Heartlight Special Feature

Rebuilding Our Families

Editors Note: Randy Becton has intertwined his musings with insights gleaned from Dr. Mary Pipher’s book “The Shelter of Each Other,” to offer us some helpful strategies on building stronger families. While none of these ideas is new, they are needed. Heartlight is committed to providing resources for families. Paul Faulkner’s weekly Making Life Work for Your Family is an excellent place to look, and an upcoming series of messages by Phil Ware, “Building a Forever Family” will be available on Heartlight in the coming months. May God bless us all as we seek to build strong families, and people of moral character, to His glory!

Quotations from Mary Pipher, “The Shelter of Each Other: Rebuilding Our Families,” (New York: G.P. Putnam’s and Sons, 1996

“Families are very old institutions with very new problems. For the first time in two thousand years of Western civilization, families live in houses without walls. That is, they live in a world in which walls offer no protection.”(Pipher, pp. 12-13.) These important words come from Mary Pipher, a nationally known psychologist and author.

Dr. Pipher explains that one of the reasons parents are having trouble raising children today is we live in “houses without walls.” Our houses have inadequate protection to outside influence, especially to technology’s ability to bring the outside world into our homes. This influence often teaches our children ways of “thinking, feeling, and behaving that are at odds with common sense.”

In effect, family has been overwhelmed by the electronic community. “Media forms our new community. The electronic village is our hometown.”(Pipher, p. 15.) As members of the www cybercommunity, we are well aware of both the positive and negative aspects of this “new community.” But this new community is much bigger than the www. With news, TV, print media, and radio, we are bombarded with a whole universe of outside influences. These influences often cater to the wants of children to have their appetites whetted with the newest toy without adult influence or processing.

“Children learn... that they are the most important person in the universe, that impulses should not be denied, that pain should not be tolerated and the cure for any kind of pain is a product... We are socializing children to be self-centered, impulsive, and addicted.” (Pipher, p. 15.) Through this outside invasion, parental nurture is supplanted and replaced with the destructive notions that violence rules the world and sexual promiscuity is not only acceptable, but expected. To be significant in this world, you have to be hostile and promiscuous!

Dr. Pipher encourages parents to restore the protective walls. While we put more and more burglar alarms in residential homes, we allow more and more intrusion into our homes by electronic medial. One way to put up these protective walls is to limit the role of media in our homes: monitor it, reduce it, and discuss it. Don’t let outside values infiltrating your home come in unexamined and undiscussed. If you want a functional, healthy family, you must restore the walls of safety. It is difficult, but possible. But then, none of us would want to live in a house with no walls to the outside world!

In addition to living in houses with no walls, Dr. Pipher is concerned about our apparent success without striving. In previous generations, families faced terrific hardships—disease, poverty, and all sorts of difficulties. Ironically, these families SURVIVED BETTER than many families do today, even though modern families enjoy almost every material advantage. Sixty plus years ago, families knew who the enemy was. It was clear, obvious and external: “Tornadoes, droughts, locusts, blizzards, cold, cholera and poverty.” (Pipher, p. 7) Today, we seem so much less threatened by these, and yet so much worse off. It’s like the couple who barely made it financially in early marriage, but in their latter life “success,” they look back wistfully to these good ol’ days and a relationship full of love and fun that has now vanished.

Today we suffer from the poverty of consumerism. We never are satisfied that we have enough! We are like people who are “thirsty in the rain.” (Phrase from Peter Rowan.) We’re too rushed to do the things we value. With more to entertain us, we are bored. With truckloads of information on sexuality and stimulation, we’re less fulfilled and more endangered sexually. In a culture obsessed with feelings, we find ourselves emotionally numb or depressed. With all of technology’s time saving devices, we find ourselves with less time for each other and ourselves. With more books, we have fewer readers. With more counselors and mental health professionals, we face more mental illness.

