Spirituality for Today – January 2014 – Volume 18, Issue 6

Family Problems: No One Ever Wins the Blame Game

Rev. Msgr.Frank Wissel

A photo of family

Before entering the seminary as a certified psychologist, I had been in contact with all kinds of families. As a priest for the last 36 years, I have continued dealing with various family problems that have varied in size— some large, some small.

They have varied in structure. Most have two parents, a father and a mother. Some are single parents, or only a mother or a father. They have varied according to race; white, black, Asian or Hispanic. Some have been mixed race.

The families I have known came from all kinds of economic conditions.

A few have been rich, some poor, most of modest but adequate means. All of these families I have met have had at least one thing in common— problems. Every single one of them had problems.

I first heard the term "dysfunctional family" as a student of psychology. It speaks to me. I understand what it means. The only difficulty I have with this term is that it lacks focus. It does not zero in on a specific group.

Dysfunctional means something that does not function according to design. It does not work the way it is supposed to. As far as I know, that description applies to every family I have ever met. They have all been somewhat dysfunctional. Not one of them worked with the precision of a fine Swiss watch. The only difference was in degrees.

There is a gospel reading that points out that even the Holy Family had problems. That reality became evident during a trip. This is not surprising.

Family trips have a way of pointing out family problems. Everyone gets tired.

Nerves are a bit on edge. It is easier than ever for disagreements to rise to the surface.

Something like that happened with the Holy Family. All three of them had gone to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover. Apparently, everything went well on the outbound journey. And the stay in Jerusalem was without mishap.

The trouble started on the way back home. Somehow Jesus was left behind. And no one even noticed it until the end of the first day. It is easy to see how that could happen.

The Holy Family was traveling in a fairly large caravan. Those in one part of the crowd could not know who was in the other part.

When Mary and Joseph did not see Jesus, they assumed He was just out of sight. It never occurred to them that He was not with the group.

When that fact became evident, they hurried back to Jerusalem.

After a three day search, they finally found Him. When a 12-year-old boy is lost for four days, I would call that a family problem.

What happened to the Holy Family is not unlike what happens to your family.

One thing was a lack of communication. Mary and Joseph and Jesus did not deliberately create this crisis.

There was no rebellion involved. Jesus did not intend to worry his parents. Mary and Joseph certainly had no intention of leaving a 12-year-old boy alone in a big city. The whole thing was just a misunderstanding.

Someone failed to talk. Either that or someone failed to listen.

I get the impression that Mary and Joseph traveled all day long, without ever asking each other: "Have you seen Jesus, or have you talked to anyone who has seen Jesus?"

If that conversation had taken place, they might never have left him behind.

At least, they would have turned around and headed back a bit sooner and that would have already saved everybody some wasted hours and useless grief.

I wonder how many family problems could be prevented or solved with better communication.

If people just talked and listened to each other there would be no misunderstandings. I know three little sentences that could work miracles in most families.

Each is just three words long. Anyone can say them, even a child.

Here they are: First, "I was wrong." Second, "I am sorry." The third, "Please forgive me."

The power of those three sentences to heal relationships is amazing.

But sadly, they often go unsaid. I know grown people, 50, 60 years old, who have never heard their father say, "I was wrong."

That is sad. It is sad because it is dishonest. No one can live that long without being wrong many times. So the grown children do not think their father was always right.

They just know he was dishonest. He will not admit the truth about himself. And it is impossible to have an intimate relationship with someone who refuses to face facts.

A lack of communication is often the source of family problems. That may have been the case with Mary and Joseph and Jesus.

If they talked a little more or listened a little better, this problem might have been avoided. Jesus might never have gotten lost.

There is, however a flip side to that. At least, they did not talk too much.

Think how easy it would have been for Mary and Joseph to play the blaming game.

I can just hear the typical husband talking to his wife: "This is all your fault.

You know that don't you? If you had been watching that child like any good mother is supposed to, this would not have happened. The whole thing is your fault. You caused it all."

That is the blame game. It has never been known to solve a single problem. But it does create a few.

The worse thing is that it drives a wedge between people who need to be, should be, and could be friends.

If you and I were to live together as a family, it would be imperative that we be friends. We would still have problems. But as long as we remained friends, we could work through them together.

My impression is that Mary and Joseph did that. They were the Holy Family. But they had problems.

All families do. But if you stick together, you can come out the other side more of a family than you have ever been before.