A House Divided

Back in the good old days of 1858 when not yet President Abraham Lincoln was chosen as the Illinois Republican Candidate for U.S. Senate, he made a profound speech, which his peers considered radical at the time. Despite the many criticisms Lincoln received about his speech, specifically the “house divided” language, prior to delivering it, Lincoln stood his ground saying “the proposition is indisputably true … and I will deliver it as written. I want to use some universally known figure, expressed in simple language as universally known, that it may strike home to the minds of men in order to rouse them to the peril of the times.” While his speech focused on the topic of abolishing slavery, Lincoln addressed two important points, which I find relevant to our current situation.

Point 1. “If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could then better judge what to do,and how to do it”.

Lincoln is basically saying that we need to understand our current situation and acknowledge its severity; until we do this, we cannot accurately determine how to handle it. Today, more than 150 years later, we are in the same place. Our country faces many issues both domestic and foreign. We have a Congress that is either blind to or refuses to acknowledge not only the key issues, but the cause behind the issues. Until they can come together and hash out what the real issues are (not all the peripheral “issues” blasted on news networks to distract us from the real problems) and their root causes, they cannot effectively address them.

Point 2. “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

Although Lincoln was referring to the division between free men and slaves, the point here is that a nation that is divided, no matter the reason, is weak. Think of it in terms of parenting, if parents are not on the same page or do not agree on a common strategy, the kids will find that division and exploit it. I know, I make all of our kids sound like manipulative conniving deviants, but it is human nature to be selfish and humans will use nearly any means to get what they want.

So let’s put this in terms of American Politics and foreign policy today. Right now, we as a nation (the people) are divided in many ways, below are some of the major divisions.

  • Class – Rich (the 1%), Middle Class (paying for everything with taxes), and Poor (getting a free ride off of taxpayer paid social programs).
  • Political Affiliation – Republican, Democrat, Libertarian/Tea Party
  • Citizenship – US Citizens (born in the USA), legal immigrants (followed the system and pay taxes), illegal immigrants (more freeloaders)

As long as we the people remain divided, we will not succeed in either urging our elected officials to do what needs to be done, or replacing them with officials who will. I took part in a rather interesting Facebook discussion that started with a simple question, asking if we could all agree that Obama was basically unfit for the office. What it turned into was an excellent demonstration of a house divided. People could have simply responded with a yes or a no however, everyone who responded (myself included) felt the need to write lengthy reasons as to why they agreed or not. It eventually evolved into complete partisan banter aimed at picking apart comments, isolating individuals based on political affiliation, and even personally attacking them for their beliefs. In the end though, everyone agreed that we had significant issues in our country that had not been properly handled or addressed at all.
Now, forgive me if I sound all conspiry theorist in these next few paragraphs, but I have made the observation in my life that while most people want to do what is good and right, they want to do what is beneficial to them even more. Sometimes that desire to take care of #1 first trumps the desire to do what is good and right. Politicians are no exception. When we have members of congress who have been in their seat for longer than I have been alive, how straight shooting is their “do what is good and right” compass? When they have endured decades of pressure from lobbyists, contributors, super pacts, fellow party members, opposing party members, constituents, etc., all of which have some measure of power over that politicians ability to be reelected, they have to make some choices as to who they aim to please.
Going back to Lincoln’s second point about a house divided, politicians know that the people ultimately have the power because we are the ones who elect them. They also know that when a group comes together for the same goal or purpose, it is very difficult to prevent their success. And it is much easier to divide a large group than a small, closely knit group because there are more differences in the members of the larger group. If you watch the news, you will see that every news network essentially reports on the same issues with different spins. The various spins are designed to appeal to different types of people either based on their political affiliation, citizenship status, or class. Doing this keeps the people divided. As long as we are being pumped politically slanted information meant to invoke strong feelings of either opposition or agreement, we will focus on how the other guys are wrong and they are the problem with the country instead of acknowledging the facts surrounding the issues we face.
As Lincoln’s first point emphasizes, until we understand the issues and acknowledge their severity, we cannot set out to fix them. In my opinion, we cannot truly understand the issues until we take the politics out of the equation. Before we start getting into the why and who behind the issues, we must first lay out what the issues are. In my opinion, these are our current issues:
1. We have a growing national debt in the trillions of dollars
2. We have an unhealthy dependence on foreign nations for critical products (e.g. oil)
3. We have a serious problem with illegal immigration and its impact on our economy
4. We have an unemployment problem and a social program system that is perpetuating it
5. We have a social program system that is fostering a sense of entitlement over work ethic
6. We have an inadequate Social Security system that was not designed to support the number of current retirees and may well not be around when the current working generation retires
7. We have been in war/conflict for over a decade which has put a huge strain on our military
8. Our military is going through a significant draw down and restructuring which could leave us susceptible in the near/mid-term future
9. We have a Congress which is either incompetent or incapable of carrying out their responsibilities to the people
10. We have a President who circumvents the Constitution and intimidates/threatens Congress with his pen and phone to push his own agenda
I think most Americans would agree with the above issues. I think most Americans would agree that, regardless of who is to blame, the issues need to be fixed. How can I, one person, set out to fix these issues you may ask. There are a few things you can do to help put the ball in motion:
1. Write to your representatives, local, state, and federal. When you do this, try to refrain from partisan arguments and simply state the issues that you see and the fact that you want your representative to address them. Remember, we must first understand the issues.
2. Talk to your sphere of influence about what you think the issues are. Again, try to remove the political spin and tell them you simply want to identify issues and facts. This is the beginning of closing the divisions.
3. As you build a united group, continue to expand to other spheres and take the issues forward as a group to local and state officials through petitions.
4. Educate others – groups like Convention of the States have tons of information and events out there to educate folks on their rights and power over government. They can help bolster your groups initiatives by petitioning your state to pass a Convention of the State. You can even join as a volunteer to write to representatives, speak at events, host events, pass out information, etc.
5. Don’t give up. Politicians are counting on us to give up, feel defeated, and just settle for the status quo. Right now, they have us beat and they are keeping us that way by dividing us over peripheral issues.

