WASHINGTON _ When she and some friends were talking about their families, recalls Joyce A. Ladner, they realized that – despite their best intentions – they had not passed on to their children something they had inherited from their own parents.
“My mother talked a lot about values,” as Ladner put it in a recent interview. “How you lived your life was very important to her.” But for her generation, too much of that sense of values, she says, has been lost. So, Ladner was inspired to write a book that would serve as a timeless guide on rebuilding families.
Ladner, a long-time educator and now a scholar of family issues, has consolidated her life's experiences and her concerns about what's happening to African American families in a book called “The Ties That Bind: Timeless Values For African American Families.” The book was published by John Wiley and Sons, Inc.
Ladner retired last year from Howard University, where she had been interim president, vice president for academic affairs and a sociology professor. She is now a senior fellow of governmental studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., where she researches women and poverty, child welfare, urban nonprofit leadership, higher education, and race and diversity.
In her book, in an interview and at a recent book signing at Howard University, Ladner urged African American and other families to re-instill a strong set of values in their children. “It's not too late to go back and teach our children things they never learned before,” said Ladner.
One reason families have lost values, said Ladner, is because material things became more important than values, Ladner said. “It may have been easier to give our children a lot of material things,” as she put it in a recent interview, “than giving them more of ourselves.”
Another reason, she adds in her book, is because of the responsibilities and struggles that were not passed down through generations. “We gave them a childhood and an adolescence unfettered by serious responsibilities so that they would have more space and freedom to breathe, to dream and to make a better life than we ourselves had had,” writes Ladner in her book.
Unlike the modern-day family, Ladner said, the family was “much more tightly knit” when she was growing up. The extended family played a major role, Ladner said. “A lot of relatives and neighbors helped to raise me.”
The extended family is especially needed today, Ladner said, because fewer parents are at home and more are at work. “The amount of time American families spend with their children has dropped 40 percent,” she writes in her book.
Families and their children, said Ladner, need a sense of identity, faith in God, respect for others, a sense of responsibility, respect for hard work, education and courage.
Such values were formed in African American culture, which started with a “survival culture” during slavery, Ladner said. “People stuck together.”
Ladner calls her book a “how-to” book on re-instilling these values within families, churches and communities:
- To instill a sense of identity into African American children, Ladner suggests that parents teach their children the family's genealogy and take them to visit famous African American sites such as the Civil War Memorial in Washington, D.C.
- To establish strong communication with their children, Ladner advises parents to talk openly with their children.
“We can't relate to the children very well if we preach to them,” said Ladner. “Dialogue is better.”
- To make communities stronger, Ladner advises schools and churches to be open seven days a week and serve as centers for after-school programs.
“Churches have a secular mission as well as a sacred mission,” said Ladner. “Churches should become the hub of a community.”
The book has special relevance for African Americans. But Ladner says its themes apply to other cultures as well. The book's values are “universal values,” Ladner said. She writes,
“To anyone who would argue that values are the color of water, I say that's a fine point of view.”
One of the important messages, Ladner said, that she wants her book to convey for modern-day families is a sense of community.
“No matter what your problems are,” she said, “you're not alone.”