As kids get older and some even leave home, it’s a lot harder to just be a family. We’re off in so many different directions it feels as if the household compass is more like a revolving door. Sometimes, the contrast makes me laugh. A few weeks ago, one of our daughters was finding it difficult to sit through the scary accident movies at driver’s ed. On the same day, her brother, just a year and a half older, was called to the site of a car accident as part of his EMT training.
This fall, we’ll have a married daughter living far away, another daughter teaching English in Moscow. One of our sons will begin college in Pennsylvania, another will enter high school, and a daughter will be applying to college. The younger kids aren’t so young anymore, and increasingly involved in activities. My husband’s job has required a lot of extra hours lately. I’m preparing for the next year of work at the parish. If half of life is just showing up, I’m not sure we’re going to make it as a family to whatever constitutes the second half!
Just scheduling a week of summer vacation when things were relatively quiet was a challenge. One of us is staying home, another is coming late, a third is leaving early. Of course, children grow up, and work demands change. Even more, our desire to do it all and all at once wanes along with the energy such living demands. But our desire to be family, to be involved in each other’s lives and spend time with each other doesn’t lessen. If anything, it grows.
Our time together is more precious than it used to be, partly because there is less of it. Getting together now takes more effort than being together does. And I’m beginning to realize that I need to do it all differently. Things have changed, and will continue to do so. As distances and obligations increase, I’ll need to take the initiative to schedule time to joke around, and talk, grill hamburgers and watch movies together.
Being a family is harder now than it has ever been. Partly it’s because a lot of us just don’t know what “family” looks like or feels like anymore. Our definitions have stretched the concepts, in some positive ways, to be sure. Still, it is harder to tell just what a family is or is meant to be. We live in a world of contradictions. We “child-proof” our homes, and bend over backwards to make things “kid friendly.” But the way we live our lives and the pressures of our popular culture are anything but family friendly. Many of us live running from one activity to the next. Dinner time is fragmented and often squeezed between other things that are considered “more important.” We seem less able to stay married than our great-grandparents did. Our kids have more activities, but are less physically fit. They are taught more material, but seem less able to make good use of it. In many ways we end up making more time to do, and less time just to be. And in the process, we lose who we are.
Ultimately, we all find ways to do what is important to us. We make time for work, time for activities, time for the guys, the girls, or play-dates with school friends. A great number of us also take regular “me time.” But how do we make time to simply be with those we live with? How do we find time just to be a family?
Underneath it all we know that we don’t really need to go to Disney World or out for expensive dinners to be together. Yet we seem to put a premium on such extravagance. It’s tempting, and let’s face it, we all want to think that we’re giving our children the very best we can. But loving one another really doesn’t cost us anything; well, maybe it costs us everything.
The family is the domestic Church, and the Church is the Family of God in Christ. Just as family life has suffered in the home, it has suffered in parishes too. Fewer of us simply come to Mass on Sundays, but then we wonder why we don’t feel at home when we do come. We’re encouraged to think of church as a family, but it’s hard to get to know people when the time between leaving the pew and walking out the door is often less than five minutes. While there are certainly several initiatives that have begun to make a difference, I think there is still much that can be done to find new ways to stay connected--or get connected--to each other. Perhaps we need to work harder at setting aside time just to be family.
There is a place at the table for every member of a family, whether they still live at home, or have homes of their own. The same is true of every parish. Whether you always sit in the fifth pew on the right, or don’t remember when you last came to Mass for something other than Christmas or Easter--there is a place at the table, a place at the altar for you. Your seat is always yours and yours alone. No one can take it from you. And no one can take it for you. That’s because we’re family.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an author, speaker, musician and serves as Faith Formation Coordinator at St. Maria Goretti Parish in Lynnfield.