My mom always told me that nothing worth having was easy. Fixing these issues and creating a change in our country will not be easy. Finding people willing to take the stand for what is right for America will not be easy. But it is not impossible. Keep moving forward and always remember, one voice can inspire change!

First World Problems

A lot has happened during my hiatus. I left my job at the IMF, moved to Virginia, started my daughter in a new school, and started a new job. Now that the dust has settled, I’m back!

My daughter is rapidly approaching 4 years old and this week’s topic is inspired by some of the new challenges her and I are facing – mostly her whining and crying. I know that she is a typical 3 year old and that this is a phase (hopefully a short one), but I can’t help but laugh at her when she comes to me whining that her “blanket isn’t straight” or she “can’t turn off the iPad”. Based on her tone and look of sheer distress, you would think the world was ending. However, these things are the epitome of the highly used phrase #firstworldproblems.

Seeing my daughter get worked up over such superficial and meaningless things drew my attention to the larger #firstworldproblems issues in America. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems that Americans stress and get angry about things that, in the bigger picture of problems in the world, are not that bad. We have become such a self-absorbed culture that we have lost sight of the fact that there are millions of people with no homes, no food, no clothes, no opportunity for education, and little to no chance for success. Media fills our brains with reality TV shows that overdramatize ever superficial thing you can think of and make breaking news out of issues that most third world countries would love to have.

In the last 6 weeks or so, I have found myself stressing and getting worked up over things that truly are #firstworldproblems. I was stressed over having multiple job opportunities because I didn’t know which one to take; I was stressed over choosing the right place to move; I was stressed over starting my daughter in another new school. Instead of being stressed, I should have been grateful that I had multiple job opportunities, the ability to choose where I wanted to live, and the opportunity for my daughter to get started in a better school system. Looking back and replaying some of the conversations I had with my mom about how worried I was about all the changes happening made me realize that not only was I completely ridiculous, but that I didn’t have any problems at all.

I am fortunate to live in a country that affords its citizens so many opportunities and choices. There are millions who would risk their lives to have what we Americans have. Yet, every day I see people squander opportunities, blame others for their lack of success, and keep demanding that more things be given out freely. The greatest thing about being an American is the fact that no matter how bad things get, there is always an opportunity to turn it around.

I challenge you this week to really look at all the “problems” you are facing in your life, make a list of them, and then one by one write down possible solutions. You will be amazed at how many things on your list will turn out to either be easily fixable or not even problems at all. Perhaps instead of cursing them, you will start to embrace your #firstworldproblems

Week 11: Battling the “Gimme Generation”

Ok Table Talkers, so I have been off the net for a couple of weeks, but now I’m back and I have a great topic for the week. This was not my original topic, however I received my daily Dani Johnson newsletter in my email today and it centered on “Combating Entitlement In The Next Generation”. The sense of entitlement sweeping our youth has been a standard theme in almost all of my posts so I thought it fitting that this theme is popping up elsewhere. If you want to read the Dani Johnson Article you can subscribe to it on her website http://www.danijohnson.com.

