What’s happened to family life?
In today’s culture, how many remember what the “extended family” means? For some, it’s friends who feel like family. For others, it’s a vague thought about far-away relatives that one rarely (or never) sees.
There’s a paradigm shift that has pulled families apart. God wants to restore family life.
Until the invention of mobility, extended families were a clan of relatives who were actively involved in each others’ lives. They lived near each other. Relatives helped take care of the kids. When someone got sick or died, aunts and uncles pitched in to help. Older family members were around to witness problems and share wisdom gained from experience.
It had been this way since the dawn of humankind.
The 20th century initiated the demise of the extended family. Faster methods of transportation and better tools of communication made the world smaller and smaller and (ironically) the distance between family members bigger and bigger.
Today, one can send a text message to any relative anywhere in the world, from anywhere, including the car, the beach, and the busy shopping mall, via the tiny telephones we carry with us. But is this a sufficient substitute for the hot meal delivered by an aunt when mom is in bed with the flu? Or for the arms of a sister when you need to cry? Or for the bouncing knee of a grandpa?
We live in a world with options. More than ever before in history, we have more options and possibilities available. From vast varieties of mops to clean the kitchen floor to the proliferation of entertainment, we have options. Where do you want to live? There’s no limit to the options! And many of today’s young adults, who grew up during an exponential increase of options, want to explore many of the options before settling down.
Options are both blessings and curses. Too many options cause confusion and indecision. The decisions that typically were made between ages 20 and 25 — about jobs and marriage and where to live — are now being delayed by ten or more years.
Add to this the growth of “me-first” individualism, and we eliminate other-centered options. Furthermore, add in the over-done “if you dream it you can have it” philosophy that’s become very prevalent, and we end up with me-centered fantasies that keep families apart over nothing more than an illusion.
Dreams are good to have and to pursue, but they take hard work and the investment of many years of development and progression. Any other type of dream is a fantasy. Most of today’s young dreamers believe that if the dream is true, it will be fun and easy to achieve. All they have to do is dream hard enough and wait confidently enough.
And thus we end up with this very common reason for the demise of the extended family:
In the late 1990s, I attended a Catholic workshop that examined the affects that globalization was starting to have on our Church. It’s a paradigm shift that expands our perception of church community from a parochial view to a global unity.
I’ve been studying this shift ever since. It’s become obvious that it significantly affects and is influenced by young adults today.
“Young adults” is a new term. In the recent past, teenagers became adults around age 18. By their early 20s, they took on the responsibilities of marriage, working, and raising a family. Today, many young adults are choosing to live a prolonged adolescence and are therefore “young” adults. They take longer to get married, longer to settle into careers, longer to have children, and longer to connect to church life (communal worship and involvement).
They see globalization as totally natural. They did not build this globally-connected world, they are living in it. They are more connected to the global community than any previous age group. They have more varieties of jobs to choose from and are highly likely to change jobs many times, they are more likely to move from place to place to place, and they have more awareness of other cultures.
The paradigm shift began, though barely noticeable at the time, in the 1950s when my parents’ generation were in their 20s. (I’m speaking of the culture I know, the American society.)
Prior to this time, people moved to escape from persecution or plagues or blights. Now, as our society became more mobile and the world began to shrink, people began to move to get jobs that appealed to them outside of what was available locally. My generation moved even farther to get jobs. Today’s 20-somethings move to be entertained. They are restless. They move because they can. Influenced by what they see on television, they identify places where they’d like to go to, then they pick up and go to it and live there for relatively short periods of time before moving on to the next locale of interest.
This has made a very significant impact on our world. When my parents’ generation moved to get the jobs they wanted, they brought an end to the extended family where the grandparents, aunts and uncles, etc. helped raise the children and where the grandparents helped the young parents learn good parenting skills. But most of the kids at least had Mom at home.
The definition of “family” changed. Children no longer were surrounded by large, extended families. “Family” to them meant their own immediate family.
In my generation, both parents began to focus on careers, and “latchkey kids” (a term invented in the 1980s) became a new, common situation. “Family” life began to disappear. Homes even included a TV in every kid’s bedroom, and family togetherness further deteriorated. With both parents working, children were left with a babysitter who was not a family member or they were left by themselves to parent themselves.
Now these children are adults who are choosing a prolonged adolescence. They are delaying the responsibilities of full-fledged adulthood. Their “family” is the vast community from around the world that they interact with via Instant Messenger programs, blogs, text messaging on phones, and online video games. This “family” mostly consists of people their own age. Noticeably missing is the wisdom of the older generation that was previously available in the extended family; these older folks who have learned much from living life are barely using the internet, which is the new “family hearth”.
The blessing of this paradigm shift is the strengthening the world’s unity, especially in the future when today’s young adults mature into responsible middle-age adults who affect policies and business models and politics. When they realize what they are missing, and after they realize they were lied to about how dreams come true, they will undoubtedly become powerful forces for improving the world.
The lies hidden in this wonderful-sounding advice is affecting our lives more than we yet realize. The fruits of this belief system give evidence to the lies: confusion, floundering, wasted time, deteriorating work ethics, missing relationships, and divided families.
The Church has written good documents on the importance of family and the bonds of love we should be experiencing as families and the witnesses we should be to the world as holy families. But we need to work at it. God is calling us to pull families back together. What’s being done about it?
Please reply to this post and share your suggestions and experiences in the restoration and healing of family life.
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© 2007 by Terry Modica
Good News Ministries