Spirituality for Today – August 2010 – Volume 15, Issue 1

A Model Family

By Rev. Raymond Petrucci

Accompanied by the sounds of chirping birds and buzzing insects, the sheer curtains of my bedroom billowed gently in the soft, summer breeze. As sleep slowly departed from my eight year old eyes, I could hear water rushing through bathroom faucets as my father was readying to leave for work and the clatter of pans and the whoosh of the refrigerator door in the kitchen as my mother was frying eggs. My parents were preparing for the day ahead and getting ready to awaken my brothers and me for breakfast. It was a family in 1956. It was my family and it was good. Today, that past reality seems less and less the norm.

A photo of an empty table

Journalist Ryan Blitstein in reviewing an article by Boston College political science professor Susan Shell offered these comments: "American parents face an almost binary choice between the biblical, male-dominated family and the selfish, me-focused, double-income-no-kids (DINK) existence of liberal elites, with no compelling model in between… Americans have abandoned the family as an engine of civic education and responsibility."

Mr. Blitstein and Ms. Shell present a sobering look at what has happened to the model of the American family. Albeit a scholarly study, I would question the accuracy of a double-income-with-kids model with shared responsibility for parenting and financial management as an unsuccessful model. A marriage with a husband and wife pursuing careers while raising children well has presented our society with a formidable task. I admit that maintaining a harmonious and satisfying setting among such family units has a way to go before matching the smoothly running machine of the 1950s traditional family. Indeed, over the past decades so much effort has been expended in self-affirmation and self-esteem that the process of becoming a successful married couple, successful parents, or even successful friends has fallen by the wayside. While the model of the traditional family has not disappeared by any means, the need for a workable family unit in which a father and a mother both have careers outside of the home needs attention. I do not pretend to have the answer but concurring ideas over values, support, parenting, finances, and the overall direction of being together must reside in the family. In addition, the health of our society necessitates the re-instatement of the family as the "engine of civic education and responsibility."

In seeking solutions to creating a sound family model for the twenty-first century, a very bright spotlight is to be shone on the role of religion. Among the numerous stumbling blocks to familial well being is the diminution of religious influence. No matter how many studies, statistics, and self-evident realities revealing the benefits of a deep religious faith within family life, it seems that nothing is to be permitted to challenge the deification of the ego.

Faith has the power to inspire, to guide, and, applicable to our topic, to teach. One feature of a modern day family is the emphasis on independence and self-determination. These characteristics can morph into a power struggle among family members. If both husband and wife have professions that make them financially independent, stresses in their marriage may make them more easily opt toward splitting up rather than striving to reconcile and to grow wiser from their challenges. And, of course, non-marital co-habitation is designed distinctly for ease of escape. Understanding the definition of power, leadership, and responsibility within a sacramental marriage can awaken the compassion, caring, and true love that mark the bulwark of a Christian marriage. If, instead, a marriage relationship becomes a game of "king of the hill," it cannot be happy and, most likely, will not last. In his article To Love and to Lead, Joseph McInerney states, "This mistake about leadership is by no means restricted to modern times. Jesus addresses the issue when the Apostles James and John ask Christ to place them at his right and left hand when he establishes God's kingdom. Jesus tells them, 'You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mt 20:25-28).' If you want to be a true leader, you must be willing to sacrifice yourself for the people you lead." These words, I would think, provide a fine template for exercising leadership in a family.

I am just an old, single fellow reminiscing about a summer morning long ago. I suppose that I have no right to comment on such things as model families. It just seems logical that any model for any family living in any age would be measured successful by the degree of Christ-likeness alive in its members.