WHEN we tear away all the family rhetoric, when we dispense with all the verbiage of marriage exhortations, in essence the purpose of the family is not only to encourage but to enable the members of such a unit to grasp a fuller individuality, a more abundant opportunity to think and to do. This then must be our starting point! Take the finger of your mind and lay it against the throbbing anticipation of all parents and children for such fulfillment.
Any behavior within the family group that denies another his just right to decision is wrong. To deny another the freedom to reason as he sees it is to deny the creative power of Jesus Christ, for the whole design of salvation was for the preservation of such freedom. "So Christ has made us free. Now make sure that you stay free and don't get all tied up again in the chains of slavery to Jewish laws and ceremonies." "For, dear brothers, you have been given freedom: not freedom to do wrong, but freedom to love and serve each other" (Gal. 5:1, 13, T.L.B.).*
Everyone Cherishes Freedom
If we examine the natural inclinations of human beings, this drive for self-direction is plain to see. The infant turns red with anger when his hands and arms are restrained. The young child frequently bursts into misunderstanding tears when pressured to remain absolutely silent for just a short time. The pre-adolescent sulks openly when forced into adult-oriented campaigns by threats and punishment. The adolescent actively pursues difference in dress, language, and mannerisms to escape the seemingly stultifying adult mode. The young adult, striving toward his own goals of excellence and mastery, is overly sensitive to officious supervision. The middle-aged parent overreacts to adolescent impudence because as a parent he is up tight about the limits of his example. The retiree shuns the kind invitation of his children to come live with them because he treasures the abandon of his homestead habits.
We see then that every normal person of whatever age places a supreme value on his individuality, his power to think and to do. "But how," we ask, "can we best relate in our families in order to ensure this very basic, fulfilling human need?" Or put another way, "How can we help to bring out godliness in members of our families?"
Four Important Steps
1. You can best assure individuality by living out your respect for the rights of others. To respect the individuality of others is to permit them both the joys and the sorrows of growing toward tomorrow. Consider the dynamic struggles of the older set: "A great many aged parents unconsciously want their middle-aged children to make them feel healthy and young again. . . . We find ourselves caught in an agonizing web of human feelings and frailty, and we are profoundly frustrated by our helplessness. The most common comment is: 'I love them, but I can't save them from old age and dying and so I end up feeling like a monster." " 1
True respect for the rights of others sets clear limits on what we can give. Respect for parents recognizes that they are persons who have lived long and deserve the honor of making their own decisions--whether foolish or wise to us.
Puppy love also illustrates this point. It will grow up if parents will let it! But when parents interfere, they are likely to make it all the more intense. Researchers 2 have dubbed this phenomenon the "Romeo and Juliet Effect." They have found that youth who reported high levels of parent interference were more likely to have feelings toward each other of "exclusiveness and absorption, physical attraction, passion and idealization" rather than feelings of mutual trust, appreciation, respect, sharing, loyalty, and willingness to sacrifice for the other in a time of need.
Husband, wife, and children are to allow one another the space in which to operate, areas growing larger and larger in which one's own word is law.
And one must live self-respect. Do not go along just because everyone else is doing it. Do not deny your concern just because some bombastic soul teeters on the brink of diatribe. "Every human being, created in the image of God, is endowed with a power akin to that of the Creator individuality, power to think and to do." 3
2. You can best aid godliness in your family by observing the special interests, talents, needs, and attitudes of its members. You must watch closely, because in many instances, to ask is not to be told. We all are naturally sensitive to what may be behind the innocent questions coming our way. We are not always cognitively aware of the emotions and needs we may be expressing. Indeed, few adolescents could organize the pressures of their lives in such a clear way as does Joyce Brothers:
"Adolescence is by its very nature a period of storm and stress. The teenager's chief develop mental task is the need to shift from dependence of childhood to the self-reliance of an adult. To free himself of parental control he must free himself from blind acceptance of parental values must, indeed, find values distinctively his own." 4
Harris, of I'm OK—You're OK fame, states that the passing of just one generation can change a good thing into a bad thing, an inference into dogma. 5 And dogma, he suggests, is the opponent of truth, and of real persons. Dogma, or tradition, shouts, "Do not think! Be less than a person." Tradition may include good and wise ideas, but tradition can be bad in itself if it leads to mindless obedience, and to acceptance without examination.