Over the past 10 weeks we have discussed different facets of our society and their effects on America and the American Ideals (if you don’t remember the 5 ideals, read my week 2 post). In my opinion, the biggest hindrance we fact to righting our ship is the current and next generations’ sense of entitlement – not to mention that our government perpetuates that sense by sending the messages that all Americans “deserve” equal conditions. However, keeping with the spirit of this blog, to help families start turning things around inside their own homes, I want to highlight a few things from Dani’s article today.

First, she gives a very simple definition of entitlement – “you simply believe someone else owes you something” or expecting someone to give to/do for you. She talks about how kids today are growing up with nothing but gold stars, participation ribbons and parents who are personal ATMs. But, that is not the root of the issue – the root cause is the attitudes they are developing at home.

Ok, so what things do you think you do in your home that may be setting a precedent for your children to feel entitled? I know most of us would like to think that we are perfect role models of self reliance and independence, but the fact of the matter is that none of us are perfect. Think about this – what is the opposite of entitlement? A few words come to mind – gratefulness, appreciativeness, and thankfulness. How much appreciation do you show in your home? I am not saying you should not expect things from your family members (especially children) but, when they do something above their responsibilities, do you say thank you or do you just act like they are supposed to do it? For example, when your spouse or significant other cleans up the house while you are work, prepares dinner, gets the kids ready for bed so you can relax, does the grocery shopping, etc – are you appreciative? I like to think that I do a pretty good job of showing gratitude, in fact my boyfriend often tells me that I don’t need to thank him so much, and we are working with my 3 year old daughter on saying please and thank you. When she doesn’t, then we make her get her own glass of water, toy, book, or whatever else it is she wants. The point is that if you don’t show appreciation when your family does things for you, then how do you think your children will act? They won’t learn to be gracious on their own.

Now, I want to lay out Dani’s 4 tips for grooming an “anti-entitlement” generation:

To groom a new “anti-entitlement” generation, use these 4 tips:

  1. You have to understand gratitude and thanksgiving are taught behaviors. In other words, you didn’t pop out of your mama and say, “Thank you.” You had to be taught to say that!
  2. Let them fail! You aren’t always there to help them succeed or to fix all their problems. It’s up to you to teach them not to be afraid of failure. Show them how failures can be used to create success.
  3. If you haven’t adopted the “We can’t afford it” mentality in your household, you need to! Give your child realistic financial expectations. Let them work for special things, but don’t be afraid to be honest about your household finances.
  4. If you have a smartphone, people at school have the latest smartphone, or even if the dog has one… it does not mean your kids need one! I hear it all the time, “But so-and-so at school has one.” They expect something because you have it or someone else does.

Bottom line – we need to start being parents again instead of friends. We need to set boundaries, say “no”, and teach gratitude. Our kids need to understand that nobody “must” do things for them or give them things and when someone does, our children need to understand that as an act of kindness, not an expected service. They won’t learn from friends, teachers, or coaches – they will learn that from PARENTS. It’s time for parents to step up and take charge of their children’s’ attitudes through their own actions. Set the example for your children and enforce it! Talk to their teachers about what type of behavior and attitude you are instilling and ask that they institute similar strategies to what you are doing at home to achieve it. Don’t be a bystander, take action. This is the future of America, the people who will be taking care of this country when we are old and gray – how do you want to be taken care of – with gratitude and appreciation or greed and entitlement?

Week 10: Learned Helplessness

My Aunt, who happens to be a PhD holding professor in California, was home last year for Christmas and we were having a conversation about the quality of students today. During our talk, she used the term “learned helplessness” and it sparked some inspiration for a blog topic. In the past few weeks I have been discussing the trend of dependence on government and social programs that has swept our nation, leaving in its wake a fierce sense of entitlement, especially among the younger generations. I’ve talked about how that dependence has hindered the American spirit, drive, motivation, passion, and sheer tenacity to achieve excellence by attempting to create equal conditions regardless of effort. The resulting attitude – learned helplessness.

Growing up, my parents taught me that they only way to get what I wanted out of life was to work for it. This message was not only reinforced by other family members, but also by teachers, coaches, other parents, and our leaders. I can remember watching presidential debates and commercials (this was during the Bush Sr., Clinton, Perot, and Gore era) and hearing our elected officials and presidential hopefuls talk about the American Dream. When they talked about it, they spoke of it as a privilege earned with hard work, determination, and perseverance. They talked about American’s as a people always seeking opportunities to improve, digging in when the chips were down and pushing forward, having the will and ability to make their own way, and taking pride in earning the type of life they wanted. What happened to us? What happened to that will and pride? What happened to that message of self reliance and creating our own destiny?

