The term ‘family values’ is laden with cultural connotations that are subject to change, and it can be difficult to define this amorphous term in words. Over the past century we have witnessed just this. This term has been revised over and over again to account for changes in culture and technology to the extent that it may no longer have a set definition.
To start with, let us have a look at this term in the traditional context. The traditional notion of the family paints the quaint picture of a cozy home where the father earns the living, the mother undertakes the domestic duties, and together they raise their biological children: in essence, a nuclear family. A nuclear family is ideally supposed to encapsulate the values of fidelity, conformity, and integrity. The father should be accepted as the authority figure, and everyone else should comply with his directives. The parents should respect their marital bond, and avoid conflict, even if it requires them to compromise their personal wishes. They should abide by the laws of fidelity, so that the same value is instilled in their children, and they are discouraged from pre-marital sex. Sociologists contend that such a domestic arrangement inculcates conformity in the citizens. This ensures that the rebellious tendencies in these citizens are subdued.
However, such traditional conceptions are being met with increased criticism today. The first problem with identifying family values in the context of a nuclear family is that such familial setups are no longer the default family type. The increased participation of women in the workforce has reduced the financial dependence of women and aided their personal liberty. This has given rise to many single-parent families. Secondly, the progress of medical science has also contributed to the prevalence of alternative families. Methods like intra-vitro fertilization, sperm and egg donation, and surrogacy no longer restrict the definition of parents to a strictly biological sense. Lastly, the liberal attitude of present-day societies to sexual orientation has its bearing on family values as well. The LGBT community is gaining increasing acceptance and legitimization in societies. This means that the notion of a heterosexual couple heading the household is no longer representative of a familial arrangement.
In light of these developments, we are now beginning to understand that the spirit of family values cannot be contained in any one shell. It is mutual love, commitment, and respect that form the cornerstones of a family no matter how it is arranged.