Friday, November 14, 2014

Extended Families

The 'spiritual theme' of my Facebook feed this morning was family. One person linked to an article on sisters, another an article about a surprise pregnancy announcement to the kids, and Longenecker posted about the 'ancient, radical' Christian idea of marriage.

The other day Anne-Marie and I were talking about extended families living together, and how the nuclear family is a sign of our impoverished humanity. The reason why it's so hard to have a widowed mother or a 'deadbeat' uncle living with you is because we are very selfish and have come to define our good as individualistic.

The funny thing is most of us cannot even make the nuclear family work! What I just said there is the whole problem, isn't it? As modern people even we Christians have the idea that the best kind of life is the more self-sufficient kind. Sure, we need to love and be loved, and 'have to' have kids, so the ideal of our time is a man and a woman, with two kids, who go to Disneyland once a year and skiing and all that. Both mom and dad have jobs, of course. That's an easy life, financially speaking, anyway - easier than mine, mine that involves a lot of anxiety about whether I can pay the bills each month. But, if it's so easy, why does this view of family life have such a poor success rate?

Here's a few reasons why:

1) my good is not really my good; it's our good. We are far more relational than is commonly supposed these days

2) in effect, nuclear means "get the hell out of my house, grandma, sister, etc." It is a negative concept. Even within the nuclear family territories are carefully staked out: my room, my bathroom, my TV time, my computer, my cereal, my sporting event...

3) the nuclear family is an achievement: you now have enough money to justify having your own house, family, etc.

4) some of those things upon which the feasibility of the nuclear family are based are not spiritually satisfying, but which we put in the place of people: I mean insurance, I mean government subsidies, I mean dental and medical plans. All of these things have the subconscious effect of making us believe that we do not need our neighbour. So fine, we don't actually need our neighbour (family) when we have a toothache because we have a dentist and a dental plan. Oh, really? Think about that one for a moment. No one has ever been saved from loneliness and meaninglessness by a dental plan.

Wouldn't this make you proud if this
were your son?
5) service is defined contractually and not affect-ively. Service is defined as a quid pro quo, not as the essence of decent human living. Where does this leave grandma who is old and infirm and the deadbeat uncle who has psychological problems? Out in the cold, that's where. And who is the worse for it - the young and the strong, that's who.

People cannot be good who do not have people depending on them. Service is the only path to virtue, and I don't mean the kind we can freely elect to take on and freely elect to ignore on any giving day. Contraception is a great example of this: it is the pretense of love without ensuing responsibility. Not possible. Love is supposed to have strings attached.

Nor can we say that any of this is easy - having grandma move in or uncles or more babies. But if you want to be alive, you have to expand your heart. I don't believe many of us are ready for this.


  1. Interesting because at metro yesterday a mother of two teenage children said to dave and I that she, her husband and toe children can go hours and hours without talking to each other while in the same house. She said to just wait because it would happen to us too. I laughed and said that by that point we would have grandchildren. She was genuinely sad and so was I. The modern family is a nice and clean, but can be very, very lonely.

  2. Yep. And I think that my grand kids will be around before I ever have quiet in my house too.

    But you have to take them at Christmas. We will have them for Thanksgiving! lol