Today, I listen as our leaders talk about how every American DESERVES to best of everything. The message today is that everyone DESERVES not only better education, better pay, better housing, better food, better phones, and better healthcare, but it shouldn’t cost them anything. The first thing that comes to my mind is that if you want those things, then work harder. But no, not our government, they have made it their responsibility to provide that to the American people. And because the government likes to just give out the American Dream on a silver platter without making people work for it – we are quickly becoming unable to achieve it on our own – learned helplessness.

We are getting to a point as Americans where we NEED the government in order to maintain whatever quality of life we think we DESERVE. In reality, not everyone DESERVES what the government is promising. My parents used to tell me that anything worth having wasn’t easy to get and that if it were easy, everyone would do it. Those clichés epitomize many American ideals – ideals that have gone by the wayside in exchange for “free” phones, food, healthcare, insurance, paychecks (unemployment/welfare), homes, and education. Quick sidebar – have you seen the student loan relief program? Who is paying the bank back for all of those loans – the government? Their money is taxpayer money so either the taxpayers are about to pay for a lot of college educations or banks are going to take a hit. Either way, not right. And before you think I am a hypocrite since my college was paid for by taxpayer dollars – I paid that back with 8 years of my life and 2 deployments – oh and I am a taxpayer too.

The point I am getting at is that we, as Americans, are learning to be helpless, and out government is not only allowing it, but perpetuating and encouraging it. When will we decide that we want to be the masters of our own destiny? When will we realize that we know better than Washington what is best for us and our families? When will we wake up and remember that we are the ones in control and that we can take back our power? The government exists because we allow them to. We chose them to represent us and they are doing a miserable job – it’s time they hear that loud and clear. We are not helpless!

For those who have not checked out the Convention of States website yet – I highly recommend that you do. This is real and it is happening now. There are 3 states (Georgia, Arizona, and Alaska) that have passed a Convention of States. We are moving forward and we will be heard – be on the right side of history as we move to get America back on track. One voice can inspire change – use yours!

Week 9: I’m Not Sorry, I’m Just Better Than You

So I took last week off for work and school – now that I am caught up, I’m back! In the last couple of posts I started to hint at the trend of America, specifically our President, apologizing for greatness. But this is not just happening at the Washington level – I see it in the workplace, on the playing field, in schools, and even on playdates. Americans are getting into the horrible habit of apologizing for their skills, knowledge, abilities, and success.

I happen to follow Glenn Beck and in his daily newsletter today he hit on this very topic. Below is the excerpt and you can watch The Blaze broadcast on this topic at http://www.glennbeck.com/2014/03/11/progressivisms-new-fight-the-war-on-excellence/

Progressivism’s new fight: The war on excellence 

Self-proclaimed ‘progressive’ New York City mayor Bill de Blasio has waged a war on charter schools despite the remarkable track record these schools have in successfully educating low-income and minority children. On radio this morning, TheBlaze’s national security editor Buck Sexton broke down the ‘war on excellence’ leftists have waged across the country in order to ensure their collectivist notion of success is achieved.
 
The war on excellence is precisely what the current administration’s consistent push towards socialism is perpetuating. By preaching the notion of equal conditions regardless of level of effort, they are making it increasingly unattractive to work hard, push yourself, become self reliant, and strive for greatness. Instead, they are telling Americans that everyone “deserves” success. Newsflash – no you don’t.
 
The “equality of conditions”  mentality has been touted to the point that those who achieve success on their own are almost shamed by those who don’t have the same conditions – and now I have actually seen those successful people apologizing for what they have earned. Why? Because our own government has shamed us. We are constantly told how we have an obligation to make sure our fellow Americans are not left behind. We are bombarded by stories of people who are suffering with inadequate or no healthcare, lower quality education, “substandard” housing, and unfair wages. By the way, it’s not just the lower class that has unfair pay issues – women at all levels have seen inequality in pay compared to their male counterparts in the same profession – so I don’t feel bad. In fact, I don’t feel bad for anything that I have earned just because everyone else doesn’t have it.
 
I’m here to tell all of you out there who have worked hard to earn the things you have – don’t feel bad about any of it. You don’t owe anyone equality of conditions. You are where you are because you made certain choices in life that opened opportunities that others didn’t get. That is not anything to be ashamed of. Those of us who know what it takes to be successful, and are willing to do it, deserve more than those who want to take the easy road. So the next time someone tries to shame or guilt you because they don’t have what you have, smile, look them in the eye, and tell them “I’m not sorry, I’m just better than you”.
 
