Building a functional enough family
“I’ve encountered many wonderful families in my life, but I’ve never met a perfect one.”
Even the best families, full of love, affection and warmth, have their share of arguing, tension and strife. If you put the theoretical perfect family on one side and the hopelessly dysfunctional on the other, most of us fall somewhere in the middle. As far as doing family is concerned, we are all a work in progress.
Pope Francis tells us that the blessing of being a Christian family is that Jesus is alive and present in the middle of the mess. For Pope Francis, great families are not made up of people who have it all together, but people who have encountered the love and mercy of God in Jesus Christ. God has a long track record of choosing broken people to do brilliant work. He specialises in growing beautiful things out of compost.
There is no such thing as a perfectly functional family, but that’s okay. All the world really needs is families that are ‘functional enough’.
So what are the keys to becoming a ‘functional enough’ family? Here are some I’ve learned in my own family journey:
Somewhere in the heart of the family there needs to be a quiet confidence that there is a bigger Love at work; that despite all the struggles we face in this life we have not been abandoned. There is hope. God changes things. He makes all things new and He wants to help us. Things can get better.
Learn to repent, learn to forgive
Yes, we are all sinners and we mess it up pretty regularly. A lost temper. A hurtful word. A destructive pattern of behaviour. With the help of the Holy Spirit learn the discipline of repenting quickly when you mess it up and ask for the grace to be able, and quick, to forgive when you feel hurt yourself.
The family home is your safe place. The place you belong, where you are known, accepted and loved. Hugs and kisses can be normal and frequently shared. Parents can develop the discipline of having kind eyes when engaging with their kids, even when they’re not feeling like it!
Invest in the marriage
You want your kids to feel secure and flourish in this world? Get better at loving their father/mother. If your relationship is neglected, your kids will pay the price. Work on growing your marital friendship by making space for couple time. Go out for dinner, a movie, park the kids with the grandparents and go away for the weekend.
For families, eating is so much more than accessing nutrition. Dining together is a fundamental community building activity. Don’t underestimate the power of meals and the importance of the family table. It’s where we encounter each other, face to face. Do not eat in front of the TV and no electronic devices at the table. Talk to each other.
If you want to know the power of Jesus in your family, you have to put yourself and your family in a place where His grace can reach you. Don’t forget the Mass. It’s spiritual nourishment for you. Make a commitment to carve out a little time in your morning that’s just for you and God. And pray as a family, too. Grace before meals is a good place to start. If you want to go hard-core, read the gospel of the day together before the kids go to school. And how about starting family car trips with the rosary?
Address your mess
Commit to working on getting your own headspace right. Are there patterns of thought and behaviour in your life that need to change? Remember, there is absolutely no shame in getting help from others to keep your marriage heading in the right direction. Get some counselling when the knots are too hard to untie on your own. Get along to a marriage enrichment weekend. Your marriage needs servicing just like your car does!
Finding other families who share your values
Recognise as a couple that you can’t do this on your own. You need other families who share your values to connect with. Your kids will thank you too. If they have friends whose parents are as weird as you, with all this hugging, praying and Sunday Mass going, it will all seem much more normal. It might be through parish family groups, a prayer group, a lay community or one of the other movements for spiritual renewal, but find some fellow travellers.
Family as a Mission
Just by being a family you are doing something good for the world.
You are saying love is possible. That is a powerful message in a world where so many are wounded by a lack of love. Being married and growing a family is as much a vocation as being a priest, brother or nun. If people can see in your family a loving community, as flawed as it might be, you will be ministers of healing and hope just by your example, often in ways you won’t even be aware of.
Open the door
Invite people for dinner. Hospitality will be a blessing both for you and for those who come to share your table. Take the love and joy you have in your family and share it with the world. Reach out to others in the parish, the school, the work place and the wider community. Consider what you, as a family, can do to be of service to those in need. Is there a charity, a mission somewhere you can support as a family?
Tim Kirk is the CEO and Chief Winemaker of Clonakilla Wines in Murrumbateman and a leader of the Disciples of Jesus, a lay community within the Catholic Church. He is married to Lara and they are delighted to be the parents of five remarkable people. The Kirks are members of Saint Augustine’s Parish in Yass.
This article was first published in My Family My Faith Magazine, 2016