Rural Perspective Column: Families

Photo by Tobias Tullius

Living in rural America can represent a vast array of experiences that can reflect both positive and negative memories, pending on the individual and the particular environment that comprises his or her experiences. However, most would agree the family is the single-most important subgroup that enables individuals to withstand the many challenges faced and embrace the many opportunities and experiences that build human character.

In many instances, character development in rural families is instrumental to the communities many will eventually contribute to. According to the article “Growing Up in Rural America” by Shelley Clark, Sam Harper and Bruce Weber, there are special character traits that are developed from families who reside in rural America, such as those rooted in a conviction of principles indicative of the application of hard work, enforcing family principles and building communities that are sustainable.

When opportunities become scarce due to poverty and eroding infrastructure, many individuals who are part of these communities often carry these principles to contribute to other communities, where the opportunities are greater by way of education and economic ventures; the values from rural America equip them to take advantage of the opportunities in these other communities and live their dreams — now many are returning home with a large portfolio of life experiences to contribute to the many opportunities awaiting them.

While many rural communities continue to struggle from the devastating realities of poverty, declining infrastructure and outward migration, these conditions are not new to many communities; however, according to “‘Turning Their Back on Kids:’ Inclusions, Exclusions and the Contradictions of Schooling in Gentrifying Rural Communities” by Jennifer Sherman and Kai A. Schafft, many families depend on one another to create greater community bonds and expanded families.

As the national and global economy shifts, there is a slow but progressive impact on the communities of rural America; for example, jobs are coming back to rural America, and many companies are increasingly employing technology that enables people to work from remote locations. Many sectors of rural America are changing to allow for the merging of traditional and innovative lifestyles. This change is primarily brought on by changing demographic trends with the influx of diverse Americans and migrant workers, in concert with the increasing age of many white American families.

Change and progress appear to be slow for many citizens residing in communities riddled with poverty and economic decline, but rural America is showing signs of positive change, according to the article “Health in Rural Missouri — Biennial Report 2020-2021” by the Office of Rural Health and Primary Care. Spurred on by growing opportunities in many rural areas, jobs are creating opportunities for individuals to feed and support families, and families are showing signs of growth again by raising children poised to experience future generations of citizens indoctrinated with the understanding that hard work, family values and the community are the building blocks to a happy and sustained life, according to Clark, Harper and Weber.

Rural America continues to face many challenges that are similar to that of urban America, such as poverty, crime and drugs; however, rural families have values that are instilled in their members that can equip people to withstand their challenges through hard work, family cohesion and an investment in building the communities from which they reside.

As rural communities begin to show life again, a new opportunity will be presented for America to show its resilience and the character of the family.

Dr. Victor Wilburn is a professor and the chairperson for the Department of Child and Family Studies at Southeast Missouri State University. His emphasis is on improving the economic viability of rural communities and the social-emotional wellbeing of children.