Our crisis is not a crisis of economy or subsistence, it is a crisis of meaning. We are socially, emotionally, and spiritually impoverished with glittering toys lying all around us. We hunger for values—but can’t define them. We’re hungry for community—but powerfully aware that we have none. We are hungry for something greater to devote ourselves to, but hear only the voice of commercials telling us to fix, feed, beautify, satisfy, and enrich ourselves—to have it and do it our way.

Satan’s forces are waging war on us and our families. He tempts us to try to satisfy ourselves with the glittering toys which surround us. “The one who dies with the most toys wins!” the bumper sticker says. But our hunger must be satisfied by something much deeper, and the one who dies with the most toys usually dies alone. We need values, community, and beliefs if we are to survive. We must spend time with our family first -- placing the interests and needs of those we love above career, entertainment, and outside influences. We need the relationship building time to go on walks, camp outs, and leisurely trips together. We need to play together and pray together. We need love: the love of each other and the love of God.

Unfortunately, Dr. Pipher points out,(p. 231) the average couple only spends twenty minutes together each day. Parents spend 40% less time with their children today than they did in the 1950’s. The average father spend less than thirty minutes each week talking with his children. But children today actually need more parental time than children in the past because kids today have fewer adults in their lives to rely on for advice, modeling, and assistance!

One mother describes what is happening in her family: “We’re missing the seasons, the sunsets and the stars. We’re slicing our time thinner and thinner until by now it’s transparent. Our schedules don’t protect us. They’re stealing our lives.” (Pipher, p. 231) No one seems willing to simply stop long enough to say: “God, please help us!” Steal back the time for what is important. Limit the intrusion of the electronic wave in your home. Choose interactive electronic media rather than one way display oriented. Discuss what is going on with each other. The average family will kill 7-8 hours each day, 40% of their private time together, watching TV. (Pipher, p. 240) Not only cut back, but cut in -- talk about your values compared to what is being displayed. In addition, the telephone doesn’t have to be answered every time it rings. Take it off the hook or give it over to the answering machine for several selected hours every day. Nintendo, cd rom games, and computer time can be limited. Don’t split up to do household chores. Work together. This makes them less boring and allows for a sense of teamwork. In addition, deliberately schedule family meal time. Put it in your scheduler so you don’t miss it. Don’t just turn off the TV and telephone, talk with each other during this crucial time. Ask each other about your day. Last of all, take captive the fifteen minutes before bedtime. Read together, tell family stories, make calls to distant family together, read Bible stories, and pray. Tuck in time for all ages is much happier with personal attention sprinkled in.

The issue with time together is not so much time as it is love. We know our value based upon the investment others make in us of their time! Toys and trinkets don’t make up for time. Quality time can be found only when quantity time is shared! We know we are loved by sacrifice and we intuitively know the greatest sacrifice of all is time! Our greatest need is love. “We need to be reconnected with each other.” (Pipher, 32.) Unless we’re connected, we won’t feel loved.

This involves not only deepening our ties to family, but also to community. None of us can have all of our needs met in our nuclear family. Yet more and more, families are uprooted from extended family. We need a place to find the aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins of the extended family. This must be a place of shared responsibility and accountability. This is a place of shared values, commitments, and beliefs. While human folk have been able to supremely mess up God’s plan for his family, the Church, it still is an incredible source of extended family.

This was God’s plan. He wanted us to have a place where we would be received, accepted and loved, even after everyone really knew who we are! That’s what the church is all about. So as you seek to build a strong family, let me remind you of several key strategies: first, limit your dependence and entertainment from electronic devices and process together the messages you do receive from these media inputs; second, commit to put your family first and change your schedule to reflect that commitment; third, do more things together as family, especially things that help you talk and leisurely spend time with each other; fourth, involve yourself in community -- get involved in church and work with others in building friendships and extended family.

These are challenging times for families. But we do have the tools to not only survive, but to build strong families. The real question is whether or not we’re ready to make the commitment and stick to it. Please start. Everything depends upon it!

May God bless us as we seek to build strong families!


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Edited by Phil Ware and Paul Lee.
Article copyright © Jeanene Reese. Previously published in Image Magazine. Used by permission.
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