Thank God that our platitudes as parents have to stand the continual scrutiny of the coming generation!
The observant parent may expect, therefore, some degree of confused adolescent vacillation between a difficult renunciation of the parents' standards and the acceptance, finally, of codes that he feels he has chosen for himself. These years of searching are sometimes years of light and shadow: today the teenager is agreeable, honorable, humble, obedient, sensible; tomorrow he is impulsive, resentful, and frustrated. When questioned he may sigh, "I don't know what got into me," or "I can't say why I did it," or "I don't know what I believe!"
Such youth need reassurance that their parents deeply and truly care for them, and that they hold firm yet reasonable standards, which they expect their offspring to meet. These parents will also want to consider what in their home experiences could be compounding the teenager's problems.
In a recent study of kibbutz children Kaffman of Tel Aviv isolated the following primary causes of child neuroses. In order of frequency they are: parental overcontrol, parental inconsistency, parental overprotection, and parental coldness and rejection. One surprising grouping that cropped up was that of the culturally deprived kibbutz child:
"Despite the wealth of stimuli surrounding the children during the day, inadequate cultural opportunities provided by the parents seemed to be the most important factor influencing the child's development. The culturally deprived child was stunted by a parental environment of narrow intellectual and creative activity with little conversation, reading or storytelling." 6
3. You can encourage freedom by becoming vulnerable to the wills and ways of the other members of your family. It is hard not to strike out, to injure in precisely the way that our intimate knowledge of the other enables us to do.
A recent radio commercial contained some advice a man's father gave him when he was a boy: "A woman can hurt, so stay on guard." Any meaningful person can hurt! To maintain one's equilibrium in the face of assault requires an honesty in admitting one's shortcomings, an acceptance of oneself in weakness as well as in strength, and a willingness to work consistently toward a more agreeable delivery of one's talents.
How open is Paul in his letter to the Christians! "Oh, my dear Corinthian friends! I have told you all my feelings; I love you with all my heart" (2 Cor. 6:11, T.L.B.).
Just how vulnerable the strong est of us really is is revealed by a recent study. 7 The thirties surpass infancy, childhood, adolescence, and old age as a time when severe life crises are likely. How vulnerable are the thirties? Just consider; during the thirties marriages break up, careers are shifted, accidents and even suicides occur with great frequency. With half of one's life finished, some very serious questions keep echoing: Who am I? Who will re member me? What of enduring value have I contributed? What does it all add up to?
Those who seek escape from this anxiety sink into self-pity, focusing on pension rights, television, flirtations, entertainment, and whatever other excitement they can find to occupy the time. But those who face up to life learn to accept the fact that their mates are probably not Hollywood material, their children may not be the smartest, that they will not achieve the presidency of the company. But in this very confrontation with reality they have come to grips with the fundamental assault of life.
To communicate in the purest sense is to give out of our vulnerableness. Genuine communication demands humility. One stops rejecting and starts accepting. In deed, to attempt valid communication in the face of obvious dis belief is to sound one by one the shrill strings of universal loneliness and loss.
Truly to listen is to drink of the well from which all humanity is drawn. For the waters of our being spring from a common ground, and each of us at last must offer to the other the selfsame cup of humanness as did his father be fore him, and as did his father's father before him. It is as Schweitzer mused, "To unbind what is bound, to bring the underground waters to the surface: mankind is waiting and longing for such as can do that." 8
Have I finally unlearned enough really to commune, truly and honestly, with another? Have I shed completely enough of my inner bigotry until I know for a certainty that the rarest essence of man's being is bound up in the expression of his individuality, his creativeness? Have I unlearned well enough my natural tendency to defend myself that I can allow my husband, my wife, my son, my daughter, to be fully the persons they are: strengths, faults, tastes, needs, prejudices?
