“Chercher la femme,” or “look for the woman,” is a common and well known saying, but the the older I get the more I realize that the saying should actually be, “chercher la famille”—“look for the family.”
What is a family? Is it just a bunch of people who happened to be born in the same house, glued together by genetic bonding?
The family, this entity that is built for security, for belonging, for encouragement, for learning about life, death, being a husband or wife, fatherhood, motherhood, sharing and many other things, is the root cause for any person’s character and problems.
But good families—even great families—are off track 90 percent of the time. What is the difference between a good family and a problem family? A good family has a sense of destination, so they know what the track looks like, and they keep coming back to it time and time again (Covey).
Every family must have a “flight plan.” They need to know where they’re going and start off in accordance with their plan. But during the course of the flight, wind, rain, turbulence, traffic or human error can act upon the trip, causing it to deviate from its proper course.
Families need to have a clear vision of their destination. This is the only thing that will keep a family on track, even at times of contention, yelling, misunderstanding or strife.
It is incredible to see how the first six or seven years of a person’s life, might actually shape his/her whole future. Problem children are usually the result of problem parents.
What is a Family?
1. A changing life mobile
A family is a living mobile. It is a work of art that takes years, even generations to produce, but which is never finished (Shaefer; 1976). It involves simple things like taking long walks, singing songs, playing games, having long meaningful talks, eating together, celebrating and creating our own culture (even if it looks different from that of our parents) and having conversations about everything. And “everything” means that nothing is off limits when it comes to our children. This builds trust and makes strong bridges for times when shame, guilt or fear might prevent kids from telling us about important happenings or fears or bullying or intimidation that they face at school or in church. It also builds the trust that kids can ask anything at home, knowing that they will never be scoffed at, laughed at or shamed. They know they will always get the correct answers for whatever they are facing in the outside world.
Families are about having memory books of good and bad times, of painful times and times when we clung together when things seemed too painful.
2. An ecologically balanced environment
One family can and does affect the whole city, the whole country, the whole world. As John Bradshaw says, “The family is like a mobile. Any movement that happens in any of the arms affects the whole family” (Edith Shaefer; John Bradshaw).
3. The birthplace of creativity
Creativity can either be constructive or destructive. The family is the seedbed for the first seeds of creativity to sprout. Creativity needs the right atmosphere and encouragement. This atmosphere consists of listening and taking interest in the other person’s thoughts and ideas, leading to a mutual trust. So many times it is the family that actually kills the creativity of a child, making him/her feel stupid or retarded or making him feel that he/she will never be good enough.
A balance in priorities is also needed; respect for the growing artist; an audience and some appreciation.
4. A formation center for human relationships
It is the place to develop deep understanding that people are significant, important, worthwhile, and have a purpose in life. Children should know that parents make mistakes. Apologies are in place. Pretending perfection immediately teaches falsehood and rationalization of mistakes. Misunderstanding does not mean splitting up but understanding.
5. A system
Bradshaw talks about how self-definition begins in the womb and how all mental illnesses develop in a family and are present in several members of the family. (John Bradshaw)
6. A shelter in the time of storm
A family is a well-regulated hospital, a nursing home, a shelter in time of physical need, a place where a sick person is greeted as a sick human being and not as a machine that has a loose bolt. Storms either make or break families. They either make families separate, if family members have not worked hard on their relationships or if they have not learned the importance of commitment; or they make families more united, more understanding and more loving.
7. A perpetual relay of truth
Hebrews 12:1-2 talks about the race put in front of us. It is a race in which others have already taken part; in which we have special help ready for the asking; and in which truth has to be handed over like a relay from generation to generation.
It is so important to relay to the next generation that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. The saying goes that a family that prays together stays together, and the family that prays for each other is a model for the next generation.
8. An economic unit
Work is important, and economic issues should draw the family together, not push them apart. A family is an economic unit willing to live together in conditions “better and worse” in different times of life, expecting to have ideas and a pioneering spirit of approach at times, but also having a deep understanding together that the family is not floating alone in an impersonal universe. We understand that God is there and that the family members can come to Him with belief and expectation.
9. An educational control
A family has a strong responsibility for the education of its children, who are the next generation and who are going to influence many. School can sometimes hinder real education. The Bible does not say anything about educational systems, but it does speak of teaching our children. There is no perfect school system, and there is no mother or father who can shrug off the responsibility of educating his or her children.
10. A museum of memories.
A family has to be a collection of carefully preserved memories, and its members should realize that day-by-day memories are being chosen for the family museum.
Memories ought to be planned, chosen, put in the budget, recognized and given proper amount of time, protected and passed down to the next generation.
11. A door that has hinges and a lock
A family needs to know when to open the door, when to close the door, and when to lock it. The balance between being hospitable and having family time is crucial.
A family is a place where covenantal redemptive relationships are nurtured,
where an opportunity is provided for family members to catch a vision, and where commitment to personal growth and change is made.
12. A place to learn to become reflective of one’s sin, pain and fear to learn the importance of confession, repentance, and forgiveness, and to take ownership to live a life exemplifying Christ in love and humility.
The Purpose, Role, and Function of the Family
The purpose of a family is to become a “launching pad” so that each family member can become a positive contributor to society.
The purpose of a family is to become like Christ and be men and women who are hungry to know God and His ways. Family members need to reflect Christ’s character in fullness and expression and to share His love with others to a world looking for meaning and purpose in life.
As for the role of the family, its members must be Speakers of the Truth, Teachers of Love, and Protectors of the Faith.
In a healthy family system, family members openly acknowledge their problems, discuss them, and work toward change. They believe change is acceptable and actively solicit workable solutions from other family members. Children in these families are free to express their needs and wants. Family members can talk about feelings and traits in themselves that they feel should be changed; shame and embarrassment do not immobilize them. There is permission to express appropriate anger. The adults of the family model healthy, congruent behavior for their children. What they tell their children to do matches what they themselves do.
Families function to provide the following needs for their members:
• Maintenance: the provision of food, clothes, shelter, and health care
• Nurture: the granting of safety, security, warmth, and a sense of “home”
• Inclusion: the fulfilling of love and a sense of belonging
• Privacy: respect for each member’s autonomy and separateness
• Esteem: the bestowing of a sense of worth and personal value on its members
• Understanding: the agreed-upon right of members to make mistakes and learn from them
• Recreation: the opportunity to have fun together
• Spirituality: the permission to develop a relationship with a Higher Power, to have meaning and purpose in life.
Paraphrased from The Family by Bradshaw and What is a Family by Edith Shaefer
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