A Tale of Two Families

Several Sunday afternoons ago I read a depressing article about a UCLA study of American dual-income families. While there is much of interest in the study itself, for illustration’s sake the article focused on one particular family. On the day profiled, the mom of the family races the children to hockey practice followed by fencing lessons, exhorting the children to do their multiplication tables in the car so they won’t fall behind academically. They finally stumble home around 10:20 when they do manage to sit down as a family to dinner, though the nine year old almost falls asleep in his chili. Dad (a lawyer) thinks they are doing their kids a favor by helping them learn to be multi-taskers! Though this is just one family, the researchers have found in their study that almost none of the families had significant amounts of unstructured time. Here’s one quote from the article:

It’s a poorly understood seismic shift in both the nation’s economy and daily life, but there are more and more mothers working outside the home. For some families in the study, it allows them to own a bigger house, drive better cars and take nicer vacations. For many more families, two paychecks are necessary to put food on the table.

It means parents and children live virtually apart at least five days a week, reuniting for a few hours at night. In this study, at least one parent was likely to be up and gone before the children awoke.

When they are together, today’s families tend to stay in motion with lessons, classes and games. Or, they go shopping.

Researchers contend this chase appears to erode families from within, like a rusting minivan dropping parts as it clatters down the highway.

What’s falling by the wayside?

Playtime. Conversation. Courtesy. Intimacy.

And later this –

“We’ve scheduled and outsourced a lot of our relationships,” says the study’s director, Elinor Ochs, a linguistic anthropologist. “There isn’t much room for the flow of life, those little moments when things happen spontaneously.”

Outsourcing relationship? No time for those most beautiful spontaneous moments of touching teachable hearts? I can’t imagine. What an immense loss.

Later that same evening I read an account of an entirely different family. As part of the Elisabeth Elliot kick I’ve been on recently, I’m rereading The Shaping of a Christian Family, probably my favorite “family how-to” book. In this book Mrs. Elliot Gren, along with excerpts from her mother’s written accounts, describes the godly home she grew up in, combining stories with teaching. Here’s a bit of what she says in a chapter devoted to her father:

It is sad to read that the average father nowadays spends three minutes per week with each child. Home, frankly, is just “not his scene.” He’d rather be elsewhere. What does he do with the rest of his time? Is it a relentless frantic scramble to earn money five or six days a week, with a frantic scramble on weekends to “relax” and enjoy himself, often in expensive and sometimes dangerous ways? Can this really be what God wants for Christian families? If there were the willingness to be content with less money, fewer activities which eat into the budget and take the family away from home, fewer possessions; if there were the willingness to “be content with such things as you have,” would we not sooner find the truth of God’s Word, “A man’s real life in no way depends upon the umber of his possessions” (Luke 12:15 PHILLIPS)? The willingness to be and to have just what God wants us to be and to have, nothing more, nothing less, and nothing else, would set our hearts at rest, and we would discover that the simpler the life the greater the peace.

What a study in contrasts!

Most parents truly want the best for their children. The trouble is in discerning what that means. If we look at the culture around us, we may think “the best” means “giving our children all the advantages we can” by filling their lives with music lessons, sports, clubs, academic programs, and on and on. Even Christian parents fall into this trap. But we need to stop and step back. Just what is it we want for our children? Academic success? Admittance to top universities (with large scholarships of course)? Financial security? Or do we desire to have children who love the Lord their God with all their hearts, souls, minds and strength? Who love their neighbors as themselves? Who love and respect their parents, and consider their siblings as their best friends?

I’m not trying to make blanket statements. Every family has to consider their place in building God’s kingdom. The hand can not say to the foot, I have no need of you. We will take different places in His kingdom, and we will do different things. But we cannot sacrifice the gift God has given us of raising our children by “outsourcing” that to anyone.

Deuteronomy 6:4-7 "Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down.”


Neeko said…
Great post, Anne. You've driven the long thing metal thing through the beef and vegetables (you know, shishkabob) when questioning what "the best" is for our children (although I have none). This seems to be a constant mistake not only in choosing for our children, but also in choosing for ourselves. We think we know what is best for us. But like children who would sooner eat ice cream for breakfast than solid food, we are often mistaken.

We could constipate our minds, reading study after study about what is best for our children. And study after study seems to change our culture's mind, like a giggling excitement over fashion (Chesterton). But when we simply do what God commands in Scripture, and do for our children what God commands in Scripture, the endless deliberation ceases and fruit is borne. I guess that's what Jesus meant when He said, "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you." The obedience comes first and the understanding second, I suppose.

Oh, and the reason for my very strange figures of speech is that Becca is watching over my shoulder and catching me when I use any cliche .... so I had to make up my own.
Rebecca Nugent said…
Anne, you really should write a book.
Lucas Weeks said…
Why would she write a book when she could raise a family? *smile*

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