This column on family was written for the August 19, 1982 issue
of The Coral Springs Forum and clearly reflects the societal norms
and the terminology of the time. The shape of the family has
changed in the intervening decades, but I believe that the core
of this column- the importance of family to the children in it-
remains as true and vital and relevant today as it was those
31 years ago.
The story was one of tragedy and failure, of a family fractured and broken,
of a mother who decided that she could no longer handle the respon-
sibilities of everyday life and opted to leave her children to their own
devices, creating a too-soon-old eighteen-year-old son with responsibility
for his young sister. And as sad as the story was, as fraught with images of
brokenness and despair, the real tragedy was the fact that this tale is being
repeated again and again in every community all over this nation. The family,
once seen as the most important, most stable unit of our society, is being
hammered and battered from all sides. And an astounding number of
parents are finding their answer in "copping out" rather than in "coping
with", leaving behind confused and angry and despairing children whose
only sin was being born in the first place.
There are countless statistics which abound today about the changing
profile of the American family; let me share some with you, aware that
the picture presented is not a pleasant one.
-38% of all first marriages fail (the estimate is conservative.)
-79% of the divorced people remarry; 44% of the second marriages will fail
-During the decade of the 70s, four out of ten babies born in that period
will spend at least part of their childhood in single-parent homes.
-15% of all births today are illegitimate and 50% of these babies are
being born to teenagers
-Approximately 2 million American children who do live with both
parents are "latch key children", coming home to an empty house
-200 thousand American children are physically abused each year. Of
those, between 60 and 100 thousand are sexually abused.
-Children are abused in 15-20% of American families.
-The number 1 killer of children under age 5 is child abuse.
-30% of all American couples experience some form of domestic violence
during their lifetimes. Almost 2 million have used a lethal weapon
on each other during marriage.
-20% of all police officers killed in the line of duty die while answering
calls involving domestic violence.
-An average of 13 teenagers commit suicide each day in the United
States and that statistic is growing rapidly. Suicide is now the no. 2
killer of Americans aged 15 to 24.
-Spouse-battering is reaching epidemic levels, with estimates saying that
12 to 15 million women are battered each year.
Perhaps what we need is a new perspective on family life, on the importance
of the role of the family in child-rearing and in the perpetuation of our
society. And perhaps the most important attitude that needs to be
examined is the attitude toward children. All too often we seem to consider
a child as a total nuisance, as being in the way and interfering with our
adult "right" to do our own thing. But the birth of each child is noteworthy
to our Heavenly Father. Each child is significant, a special and unique
creation of which there is no duplicate. Into each child has been breathed
the breath of life and each child represents the transfer of love from the
heart of God to the couple who are parents of that special child.
I realize that this attitude is not a popular one today. Someone admitting
to liking children is seen as weird, perhaps bordering on totally loony.
Conversations between adults are far more likely to be richly peppered
with complaints and criticisms of their children than with expressions
of the joy and satisfaction found in being a parent. And all too often,
the attitude we express is, "When the children are gone, THEN we'll
be able to...", loving sight of the fact that the formative, memory-filled
years will pass all too quickly and the years of advancing age will stretch
before us for a far longer time.
Now I am not saying that family life is easy or tranquil of even always
enjoyable. Brothers and sisters will fight; dirty socks will be stuffed
under the bed; puppies will throw up on new carpets; milk will be
spilled (by the gallons, it seems); mounds of laundry will multiply
themselves in the corner of the laundry room; and at times, Mom and
Dad's night out will consist of a bike ride to the nearby park for fifteen
minutes of uninterrupted talk. But accompanying all this will be the
wet kisses and sticky hugs; the shouts of uninhibited laughter; the
"Gee, thanks, Mom" for the fresh chocolate-chip cookies; the family
jokes understood by no one else; the quiet times when everyone is
asleep and a blessing seems to settle over the house like a benediction
to end the day.
Share Christmases, birthdays, other celebrations of joy and fulfillment;
holding hands while sharing a mealtime prayer; reminiscing about
family vacations; perusing the family photo albums- all of these colorful
threads are part of the family tapestry which is carefully woven over
the years and which helps form our children into the adults they will
become. In her book, What is a Family?, Edith Schaeffer defines one
function of the family as a perpetual relay of truth, a place where
principles are finely-honed on the anvil of everyday live, where character
traits are sculpted under the watchful, loving eyes of the parents, and
where steel-strong fibers are woven into the fabric of inner constitution.
This relay race is no sprint; it's a marathon, a grueling trek over the long,
difficult haul. And the practice track is inside our own front doors, for
the home is God's built-in training facility for the next generation. The
job is long and hard and sweaty and, at times, distasteful; the rewards
may seem few at times. But in the long run, it is the very best our
children have and should have. We ARE the shapers, the molders, the
coaches in the crucial game of life for our children. As "gifted" people,
blessed with the gifts of responsibility for these special young creatures
placed in our care, can we be any less than serious and dedicated about
the task to which we have been called?