On a side note – in case you are unaware – Georgia recently passed a Convention of the States! This is the beginning of turning America around! Let’s keep it going!
 
Tune in next week as I discuss “Learned Helplessness”. You can also follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

Week 8: We Are The Weakest Link – It All Comes Back to Nature

This week’s blog is inspired by my dad, an avid hunter and fellow fed up American. My parents and I often vent about the current state of our country. During one of these sessions my dad made the point that we, unlike other species in nature, bear the burden of our weakest members, bringing the quality of the whole down as we continue to carry them along. I found this analogy not only very interesting, but extremely accurate.

Why is it that we feel this need to “help” the weak in our society? I’m not talking about the disabled who can’t work or the Americans who fell on hard times and used some government assistance to get back on their feet. I’m talking about:
– Those who choose not to work or to do the bare minimum and expect the rest of us to pick up their slack so they can enjoy some higher standard of living that they think they deserve.
– Those who make no effort to further their education, improve skills, or in some other way better themselves.
– Those who contribute little to nothing to society, but stick their hand out every chance they can, expecting Uncle Sam to provide.
– Those who play the “victim of circumstance” card as the reason they never got off the system, put forth some effort, and made something of themselves.
Those are the weak. Why do we feel this societal obligation to prop them up? What have they done to earn a piece of my paycheck? Nothing.

As frustrating as this is, we can only be frustrated with ourselves. It’s human nature for people to take the path of least resistance, i.e. the easy road. We have created and perpetuated a system that allows people to get something for almost nothing. Case in point, watch the following video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RBqjZ0KZCa0&sns=em

Now before you just get mad at the mother, think about why she feels that someone else should be held accountable for paying for her children. Maybe because we have been telling her that it is the government’s responsibility to help her for the past couple of decades.

In nature, it is Darwinism at its finest. Survival of the fittest is the name of the game. Some species take it to the point where they will abandon their young to save the pack. I’m not advocating that we let our children suffer – but what about grown adults whose lot in life is a direct result of their own choices? The beautiful thing about America is that it doesn’t matter where you come from, what your home was like, or what your background is – there is always opportunity for a fresh start. So you made some bad choices in life that landed you between a rock and a hard place – why is it now my responsibility to take care of you? You have the ability and the opportunities to learn from your poor choices and make good choices in the future – it’s your responsibility to do just that, not to give up and rely on the government (i.e. The taxpayers) to take care of you.

In nature when a pack has weak members, those members make the pack vulnerable to attack and put others’ lives at risk. Similarly, weak members of our society put the rest of us at risk. In nature, a pack strives to protect all of its members, but when it gets to the point where their survival is at stake, they leave the weak to fight their own fight while they preserve themselves. America is getting to that point. With the perpetual deficit spending and national debt, we are weakening ourselves. The majority (61%) of our spending (estimated at just over $2 trillion for FY14) is mandatory spending which, as discussed previously, includes social security, medicare, medicaid, Obamacare, unemployment, food stamps, and other things mandated by law). As the current administration pushes to continue to grow existing programs and create new ones through legislation, our mandatory spending will increase. As more people participate in social programs, our debt will continue to mount. At what point do we start preserving ourselves and let the weak fight their own battles? When will we reach the point at which continuing to protect them will ultimately seal our fate? I fear that time is rapidly approaching and our government is too blind to see it. I fear that by the time Washington acts, it will be too late and the pack (America) will be decimated.

My question to you is how much longer will you wait for Washington to fix the problems? How much longer will you continue to carry along the weak at the detriment of your childrens’ future? When will you decide that enough is enough and that every American is responsible for fighting their own battles? And what are you doing to make sure this never happens again? If you are ready to start acting, visit http://www.conventionofstates.com and use my link to join at http://mov.us/1g2Twml and get educated on what we can do to take back our power.

Week 7: Sports and Life – The Role of Competition in Building Leaders

As a lifelong (since age 5) athlete, I am very passionate about sports. For me, sports are more than just games. I learned many life lessons on fields, courts, tracks, and trails. Softball has always been my passion and I left it all on the field every practice and every game because it wasn’t enough to just be good – I wanted to be the best. That drive and motivation got me recruited to West Point and set in motion the greatest journey of my young adult life.