4. You can assist the individuality of others by emphasizing the positive about the family and society.
For example, are you pleased or depressed by the fact that 42 percent of all American mothers now hold jobs outside their homes? 9 Will your being depressed over this fact change the situation? Probably not. What then can you do to contribute meaningfully to the burgeoning home needs of others? With more than a third of the working mothers having children under six years of age, what can you do to better the care for these youngsters? With more than 25 million children having working mothers, what time have you spent in devising new possibilities for child care enrichment, for more efficient character development? Or is it more fun to complain about unruly kids?
Margaret Mead is emphasizing the positive when she writes about the child of the future:
"I hope that we will have redesigned our cities and suburbs so that there is a real outdoors for all little children's play, so that they can experience the unpredictability and endless fascination of growing things and be rescued from their current boredom with only-too-predictable toys and school tasks." 10 Are we ready to sacrifice for a redesign of our suburbs, or are the monetary roots of our natures so choking that even the basic needs of our children are to be denied?
Or, on the other hand, how do you feel about the fact that the one area of the American economy where business may be even too good is in homes for the elderly? Would you agree with Tobin, of the University of Chicago, that "the old people's home has be come too easy a solution for all problems"? 11
Have you complained about the breaking up of the extended family and the agrarian way of life where grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins helped bring up junior? Do you now regret that distance denies your parents the right to maintain their own home, with the little extra muscle you could provide? But what are we doing in a positive way to organize assistance for our elderly nearby? Things like meals on wheels, or carefully selected home visitors, or home medical care?
"If aids like counseling, home health care, social club activities, vocational opportunities and workshops were available in the community, many of the elderly might be able to continue their daily lives on their own. A variety of alternative life-styles for the elderly could be developed." 12
But too many of us find that it is easier merely to complain than it is to make a positive contribution to the in-the-home welfare of the aged.
In helping the members of our family to develop the right kind of individuality we are truly assisting them to develop godliness. Think of this in the light of what Solomon says in Ecclesiastes 11:1-6. If I understand this text correctly, he is saying in essence: What you give will come to you again, and the more widely you share, the more you will receive. Rain comes when it comes, and a tree fallen is fallen indeed. But if you wait for everything to be just right, you will never act. The ways of God are the ways of the Spirit, as only His Spirit can give life to the yet unborn. Keep the faith, for you can never know on this earth the full reach of your influence.
1. Eda J. LeShan, "Your Aged Parents," Family Health, February, 1973, p. 35.
2. "Puppy Love Grows Up If Parents Will Let It," Psychology Today, February, 1973, p. 11.
3. Ellen G. White, Education, p. 17.
4. Joyce Brothers, "Why Girls Steal," Good Housekeeping, February, 1973, p. 64.
5. Thomas A. Harris, I'm OK—You're OK (New York: Harper and Row, 1969), p. 226.
6. Kaffman, "Mother vs. Kibbutz," Human Behavior, November-December, 1972, p. 34.
7. Kenneth Goodall, "The Threatening 30s," Psychology Today, February, 1973, pp. 9, 10.
8. Albert Schweitzer, Out of My Life and Thought (New York: Holt, Rinehart, Winston, 1933).
9. "Working Mothers," Saturday Review of Education, March, 1973, p. 60.
10. Margaret Mead, "How Will We Raise Our Children in the Year 2000?" Saturday Review of Education, March, 1973, p. 36.
11. "Old Folks at Home," Human Behavior, November-December, 1972, p. 53.
* Texts credited to T.L.B. are from The Living Bible, Paraphrased (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1971). Used by permission.