The people of our family take care of us and teach us about the world as we grow up. Our parents, brothers, sisters, and other relatives love us, watch over us, give us shelter, and protect us from harm. They offer us security, comfort, physical contact and care. Family provides a constant in any child’s life.
Attention to each other is key. Parents pay attention to children but a child is watching each parent as well. In doing so, children learn. Babies need care and the parent must pick up on signals and cues from the infant because the child does not yet talk. Later, as a child learns to walk, the child explores new places: rooms, houses, backyards, front yards, streets, and shopping places. Life with others begins with one’s family and then moves outward to community experience of school, church, country, planet, and universe.
Family is the place where communication begins, where behaviours are tried out, and patterns of living are established. Of course, everyone makes mistakes but, ideally, each member of the family is given the opportunity to learn from these mistakes. Looking in from the outside, one sees a range of family attitudes including: good/poor dietary and exercise habits, inclusion/exclusion of those who are different, positive/negative attitudes toward study and education, or reverence/no need for God. The family unit is where boundaries and expectations are learned.
Within our families not only do we learn words, we learn how to speak to others and how to treat others. If respect is there, respect becomes a way of life, along with politeness, good manners, ethical behaviour, and pride in family heritage with appreciation for the culture and beliefs of others. Not all families see conflict resolution as an important issue. Sometimes home-life and the workplace are not in balance. There are also differences between families in regards to emotional support—either withheld until compliance with expectations or offered through thick and thin.
Generally speaking, if parents live by the same rules as they ask of their children, then responsibility has been taken on by the family group and all members will have similar goals and standards. “We call when we are late.” “We put things away.” “We clean up.” “We have the right to be taken seriously and the responsibility to listen to others.” “We keep trying.” “We” is the operative word—not “I” or “me.”
Imperfect as family groups are, it is through our family that we learn about attachment, about caring for others/selectively choosing whom to care for. By living in a faith-filled family we learn that God is attached to us and that we are gifted by unconditional love and second chances. We witness what is important and thereby deepen our understanding of forgiveness and nurture. When parents exhibit a genuine love for God and place Christ at the centre of the home, children will continue to see, reflect, and learn. They still have to make their own choices, but at least they will have lived in a home where God was an important part of the family.
Through our family, we learn who we are and what we value. Moving from a baby’s cries and clinging for comfort or food to smiles and up-reached arms is a milestone in family health and development. The tapestry of a family is further enriched when woven by ribbons of shared experiences and descriptions of those who came before, through story-telling and remembrances about family and mentors and friends. Sacred rhythms set out at church through the liturgy reflect the family’s earthly rhythms set out in mealtime, playtime, work-time, story-time, Bible study, helping others, prayer, and rest.
Through God’s grace, we pay attention and grow through all ages and stages of life. Within a family, children learn about caring for older family members and learn the values and traditions of their particular family. Observation and imitation are part of social interactions such as eating—getting to know others and sharing, acting upon or reacting to human emotions, constraints, and differences. Fitting into the patterns of the family environment, the child learns about “enough” and “not enough,” about “friend” and “enemy,” “acceptable” and “unacceptable,” about “included” and “excluded.”
Prayer is attentiveness to God and to life. Nurturing children in the power of God’s securing love is teaching them how to pray throughout every day and every experience. May our children know God’s love and be able to find the peace that passes all understanding. May all families enjoy loyalty, affection, and fun with the people who matter to them.
This family-themed hymn was written in the early-nineteenth-century by Henry Ware, Jr.:
Happy the home when God is there / And love fills everyone, /
When with united work and prayer / The master’s will is done. /
Happy the home where God’s strong love / Is starting to appear, /
Where all the children hear Christ’s fame / And parents hold him dear. /
Happy the home where prayer is heard / And praise is everywhere, /
Where parents love the sacred Word / And its true wisdom share. /
Lord, let us in our homes agree / This blessed peace to gain; /
Unite our hearts in love to Thee, / And love to all will reign./