What can we do to protect our families from the tide of pressures trying to crush the traditional family? How can we build strong family units?
In 1979 the Pittsburgh Pirates professional baseball team surprised many by winning the World Series. It was a close-knit team and, to reflect this, they adopted the popular Sister Sledge song “We Are Family” to describe their strength and unity. The phrase The Family was stenciled on the dugout roof and on signs, bumper stickers and T-shirts everywhere. Family became the team identity.
Similarly, the traditional family can also be described as a team—hopefully a unified, supportive team. However, we all know that some teams are not very good when it comes to working together during difficult times, and it is not unheard of for players to blame each other for ongoing problems.
Sadly, the same can often be said of individual families. What must we do to strengthen and sustain our families?
Marriage and family under attack
Dramatic shifts in the culture and in the definitions of marriage and family have impacted many people today. It wasn’t that long ago that marriage was widely appreciated as an institution uniting a man and a woman as a team to share the task of raising children. Bringing children into the world and teaching, protecting and providing for them was seen as the primary tasks of parents.
But dramatic societal shifts have changed the composition of many families. Commenting on the results of the 2010 U.S. Census, The New York Times reported that “married couples represented just 48 percent of American households in 2010. … This was slightly less than in 2000, but far below the 78 percent of households occupied by married couples in 1950. What is more, just a fifth of households were traditional families—married couples with children—down from about a quarter a decade ago, and from 43 percent in 1950.”
The impact on children is equally dramatic. The New York Times article continued, “W. Bradford Wilcox, the director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, argues that the retreat from marriage is bad for society because it means less security for children. ‘It’s troubling because those kids are much more likely to be exposed to instability, complex family relations and poverty,’ he said” (“Married Couples Are No Longer a Majority, Census Finds,” May 26, 2011).
Because of the frequency of divorce and the various “alternative” family structures, the concept of a strong marriage and family may seem unrealistic or unattainable to many children today. The State of Our Unions, an annual report on marriage and family in the United States by the National Marriage Project, reveals disturbing and profound changes in this dramatic cultural shift and its impact on children. The U.S. statistics reported in the National Marriage Project’s 2012 “Social Indicators of Marital Health and Well-Being” are shocking:
- Today 40 percent of all children and 72 percent of African-American children are born out of wedlock.
- The number of cohabiting couples who live with children today is more than 15 times what it was in 1960. And today, 40 percent of all children will spend some time in a cohabiting household while growing up.
- Roughly 1 million children each year experience parental divorce and its aftermath.
The shift away from nuclear families corresponds directly with attitudes among young adults, less than half of whom today believe it is wrong to have a child outside of marriage.
According to Stephanie J. Ventura of the National Center for Health Statistics, about 1.7 million babies were born to unmarried women in 2007, a 26 percent increase from 1.4 million in 2002 and more than double the number in 1980. Unmarried women accounted for 39.7 percent of all U.S. births in 2007—up from 34 percent in 2002 and more than double the percentage in 1980.
So what does it take to build strong, intact families today?
Strong, loving relationships
Loving connections between family members are a critical building block of the family. With healthy, committed relationships, the entire family is protected and strengthened. When challenges arise, as they sometimes will, the strong family will work together to endure or solve the problems.
The foundation for these strong families is love. The Bible describes love as something that is not provoked, thinks no evil, doesn’t envy, rejoices in truth and endures all things (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). A loving family shares dreams, hopes, possessions, memories, smiles, frowns, success and failure. It provides shelter from the storm—a friendly port when the waves of life become too wild. No member of such a family ever need feel alone.
The resilient family
But too many families today seem to reflect what comedian Robert Orben quipped, “Who can ever forget Winston Churchill’s immortal words: ‘We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills.’ It sounds exactly like our family vacation.”
However, a loving, committed family is resilient, and a resilient family will work together to “bounce back” from problems that might shatter other families.
Families can be inspired by the apostle Paul’s description of the resilience of first-century Christians who faced crisis: “We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9). Paul and these faithful Christians relied on God for strength and help to endure trials, and families can as well.
The power of example
A strong bond among family members can increase the influence of a positive example.
Paul praised Timothy’s family members for their positive example: “I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded is in you also” (2 Timothy 1:5).
The Bible also records other examples of strong bonds that can be developed. Take Ruth and Naomi, for example. Ruth married the son of Naomi, but he later died. She had the opportunity to return to her own people and seek another husband, but instead Ruth chose to remain a part of her husband’s heritage by remaining with her mother-in-law, Naomi.
Ruth saw something in Naomi and Naomi’s God that provoked her to say, “Entreat me not to leave you, or to turn back from following after you; for wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there will I be buried” (Ruth 1:16-17). See our article on “Ruth.”
God wants us to develop strong bonds of family loyalty and love. He wants us to share our dreams, hopes, possessions and memories as a family before Him. He wants us to build strong families and worship and honor Him as a family unit.
So what are some tools for building strong families?
Critical family strengths
Here are seven family strengths that Family Connections (a publication of the North Dakota State University Extension Service) describes as being repeatedly identified in research about what makes families strong:
- “Strong and resilient families express commitment to each other by making time with family members a clear priority and working actively to create satisfying family relationships.”
- “Strong and resilient families willingly and consciously spend family time together and enjoy working [and] playing … with each other.”
- “Strong and resilient families practice clear and caring communication with each other. Communication is the lifeblood of family relationships. Healthy family communication involves listening to each other, trying to understand, being respectful of feelings and making a clear effort to explore concerns. Family members strengthen their connections as they listen carefully and try to communicate in ways that are positive and effective.”
- “Strong and resilient families cultivate love and mutual respect by sharing compliments, giving expressions of appreciation and support to each other, and helping family members feel good about themselves.”
- “Strong and resilient families work to resolve problems or cope with challenges by pulling together and giving one another help and support in a positive way.”
- “Strong and resilient families are attentive to meeting basic needs of the family, such as financial stability, health of family members, maintenance of the home environment and managing these needs as well as possible.”
- “Strong and resilient families develop shared religious, spiritual and moral values that give them common purpose and direction. Research on strong families has consistently found the importance of shared values and beliefs that give family members a sense of common identity and purpose. Such values can be a source of strength for family members when life becomes difficult” (Sean Brotherson, “Building a Strong Family,” Family Connections, pp. 5-6).
A spiritual family
God is also in the process of gathering to Himself a family. His family will be identified by similar traits based on what He teaches us in the Holy Bible. God desires a huge family with each child doing his or her share to contribute to the health and well-being of His family.
As the apostle John explained, “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:2-3).
Just like any strong family, we will be identified as being in God’s family by reflecting the character of our Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. Being a vibrant part of the Kingdom of God will be our future family identity.
Read more about what the Bible teaches about strong marriages and families in the articles in the “Marriage” and “Parenting” sections. For more about God’s family, be sure to read the article “Children of God.”