The best thing about sports, especially team sports, are the larger lessons you learn along the way. You learn to work together (regardless of personal differences) to reach a common goal, you learn to sacrifice for a greater good, you learn how you fit into a bigger picture, you learn to perform under stress and pressure, you learn how it feels to have people count on you, and you learn to count on others. Sports make you push yourself to be better so you don’t let the team down, sports teach you good sportsmanship, humility, and how to benefit from failure to improve yourself, and sports bring out the competitive spirit in athletes who are happy with nothing less than victory!

Now that I am a mom, I am disheartened at the lack of competition in sports, especially for young kids. What are kids learning when everyone gets a trophy, regardless of whether they win or lose? Maybe that participation ribbon makes a kid feel good now, but what are we teaching him or her about life? In some regions, it has gotten to the point that we aren’t even teaching the game correctly until kids are much older.

I get a lot of nasty looks from parents when I take my 3 year old to watch tee ball and explain to her that you don’t get unlimited attempts to hit the ball, you don’t get to stay on base every time, you don’t get to run all the bases every at bat, and the team doesn’t bat around every inning. Parents have commented to me that it’s just about the kids having fun – but when did losing become fun? If you just want to have fun, play whiffle ball in your back yard. If you want to have teams and leagues, then teach the game the right way and breed the sense of competition from the start. Not doing so is setting kids up for disappointment later when they realize there are no trophies for showing up in life.

The way I see it, competition builds leaders. Where there is competition, the cream will rise to the top, and others who want to get there will follow. Without competition, what is the motivation to do any more than the next guy? If everyone gets a trophy, ribbon, medal, or certificate regardless of effort or results, then what’s the point of being better than anyone else? It has gotten to the point where we apologize for greatness – even on a national level.

Shortly after taking office, President Obama went on what many call “The Apology Tour”, in which he essentially apologized for past presidential actions and painted a picture of equivalence between America and other countries. Instead of embracing our exceptionalism, he downplayed it and apologized for our “arrogance”. But isn’t arrogance what sets us apart? If not for arrogance, would there be a United States or would we still be subjects of the British monarchy? Did our founders not establish the Declaration of Independence because they saw America as greater than the socialist structure we fought so hard to break free from? So why are we apologizing instead of embracing the fact that life is a competition and, right now, we are the best? Why are we turning in our trophies and offering participation ribbons to the world? For the same reason our government keeps building social programs that make us dependent on big government – because they think that people are entitled to equal conditions, a mindset that breeds entitlement and mediocracy. If you don’t know how I feel about that topic already, go back and read my earlier blogs.

It’s time to stop apologizing for success and start bringing back the competitive edge in America. We need to start breeding the competitive spirit at a young age, reward those that are the best instead of everyone who shows up, and applaud excellence instead of bringing it down to a level where the mediocre are comfortable. When we get comfortable, we get weak, and now is not the time for America to be weak. Let’s stop coddling our youth and start giving them the tough love that they and America need to be competitive and win!

Week 6: The Breakdown of the Family Unit

Welcome to week 6 with Table Talk America! This week I want to write a pure opinion piece focused on the gradual breakdown of the family unit. Let me caveat that this does not apply to every family in America, but is based on my observations of youth today.

How many of you actually remember asking your parents or older family members for advice, going to your grandparents for Sunday dinner, spending every birthday and holiday surrounded by all of your aunts, uncles, and cousins, sitting around the dinner table at the end of the day and actually talking to your parents, or having family members watch you after school or when your parents went somewhere? Depending on what generation you are in, your answers will vary.

I can say that I was lucky to have grown up surrounded by family. All of my mom’s siblings lived within 15 minutes of each other with my grandparents centrally located between the 5 kids. I grew up with my 11 cousins running amuck around my grandma’s neighborhood. We were always riding bikes, playing home run derby, swimming in the pool, or making up plays in her basement. All the grandkids celebrated birthdays and holidays at grandma’s house. We all walked to grandma’s after school. When mom and dad went out for the day or on vacation – it meant a sleepover at grandma’s or our cousins’. When I faced a problem or hurdle in life, I asked my mom, grandma, or older cousins for advice. But, I had a lot of friends who weren’t so fortunate and I see even more of the youngest generation who don’t have the close knit family unit that I had.

