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"Family" : A Psephological Holy Grail?
Messy homes mess up lives
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From Ivory Tower to Three Bedroom Detached

Can the Ivory Tower help to revive Home Life? By Ann Wolfgram Brodeur
It’s no secret that many homes in our affluent western society are suffering poverty. It’s not always of the economic kind, but usually of the spiritual kind.

It’s no secret that many homes in our affluent western society are suffering poverty. It’s not always of the economic kind, but usually of the spiritual kind.  While even the lowliest home may have a cell phone and a flat screen TV, nearly all homes struggle with developing an ordered, cheerful and nurturing home life.  As Prue Leith has noted elsewhere, domestic life in normal, dual-income home can be quite grim, with a harried Mum or Dad plunking fast food on the table for dinner, while little Junior and Tabitha avoid chores in front of the television and the dust bunnies and dirty dishes pile up.  And after the daily rush is over and we collapse on the couch between piles of unfolded laundry and Gameboys, we think to ourselves, “How did it get like this?”

There are many things that go into creating happy, vibrant homes.  Sometimes we know what those things are and know how to make those things happen, but lack the time to do it.  Sometimes we simply lack the knowledge of how do things.  For instance, when I left the paterfamilial nest, I knew next to nothing about cooking and laundry.  When confronted with a stain on a perfectly good shirt, I would toss it in the bin for lack of knowledge about the wonders of lemon juice and sun light on most stains.  And I confess that I was hopeless when confronted with meat and fire, and often cruised the frozen food aisle at the market, attracted by its promise of speed and ease.  Now that I have my own children, I can see the value of domestic skills that are so often derided but are so very much needed as I try to thoughtfully create a warm, ordered and happy home.

Whether it’s the lack of knowledge or a lack of time, researchers are starting to see the impact of these deficits on home life and the lives of the parents and kids who live in these homes.  Each day seems to bring news of a new study on the impact of family dinners on the development and performance of children and stress levels in parents, or about the link between obesity and home life, or the connection between family consumer habits and pollution.  In short, researchers are beginning to quantify the impact of poor-quality home life on individuals, families and society at large.  In a society where most people do not lack the material basics, many are suffering because of a lack of consideration for a spiritual basic—the loving attention to the work of the home and all of the tasks, big and small, that go into creating a thriving home environment.

The Home Renaissance Foundation is singular in its conviction that the work of the home must be recognized for the critical role it plays in the development of individuals and society as a whole, and firmly believes that a healthy and vital society depends on vibrant, nurturing homes.  Dedicated as it is to promoting greater understanding and appreciation of the work done in the home and its importance for the humanization of society, the Foundation believes that research is at the core of revitalizing home life.  By fostering interdisciplinary research on the work of the home and its effects on people and society, the foundation hopes to develop curriculum tools and training programs for use in upper schools and colleges.  The organization also hopes to publish material aimed at helping busy mums and dads be more thoughtful about how they arrange their home life.  And, setting its sights on the rarified air of politics, they aim to use research influence policy development that supports those men and women whose profession it is to create thriving homes and a healthy society.

However, the current research is fragmented.  Dr. X studies the trends in childhood obesity while Dr. Y studies the relationship between advertising and chips consumption, yet they may not share information or even be aware of each other’s work.  And if academics are not making the links between their separate works, it is almost assured that policymakers, journalists and others are not.  In order to get researchers in different fields working together, the Foundation hopes to develop an internet-accessible database that will make available to researchers, teachers, journalist, policy makers, and others the latest, cutting-edge research in the social sciences.  The database will catalogue research into topics such as work-home balance, in-home care for the aging, best practices for effective home management, collected from academic journals, government surveys and studies.  In this way, researchers can see the panorama of work being done on various aspects of home life.  They will be able to see what work is being done and where work remains to be done, and they will start making connections that will enable us to better understand the relationship between vibrant, nurturing homes and a vibrant, active society.

There’s a lot of hope for our busy and often chaotic homes.  Through its research, publications and training, the Home Renaissance Foundation hopes to offer ways for us to bring some serenity and health to our harried, overstretched homes.  We can look forward to collapsing on the couch at the end of a hectic day, and saying to ourselves, “Look at how far we’ve come!”

Ann is a doctoral candidate in History at the University of Toronto, nonprofit consultant, mother of two little girls, Lucy and Lily-Therese.


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