Sunday, 29 November -0001 18:42

The Family (1)

Written by J. Van Oorspronk
Mr. Joe VanOorspronk is the 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. VanOorspronk is 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.

There seems to be a world-wide concern about the family these days. In fact, 1994 has been declared ÒInternational Year of the FamilyÓ by the United Nations. I think it is safe to say that we all are very much concerned about the well-being of our families, and are also very much convinced about the importance of the family as a social unit for the well-being of society and the church.

Are we aware, however, of what has happened and is happening to the traditional family, and, subsequently, the effect of what is happening on our children?

We live in a century in which we have seen dramatic changes in all areas of life. There were incredible changes in technologyÑfrom horse and buggy and dog-carts to space ships and computers.

At the social level, child labour was outlawed. Education became available for everyone, and is now even compulsory up to age 16. There was the struggle for the rights of women, such as the right to vote, equal opportunities and equal pay for equal work.

One of the most important factors of the changes in society is the continuing secularization and particularly the secularization of the educational institutions. Much of the thinking of secular educators is based on the views of human nature of men such as J.B. Watson and B.F. Skinner, who were behavioural psychologists. Those men believed that all human behaviour is learned, including the way we think. Undoubtedly these men were influenced by John Locke, an English philosopher, who believed that a person is born as a blank slate, with no innate knowledge of good or bad whatsoever.

Out of the thinking of such men came the idea that, when we give people freedom and place them in the proper environment, with the appropriate rewards, we will eventually have a perfect society. (Read the somewhat controversial book Walden Two by B.F. Skinner.)

The traditional family was, and is, considered a hindrance in this process of developing the Ôideal societyÕ and so the traditional family as a social unit came under attack. Karl Marx and many others saw the family as an institution that restrained individual freedom. The feminist movement has promoted the elimination of the father from the family because the father is seen as the oppressor of both women and children. The economic institutions have promised individual freedom in exchange for what were traditional family functions. The educational institutions have all but completely taken over the educational function of the family. Sexual and emotional fulfillment within the family also are under severe attack.

We admit that the critics of the family have some valid concerns. There were in the traditional family, indeed, and probably still are, fathers who were dictators, ruling their wives and children with an iron fist. In contrast, in many of todayÕs families we see a lack of consistency and authority necessary for the development of the individualÕs personality.

Nevertheless, most people still greatly value family relationships and experience distress when those relationships do not function properly. I believe there is no viable alternative to the triad family for raising children to become responsible and stable individuals, and in spite of all the negative criticism and attacks, the triad family of father, mother and child has survived. It is well-known that children need both a father and a mother as role models. The Big Brothers and Big Sisters organizations were instituted, so that the role of the absent parent could be filled, at least part of the time.

The family, of course, does much more than supply role models. The family is more than just a group of individuals. Families have histories, values and beliefs which are transmitted from one generation to the next. These values and beliefs give meaning to life. These meaning are an important factor in the development of the individualÕs identity. The stable family provides the individual with the context for the affirmation of these values and beliefs and therefore of his or her identity.

Identity is not something a person is born with, rather it emerges from specific social processes. The children develop their specific identity in interaction with others. Identity is closely related to the overall framework of meaning within which we can make sense of our lives.

We must recognize that many of the traditional, as well as the contemporary families, had and have many shortcomings due to our fall into sin. Nevertheless, there is strong evidence from social research that there is no alternative institution that can instil basic moral values in the individual. And yet, we seem to be moving towards, what I have coined Òpublic ownership of our children.Ó (More about this later.)

To find meaning in life it is necessary for a person to have a strong sense of belonging. For thousands of years, the major task of the family has been to provide that strong sense of belonging necessary for the socialization of the child. Sociologist Peter Berger says, quoting Herbert Mead, ÒIndeed socialization is impossible without a strong sense of belonging existing between the child and one or more ÔsignificantÕ adults.Ó

The Bible tells us about the closeness of the family unit too. God puts the task of the socialization of the children upon the parents. In Deuteronomy 6:7 we read, ÒÉand you shall teach themÑthese words which I command youÑdiligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.Ó

We could also say, ÒTeach your children when you have free time, when you work, when you go to bed and when you get up.Ó This verse implies that the family was always together. There was that closeness, that sense of belonging, separate from the rest of society.

In Deuteronomy 4:9 God includes even the grandparents in the socialization process Ð Òmake themÑthe things you have seenÑknown to your children and childrenÕs children.Ó

From the Bible as well as from more recent history we know that it was common that the traditional family consisted of three generations. With the industrial revolution this arrangement began to change slowly. After the Second World War changes in the family arrangement accelerated so that today we rarely see three generations under one roof.

Then there are the changes in the function of the family. LetÕs look at just a few of the main functions of the family that have changed and the effect it had on the family dynamics.

The economic function of the family used to include growing and processing food, making clothes, and chopping wood for cooking and heating the home. Today all we have to be concerned about is to be bring in a pay cheque and everything we need is readily availableÑfood from the supermarkets, electricity for light and cooking from the P.U.C. or Ontario Hydro, and our homes are heated by Union Gas. Not only do we buy food, clothing and heat, no, we also buy our entertainment. Radio, TV, stereo and VCR are common items in most homes.

The educational function of the family has all but disappeared. Fathers used to teach their sons skills necessary for a particular trade. Mothers used to teach their daughters skills needed to manage the household and feed the family.

The economic, entertainment, and educational functions of the family were very much intertwined. The family members were together for a large part of the day. The little boy was with father in the shop. The little girl was with mother in the garden or in the kitchen. Soon the children wanted to help, so they began to contribute to the familyÕs economyÑit was perceived as play, but the children were learning in the process.

With the loss of those family functions came also the loss of much family togetherness and interaction. First, father started to work away from the home for a good part of the day. So now the father role became limited to a few hours in the evening, when he was weary from working all day. In the last few decades more and more mothers have to work outside the home in order to contribute to the economy of the family. These changes have fragmented the family unit. Due to shift-work many families cannot even be together for supper, except on weekends maybe.

This fragmentation of the family has also opened the family boundaries. More and greater outside influences on family values, norms and beliefs are the results.

The growing emphasis on individual fulfilment in society has affected the family, yes, also the Christian family. The sense of belonging in the family has diminished and subsequently the sense of mutual responsibility in caring for one another diminished. With caring for one another I mean care giving within the family context.

Much of the care for family members has shifted to institutions such as hospitals, nursing homes and daycare centres. And, in spite of all the arguments for the importance of the ÒTriad FamilyÓ as the cornerstone of society and church, the institutional invasion of the family goes on.

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