I think that in the past two to three generations, there are 5 major contributing factors to the breakdown of the American family:

1. Family decentralization

2. Transition and normalization of women in the workforce

3. Increasing number of dual career parents

4. Increased acceptance of divorce

5. Technology

When my parents and grandparents grew up, most families lived in the same city or town. There were multiple members of the same family attending the same school, on the same teams, and in the same clubs. It was commonplace for families to have grandparents living with them. When a family member needed help, there were plenty of aunts, uncles, and cousins to pick up some of the load. With my generation, families have become more decentralized. Of the 12 cousins I grew up with, only 4 still live in our home state. The rest of us are spread out between D.C., New Jersey, Florida, Arizona, and Las Vegas. Those of us who live outside of our home state have little to no family in our state of residence.  What does that mean for us? It means more stress on our immediate families as we try to balance work and home life without the additional assistance that having family close provides. When I go to work, I rely on daycare to watch my daughter. When I want to go out to dinner, I rely on a babysitter or family friend. Instead of having family members (who share the same values I was raised with) to help with my daughter, I rely on strangers to provide her daily care. This is likely a very similar scenario for the majority of parents in my generation.

Another factor that contributed to the breakdown of the family is the transition and normalization of women in the workforce. Where women (specifically moms) used to be the primary child care provider, cook, house cleaner, seamstress, teacher, and just about anything else home related you can think of – women are now more likely to be full time employees. I am not bashing women who work – I hold a full time job and have done so since I was 22. There is nothing wrong with the fact that women are full time workers – in fact it is almost necessary for both parents to work just to keep up with the cost of living today. The problem, however, is that as women transitioned into the workforce, no one picked up the slack on the home front. Men did not suddenly start splitting the housework 50/50 (before you think I am man bashing – just hear me out). So now, you have women who work full time and then come home to do nearly 100% of the housework as well. Between work, cooking, cleaning, laundering, bathing kids, doing bed time, and prepping to do it all again the next day – when do moms get to have family time? And when moms are less involved with their kids – who is giving those kids the guidance, advice, encouragement, discipline, and nurturing they need if the dads don’t step up? This is not the case in all families, but in my observations of my parents’ and my own generation, this is the case more often than not.

Keeping with the work theme, it is not only common to see both parents working full time, but often both parents have careers. The difference between having a job and having a career is the amount of time you devote to it. When you have a career, not only do you conduct your daily 8 hour job, you also attend training, seminars, conferences, certification course, and other professional development opportunities to help move up the corporate ladder. With more families that have dual career parents, how much time do their careers leave for family time? This issue has been widely recognized in corporate America, sparking companies to devote time, money, and resources to work/life balance. But, as parents continue to push for bigger better careers, who is raising their kids? If they are lucky, they live close to family who can help. If not, they rely on nannies, babysitters, and daycares to raise their kids (which is my case). So how do these parents ensure their kids are being taught the values they want them to learn?

So far, we have mostly discussed 2 parent families – what about single parent families? In today’s day and age, divorce is increasingly common. As a matter of fact, I am divorced myself. My daughter lives with me, her dad is stationed in Korea, my side of the family is in Ohio, and her dad’s family is in Alaska. Talk about decentralized. With divorce being more common, kids become accustomed to a decentralized family structure. Since they don’t have much family around to lean on, kids become increasingly dependent on external sources (friends, teachers, babysitters, nannies, TV, internet, etc) for advice and support instead of turning to their parent. This is something I am very conscious of and constantly talk to my daughter about. I want her to know that she can come to me with anything – no matter what.

The final contributor to the family breakdown is technology. There is a commercial that epitomizes what I am talking about. A young boy (middle school aged) is preparing for a speech. He uses his tablet to research famous speeches and conducts a great presentation in his class. Afterwards, a girl comes up to him and tells him he had a good speech. The young boy the Googles “how to ask a girl out”. What happened to asking your older brother, cousin, or dad? What happened to human and family interaction? Today’s youth is constantly glued to smartphones, tablets, or computers. I have actually seen kids text their friend who is sitting two seats down on the metro. Kids don’t go to their family with questions or for advice, they go to the internet. Families don’t sit around tables and talk because they are too attached to their mobile devices. I see parents who blow off playing or reading with their kids because they just have to reply to that email or check their blackberry. I won’t say I have never done that, but I try to be very cognizant of it. When parents don’t give their kids the time, their kids will go elsewhere for answers, guidance, and advice – and I don’t think most parents would like what their kids may find.

I am sure there are several other things that have contributed to the breakdown of American families and I would encourage you to comment on this post with your thoughts. The future of America starts in our own homes. If we don’t strengthen our families, then others will influence them. Our kids will find guidance, answers, comfort, and friendship/companionship – who do you want them to get it from?

Tune in Next Week for: Sports and Life – The Role of Competition in Building Leaders

Polling the Audience

We’ve been at this for 5 weeks America – now I want to hear from you!

What current American trend most concerns you? Take a minute to answer this poll and I will write about whichever concerning trend wins!

