Emptiness We All Feel
Not just the mother has been affected.
The father went from the head leading a body, engaged in the education of children, the care of the elderly, the production of a family business, the passing on of a family trade, the shepherding of souls, the defense of the community, the regulating of relations between members, and the representation of the family in society, to the one who spends vast time away from his home, working for another’s household (a corporation or the government), giving what little he has left to his family when he returns.
The son went from heir of the family business, steward of the household responsibilities, co-laborer with his brothers, and recipient of discipleship from his father, to one who plays video games and charts his own path in his late teens.
The daughter went from early preparation for marriage, learning from a mother how to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, strong in her various realms of competency, building the household with her mother and siblings, being what Chesterton called the great universalist, competent in many different things, to being trained as a specialist away from her mother.
The elderly went from honored and provided for to regularly forgotten. Singles went from their father’s house to their own, often greeted nightly by loneliness. The orphan and widow became dependent on the state.
Learning from the Past
I do not mean to idealize the ancient family or say that the modern family is in every way inferior. The pages of Scripture include records of deep brokenness in premodern families, even in families of great men and women of faith. Nor am I suggesting that a return to the past is possible (or even desirable). But I am suggesting that our frantic, detached, emptied, individualistic ideals of what a family should be stand to learn from times past.
Ancient ideals can be reforged and remembered and reappropriated to match the new times and new challenges of today. The family can be bonded by more than mere sentiment and consumption, but by meaningful mission and output. One of the benefits of our modern situation, in fact, is how quickly reformation can happen.
While a robust vision of reformation would require far more space, here are a few ways I’ve seen others (or tried myself) to bring people, production, and purpose back into the home.
People. Guard family rhythms like eating dinner together and going to church together. Schedule routine times to have neighbors, family, or church members in your home. For those who are able, consider living near (or with) your parents and extended family. Consider how you can be a blessing to them in their old age. Other ideas include inviting singles and widows over for family meals, trying homeschooling or hand-in-hand structures that leave responsibility with the parents as well as teachers, and having the father work some from home if possible. And of course, the most obvious way to fill your home with people is to have children.
Production. Consider the talents and passions in the home (especially of the wife and young adults), and dream together about a family business. I know a family who has a T-shirt printing company in their garage, a family who does Airbnb, a family who gives music lessons, and a family who grows a vegetable garden and sells the produce. If you have sons, consider something like lawn mowing or snow shoveling. Consider bigger investments, such as real estate. Consider foremost how you can invest riches in heaven through creative ways of blessing your local church and those in your community.
Purpose. Consider developing a family creed to give direction to decisions. Consider family goals for now, later, and beyond. Establish the priorities of the home and how each member fits into them. Limit screen time and awaken the lost discipline of family worship. Envision how your family can strengthen your local church and serve missionaries overseas.
New purpose can invigorate the Christian family to address the fact that perhaps the pandemic didn’t so much create a childcare crisis as expose a household one and gave us a fresh opportunity to find solutions.