Ephesians 6: 1-4
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honour your father and mother’– which is the first commandment with a promise – ‘so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.’
Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
Psalm 68: 6
God places the lonely in families...
Jeremiah 2: 4
Listen to the word of the Lord, people of Jacob—all you families...
“Before I got married I had six theories about bringing up children; now I have six children and no theories.” (John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester)
I remember not long ago, sitting with some parents from the United States, describing my childhood growing up during the ‘troubles’ here in Northern Ireland. They sat open-mouthed, totally stunned. One of them asked me: “How did you feel growing up in that environment?” My answer was simply, “I didn’t know any different. You assume that your childhood is pretty much the norm and that all kids are experiencing something similar.”
Isn’t that true? As children we simply assume that all our friends’ families are just like ours. It’s only as we get older and widen our perspective on life that we become aware of the vast differences and variances between family backgrounds.
Psychologists and sociologists regularly talk about ‘dysfunctional families’. However I’m not sure what a ‘functional family’ looks like. I love the statement the Disney character Stitch makes about his adoptive human family in the movie Lilo and Stitch: ‘‘This is my family. It may be small. It may be broken. But it’s still good.’’ Every family has a unique dynamic. No two families are the same. Every family has it’s own quirks and idiosyncrasies, ways of doing things that are specific to them. And so they should. Individuals are unique and so when two unique people have children, that creates a unique family unit.
Everyone needs a family. Our family is our home, the place where we know we belong, where we turn when we need comfort, support, advice, or help. It is where we can be ourselves, where we do not need to pretend, where we are accepted and loved, where we can relax, where we can grow, where no one is allowed to take themselves too seriously, and where we can laugh. Or at least it should be. And our family is where we learn the balance between looking after ourselves and looking out for each other.
Family life has always had to survive all sorts of pressures. Today in the 21st century, the threat comes mainly from heightened social and economic expectations, broken relationships and a pressure on our time. Our culture has become more complex, more demanding and, for some, more scary. Many of us are stretched in one way or another, some to breaking point. Feelings of anxiety and inadequacy are universal among parents. Rob Parsons, Director of the UK charity Care for the Family, started a talk to 200 parents with the words:
“You are almost certainly doing a better job than you think you are.”
There was an almost audible sigh of relief. As parents we can easily compare ourselves with others – which will either makes us feel woefully inadequate or pridefully superior. But comparisons are unhelpful for us and our children: some children are more compliant and are easier to parent than others who are more strong-willed or complex. Then there are the extraordinary and painful challenges some parents go through, whether suffering the illness or death of a child, being rejected by an adopted child or facing behavioural disorders. For those who are parenting on their own, the job can be twice as hard.
Your family will be different to our family and any other family. We can take tips from our friends, but we will not parent in the same way. We must each decide on our own approach. And we can also learn from God’s Word, both in specific instructions and in the stories it contains of family life done well and not so well. That’s what we’ll look at as the week progresses. For now, let me leave you with a quote about parenting from actress Michelle Pfeiffer:
“Like all parents, my husband and I do the best we can, hold our breath and hope we’ve set aside enough money for our kids’ therapy.”