Week 5: The Entitlement Generation: What Current Generations Expect and What That Means for America

Welcome back to Table Talk America where, this week, we will discuss the entitlement generation – or Generation Me as I like to call them. If you are new to the blog, I highly recommend reading the previous posts so you have some context as to my perspective on the current state of America, where we should be, and how to fix it.

In an April 2012 article in Policy Analysis, Michael Tanner examines the American Welfare State and hits the nail on the head when he states “We should focus less on making poverty more comfortable and more on creating the prosperity that will get people out of poverty” (http://www.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/pubs/pdf/PA694.pdf).  Over the past decade, the government has spent countless hours and dollars creating and growing social programs to fight poverty, but what they have really done is make poverty more convenient. As of April 2012, America had 126 social programs covering everything from housing and healthcare to food purchasing and general assistance. As a result, the government (federal and state combined) spends nearly $60,000 a year in social program dollars on a low income family of 3 – the poverty line for that family is just under $19,000. When the standard of poverty becomes higher than the median household income (about $53,000), there is a problem. I know several people who make more money being unemployed than they did when they worked because of the number of social programs they qualify for. As a result, we now have a generation of Americans who feel entitled to a certain standard of living – regardless of their level of effort.

Now that I am out of the military, and to a certain extent while I was in, I really see the full effect of what this has done to America. Some of my generation, and even more of the next generation, expect to not only be provided with life’s necessities, they also expect those handouts to meet a certain standard – which is above what the average American taxpaying family has.  And while taxpayers are footing their bills, they have new cars, brand name clothes, weekly manicures, and other niceties. My mom very bluntly sums up the current mindset sweeping across America’s young people saying “they expect everyone else to give them what they need so they can spend their money on the things they want”. We have gotten to a point now in America where the help is no longer helping – it is hindering our young people from being responsible, prioritizing, saving, planning, and working hard to create better conditions for themselves. Instead, we are promoting mediocrity and saying “it’s ok, the government will take care of you”. That’s the wrong answer!

As a mom, I would never raise my child to depend on me for everything. My job is to encourage her and build her skills so that she can take of herself when she leaves my house. And, at age 3, she knows that I am not going to do everything for her. I am not saying that I never help my child, never do anything for her, and just sit by as she struggles, but I make her struggle first. I make her try and fail and try again before I intervene. And when I do intervene, it’s to suggest a different method or show her how I do it – not to do it for her. As she gets older, I will expect her to do more on her own and the interventions will become less. When she gets into a tight spot, as hard as I know it will be to let her fail, I will let her fail because I know that some of life’s best lessons come from failure. When she gets in trouble at school, I won’t be the mom running to the principal or school board demanding her teacher be reprimanded, I will be the mom asking her “what did you do” and correcting her accordingly.

Just as allowing children to fail actually helps them grow, allowing Americans to fail helps them grow more than any social program. As long as people know there is always something between them and rock bottom, they will never give their best, try their hardest, or reach their potential. Why should they, when Uncle Sam (the American taxpayers) will take care of them? It isn’t until people reach rock bottom that they truly know what they are made of and find out if they have the intestinal fortitude to pick themselves back up and forge ahead.

So, what does this trend of entitlement mean for our future, America? Unless we start to turn things around and make Americans responsible for themselves again we are facing some very dire consequences:

  1. Continued deficit spending
  2. Increased national debt
  3. Increased spending on social programs
  4. Increased cuts to other federal programs (as a result of #3)
  5. Likely an increase in taxes to sustain #3 and pay back #2
  6. A dependent society (both on its own government and foreign entities)
  7. Weakened leadership (as current generations come into power)
  8. A divided America (both politically and fundamentally)

Who of you out there want to look your children and grandchildren in the eye and tell them “we saw this coming and failed to stop it because we were afraid to act”? I know I don’t. This is a critical time in our history – what we do, or don’t do, will determine America’s future. So, as I have said before, start turning it around now in your own homes and communities. Educate those around you on what America is all about and what we are allowing to happen to our country. And then call on them to help make a change. Get off the social programs and take responsibility for yourself. Control your own destiny – don’t put your fate in the hands of a government that is so big and so far removed from what every day Americans face to know what is best for us. Challenge yourself to push harder, get educated, and do more to improve your own circumstances. That is what the true American Dream is about – being able to overcome all hardships through hard work, passion, motivation, and determination. The American Dream has not been lost – the will to EARN it has. It’s time to get that back – starting with you. One voice can inspire change!

Join me next week as I discuss The Breakdown of the Family Unit and How to Reverse It.