Sunday, 29 November -0001 18:42

The Family (2)

Written by J. VanOorspronk
This is the second instalment of an article by Mr. J. Van Oorspronk, Executive Director of the Christian Counselling Centre, based in St. Thomas, Ontario. He is also a member of the St. Thomas Free Reformed Church and the father and grandfather of many children and grandchildren. Mr. Van Oorspronk is a family counsellor and appointments to see him in St. Thomas, Brantford, Chatham or Grimsby, may be made by calling the St. Thomas office at (519) 637-0683. The CCC is a non-profit Christian ministry. Annual Membership fee is $25.00 and donations are tax deductible.
In the previous article I mentioned "public ownership of our children." Let me explain how I came to that conclusion.

First of all, I believe that there is such a thing as "mutual responsibility" for our children--mutual responsibility within the framework of the Covenant of Grace. Children born in the covenant are not only the responsibility of the parents, but also of the congregation. But when I say that we are moving towards complete public ownership of our children, I mean that society has almost taken complete possession of our children.

Let's take a look at how that happened. At the beginning of this century most children received an education--by the educational institution--from age 6 to approximately age 12. As technology advanced the need for education increased, and more and more years were spent in education before entering the labour force or adulthood. This increased need for education affected not only the family structure, but also the family values and beliefs because of the increased interaction with a broader section of society.

With the advancement of technology, the education of girls changed dramatically. The traditional housekeeping skills were no longer needed. So girls as well as boys attended colleges and universities. Add to this change the rise of the feminist movement and the struggle for the equality of women, and the stage was set for the contemporary family.

The family, before the industrial revolution, was basically a self-sufficient social institution. Today the family is completely dependent on other social institutions to fill its needs. Not only is the family dependent on those institutions, these institutions decide and tell us what the family needs.

With the change in education and employment in industry came the change in living accommodations. From living in a house with a few acres and a few animals, people moved to urban centres away from the extended family. What does one do with a five year-old, a three year-old and a baby in a small apartment with nothing to do for the children? Educators began to tell us that the six year-olds were not ready for grade one when they arrived at school. So we invented kindergarten for the five year-olds to make them ready for grade one. In the last few years educators came to the conclusion that actually four year-olds are quite capable of learning. So we invented pre-kindergarten, because 'the earlier we get them started the better.'

Ontario has passed legislation so that now every elementary school must have facilities and staff in place to accommodate pre-kindergarten. It is not compulsory as yet to send our children to pre-K, but many people will send their children as it certainly saves on babysitting costs for those mothers who work outside the home.

Now there is yet one step left and that is daycare. We already have private daycare centres. But there is much pressure on the government to take responsibility for daycare of children. I believe that in the near future we will see daycare supported by public funds. And with public funding will come regulations of what can and cannot be done and taught by the care-givers in such centres.

Marion Boyd, the former Ontario Minister of Community and Social Services, said in early 1992, "We further believe that child care should eventually become a holistic extension of the public educational system..." The outcome of this development will be that children may become public property when they are three-months-old, and they will be raised by state (government) approved care-givers.

It may go something like the following: The Unemployment Insurance Plan pays 17 weeks of maternity leave. If an expectant mother works till the end of her eighth month of pregnancy, there is one month before and three months after the baby is born that she has an income while caring for the baby. Then she goes back to work and brings the baby to daycare. From there to Pre-Kindergarten, Kindergarten, and so on. Think about all the spiritual, moral and emotional influences on the child, over which the parents have no control.

Not every mother is employed in the labour force and not every mother will bring her baby to a daycare centre, of course, but under certain circumstances it will be very tempting. I think it is safe to say that all of us are concerned about the effect these social developments have on our families.

How can we offset the influences of society on our families? I say offset because we cannot take our families out of society. Even the Mennonites, although they have tried very hard, have not succeeded in completely safe-guarding their families from outside influences. We do not have to do it either, for even the Bible tells us "you are in this world, but not of this world."

In the world, or in society--if you like, yet separate from it. That is what the traditional family was and I believe the contemporary family can be. That is what HOME is all about. The family can be and should be the haven where one can come home to. The family should be the place where we can be ourselves--the place where every member of the family feels safe and secure, children as well as parents. The family is the place where we belong. There is no place in this world where we can have that same intense feeling of belonging. If a person cannot have that feeling at home, (for whatever reason) he will not have any feelings of belonging at all. This lack of a sense of belonging will have a negative influence on the development of the child.

In order to create such a safe and secure environment, it is necessary that the family members have mutual respect for one another. There must be an appropriate family structure. There is a need for authority and consistency, not an authoritarian rule. With proper authority every family member has the privilege to be heard, regardless of their age.

Consistency, without being rigid, is a very important factor in the development of values and beliefs in the child. Consistency in the values and norms we teach and those we practice, but also consistency in the family situation.

One of the most devastating experiences for a child is separation and divorce. In a daycare centre children often experience similar feelings because of frequent staff changes. In the family, the child learns to develop trust--Mom and Dad are always there for me. They care for me, they protect me. They pray for me. Outside of the family the child can never be sure whether the caregiver will be there or not the next day!

How can we as Christians, who believe that children are a gift from God, help to defend the family against some of those attacks?

God gives us children to raise them to serve Him. We must lead them to Jesus, first of all. But there is more. We must raise them to serve the Lord in whatever place they will occupy in society. This training of children is a God-given task which must take priority over everything else.

When we give priority to raising our children according to Biblical norms, we may have to adjust our standard of living downward. We may have to forego some social or church involvement which we would love. Maybe we will have to forego some of our pleasures in order to give priority to the family.

Now we come back to the mutual responsibility for our children within the Covenant of Grace. I mentioned earlier Deuteronomy 6:7 and Deuteronomy 4:9, but also in the New Testament we read numerous times that we are 'to care for one another.' Now where would that apply more than within the family, including the extended family? Did not God make His covenant with us and our children?

Earlier I mentioned that God even includes the grandparents--"make them [the things you have seen] known to your children and children's children." But I have often heard grandparents say, "I have raised my children, let them raise their own." Is such an attitude really in accordance with what Scripture tells us? Today people are healthier and live longer than they used to. Many parents are finished raising children when they are in their (early) 50's. I believe grandparents have a task in the defense of the family.

There are many ways in which grandparents can help. Also for them it is a matter of setting priorities. Yes, it is good and helpful to help pay for Christian education, but it is not enough! We need to interact with our children and grandchildren. We must let them know what the Lord has done for our soul (cf.Ps. 66). We must tell them how we struggled to find meaning in our lives. Our grandchildren should know how the Lord encouraged, strengthened and send deliverance in the difficult situations of our lives. Those kinds of interactions the Lord will bless. They will strengthen the family and instill values and beliefs in our children.

Then there is the church community for those parents who do not have, or do not have access to an extended family. I know of one Reformed congregation where the mothers got together and arranged for the care-giving to one another's children. By using these family and church resources for the care of our children, there is in a general sense consistency in family values and beliefs.

I am well aware that it is not an easy task to make any of these suggested arrangements to care for our children. But I do believe that it is possible with some effort. It is all for the well-being of our children, actually God's children (cf.Ezek.16:21).

Secular society is trying to take possession of our children; are we going to let it happen? We also have been affected by that wide-spread individualism! Are we willing to follow the Lord's commandments "to care for one another, watch over one another, and bear with one another?"

Sunday School, Catechism classes and Christian Schools can only affirm what is believed and practised in the family. We will never have the perfect family in this broken and sinful world. God knows that. Nevertheless, He promises His blessings on the families that walk in His ways.

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