Family- Where Art Thou?

This summer fulfilled the personal goal begun last year, focusing on family and reconnecting frayed ties. It was imperfect in results, but some important gaps were bridged. Along the journey some insights emerged.

Triggering some thoughts was a son’s question,“What useful purpose does a family reunion serve?” in response to the resurrected attempt to meet together with scattered members of my paternal side. In light of the direction our culture has taken in its view of defining family (during my generation’s watch), the question is quite valid. In fact, it is one I posed in my own early family life, in my twenties. We are making our own family circle, what good can former generations, or far flung members of a shared progenitor contribute to us? And what difference do we make to them?

The thoughts took me back to the time when the definition of family, and the outright attack on the benefit of a nuclear family unit made its way through the issues of the day. Parental rights, child’s rights, definition of marriage, divorce issues, and gay rights have all held interest in the destruction of traditional views of what purpose and benefit is contained in the form of a family and its call on relationships. The change in our thinking is accomplished … and so it can be something of a personal epiphany (as it was to me) that reconnecting along bloodlines might hold some esoteric value. Esoteric because we no longer hold a sense of belonging to each other through family ties as a general way of thinking, even though individual families may have kept such values alive for themselves…. not unlike the Biblical example of “the house of the Rechabites“. I’m not saying it is all gone to anarchy, just that it has dropped precipitously in our priorities and view of relationship benefits. It had to, given the widespread practice of divorce.

So, we have had a general disparagement of the traditional family that is fully accepted in our present culture.

I could pursue closing the arguments on that statement, but I think you can follow up the line of thinking on your own. The practices we follow in our daily lives further deteriorates the value of family ties. We don’t have time to make our own family meals, or to sit down together on a daily basis. We don’t have time to sit around and talk, especially when it can become unpleasant…. it disturbs our TV show schedule or our video game, or our computer time. We walk around in our own world of ipods, and make it distinctly difficult for someone to hold a conversation with us. A bother. A distraction. Uninteresting.

Family ties can be seen as anachronistic in such a world.

Such a world stacks the importance of self on top, with “others” playing a supporting role, at best. And should they seem unsupportive, then they may face “the axe”. And we move through a life with a constantly changing set of relationships which largely are based in “what we do“. Who we are, especially in terms of relationships, becomes increasingly irrelevant.

So you can see how a family reunion may suffer in our view of its benefit and the worth of spending time and effort .

This whole aspect of our attitude towards, and value of nuclear and traditional family structure, affects not only something like whether we meet together in a reunion, it is evident in our other structures of relationship, as well. It affects church, business corporate, and community relationships as well. We are dependent on making a case of how something benefits the individual. The group identification largely remains empty. But with a placeholder.

That placeholder can become something very threatening in many ways. Largely because the need for belonging in the human experience does not simply disappear. It searches, it waits, and it needs to be fulfilled in some way. Rejection and denial in no way diminishes this wiring in our psyche.

I still have some of the story to tell. Maybe this will be a “mini-series”.

A couple quotes to consider:

“Nobody has ever before asked the nuclear family to live all by itself in a box the way we do. With no relatives, no support, we’ve put it in an impossible situation” ~ Margaret Mead.

The lack of emotional security of our American young people is due, I believe, to their isolation from the larger family unit. No two people – no mere father and mother – as I have often said, are enough to provide emotional security for a child. He needs to feel himself one in a world of kinfolk, persons of variety in age and temperament, and yet allied to himself by an indissoluble bond which he cannot break if he could, for nature has welded him into it before he was born. ~Pearl S. Buck

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