The strains of sustaining the central family fire in a consumer family are more often signs of these trying times than our inadequacies or inexperience as parents.
Until a century ago, and in many places far more recently, the family depended for its health on continuous exchanges with extended family, neighbors and a local community.
In consumer society today, the family purchases most of its sustenance to the best of its ability from professionals, specialists and experts at schools, institutions, corporations, agencies.
We entrust our children to others while we’re at work. We rely on doctors and chemistry for our health. We rely on supermarkets to supply our food. We rely on social workers, retirement homes or care units to tend to our vulnerable ones. We rely on mortuaries and undertakers for our dead.
Consumer society–where our basic social needs are up for sale and local community thus made obsolete–consumes the family by replacing most of its social functions, making it more prone to dysfunction.
Here, family easily becomes fraught with isolation, loneliness, disconnection and the consequent stress of one or two adults doing their utmost to hold it all together. Trying to sustain family vibrancy, loving relationship and a nurturing environment for our children in this setting is a sisysephean task.
Autonomy is a managed existence dependent on purchased services flying a false flag, leaving us oddly and suprisingly in an interminable search for home. We depend on an impersonal system to provide us what we once provided for ourselves, with the help of community.
Family is not a sentiment. It’s a function. It is shaped, formed and sustained by the ways in which we come together, how we share chores and work, and the web of mutual dependence and vital relationships that bind us to one another.
Personal wholeness and well-being depends entirely on communal wholeness.
And so health for our children asks that we as parents devote ourselves to tending a family home of co-dependent people who are also dependent on the place in which we live, on our neighbors for our social life, and disciplining ourselves to the craft of knowing our place well enough to meet our basic needs.