires temporal sacrifice and is justified solely by obligation but will be rewarded by happiness in the afterlife, but it doesn't actually lead to good outcomes here on Earth.

Family isn't dead. It's just getting better. Expanding its definition and allowing people to choose their own happiness model is just making it more highly valued than ever.

Jill Filipovic is a lawyer in Manhattan who formerly served as the Gender and Reproductive Justice editor at AlterNet. More of her writing is available online at her blog, Feministe.

 
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