Abundance of experts share wisdom to help strengthen families

A plentiful combination of "why we should" and "how to" strengthen families dominated the 6th annual Governor's Conference on Families held in Salt Lake City Sept. 18.

Many members and leaders of the Church, as well as leaders and members of other faiths, attended and conducted workshops at the multi-denominational daylong event held at the Salt Palace. Utah Gov. Michael O. Leavitt and his wife, Jacalyn, opened the conference.Merlin Olsen, National Football League hall of famer, actor, and motivational speaker, gave the keynote address. Carlfred B. Broderick, professor of sociology at the University of Southern California, a national authority on families and a former stake president, led a workshop for religious leaders.

Selections from some workshops are on pages 4, 5 and 6.

Speaking during the conference's opening session, Gov. Leavitt said, "Virtually every issue that we deal with, be it education. . . , be it human services or gang problems or drugs, we find [strong familiesT the ultimate solution."

Brother Broderick, a member of the Cerritos 3rd Ward, Cerritos California Stake, focused much of his remarks on preventing and identifying child abuse, and counseling those who have been victims.

He said that parents need to realize that children come into the world with their own individual talents and strengths. Children, in that regard, are not the sole products of their homelife.

"I once took with smugness how well my kids turned out," he said. "Now I realize that my kids would have turned out well if they had been orphans. I did not create my children; they are their own people."

He said that many children from dysfunctional families turn out well. Because of this, "neither does it serve to teach people that if they come from a dysfunctional family, they are doomed. Not true."

Rather, children from these families, in the process of avoiding those doomed outcomes, often reach out for help.

"We have the unusual opportunity to help," he said. "We can help people all way up their lives, at any age."

These children, referred to as "invulnerable children," are those who come from dysfunctional homes and still succeed. "They succeeded because somebody in their lives reached out to help - a schoolteacher, a religious leader, a friend. It was somebody they could draw nourishment from, take strength unto themselves, to become the architect of their own lives.

"Our influence might seem to us to be trivial and peripheral. But people who are hungry for some [emotionalT purchase will find us if we will reach out a little bit."

On the other hand, he continued, "I get people who are 45 years old who are still blaming their mothers for their problems. I say, `Give her a break. You're a grown-up, and you have to take responsibility now for who you are and what you do with your life.' "

One thing that is most disruptive of families is child abuse, he said. Most of his remarks were aimed at dealing with child abuse, a topic he frequently encounters as a professional therapist.

"The problems we talk about are not observant of barriers of faith, class, ethnicity, or position in society," he said. "I have painfully discovered that problems of abuse cut across all those boundaries."

Regarding sexual abuse, he said that the predator is most likely to be someone who is one step away from the family. The most frequent predators are single mothers' boyfriends. Next are the friends of a stepfather. "These people have access to the home without the loyalty to protect it."

Often, he said, the guardians are blinded to the obvious signs that abuse is occurring. In many cases, the children cried out and gave all the signs, but the parents were not willing to look.

"I don't want to put the whole burden on mothers, but they should look."

In a social setting, he suggested, parents ought to take note whether or not their children are as enthusiastic about the youth leaders as they are.

He encouraged leaders to protect the weak, and not to unwittingly support the predator. "Sometimes, in order not to drive them away, we conspire in their rationalization that their offense wasn't so bad. I have never known, in hundreds of cases, an offender who acknowledged the full offense.

"One thing we know is that when a particular predator and his victim are in constant exposure to each other, the predatory behavior is very likely to occur."

In dealing with those who had been abused as children, Brother Broderick suggested that many still suffer as adults. He told of a woman who had been assaulted as a child who dressed repulsively as an adult. She did this as though to repulse a would-be attacker.

This woman often stood before a beauty shop, looking longingly inside. One day, after many therapeutic experiences that improved her self-image, she stood in front of a beauty shop. The operators evidently had a quiet day and "they came out and `kidnapped' her and took her inside. They washed her hair, they curled her hair, they did her fingernails. They even put new clothing on her and put a ribbon in her hair. When I saw her, she was pretty; she looked like a woman.

"I honor these people, and my honor is genuine. Any victim is stronger than I, because in generations yet unborn there will be love.

"And just as there is plenty of abuse, I believe there is an army of helpers. The sins of the parents no longer have to be answered upon the children for the third and fourth generations."

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