“The most extraordinary thing in the world is an ordinary man and an ordinary woman and their ordinary children." G K Chesterton

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

The Cultural Triumph of the Messy Family

Children Fighting by Johann Grund
In many ways we live among the ruins. Because of that it is often difficult to SEE what it is we are supposed to be doing.  Years ago a Christian leader accused the homeschool movement of promoting the family as an idol. In some ways that was a fair accusation, especially when we end up with each family making up its own religious unit overwhelmingly based on authority rather than servanthood. That sort of thinking about the family is idolatrous and disastrous to its members.

But it does not follow that because the family can be made into an idol that the family is not important to Christianity.

Anyone who reads this blog knows that I believe that ideas have consequences but isn't it also true that consequences lead to ideas?

The current issue of MHAJ carries an interview with Mary Eberstadt concerning her book How the West Really Lost God: A New Theory of Secularization which makes the case that the decline of the family is a precursor to the decline of Christianity not always the other way around. When the family loses meaning in a society, Christianity loses meaning for those people.

"It is commonplace to observe that ideas have consequences,that theories often lead to practices, that what we think about something will shape how we behave. It is not as well recognized that ideas have antecedents, that practices often lead to theories, that the way we are used to behaving will establish intuitions that guide our thinking. Ideas explicitly expressed in the form of statements or arguments are often the way we articulate a set of instinctual pre-verbal assumptions about reality. Assumptions that have been acquired by the experience of the patterns of everyday life."

Thus begins the Mars Hill Audio Journal interview with Mary Eberstadt on family and secularization.

"Ideas influence behavior and patterns of behavior influence ideas."

"Family decline powers loss of faith."

We are seeing the beginnings of the non-family. In very secularized countries like Sweden we are seeing more and more households of just one and in many ways that is how I picture present day Britain, not as a country of thriving families but rather as a series of individuals.  This rapid change in the structure of society has brought with it rapid secularization. Then there is Japan, a country that is looking more and more androgynous.

"Changes in family formation are driving religious belief."

I remember talking to a group of Chinese teachers visiting America several years ago during Thanksgiving at my sister's house. These non-Christian women were fascinated by our large family and by homeschooling. They asked question after question and finally one of them said to me, "I worry about my son because he not only does he not have siblings but in one generation we have lost all concept of cousins or aunts and uncles."

I had never ever thought about how quickly a society changes with a one-child policy. In one generation whole swaths of family life are removed.

This also brings us around to the idea put forth by George Gilder in Men and Marriage that the most destructive force in the world is the single male. The single male is a good warrior but a bad citizen.

We are living in a rapidly crumbling infrastructure.  To be honest, I am embarrassed that I ever listened to men like Doug Philips, but it doesn't follow that the family is not important or that I am sorry I had 9 real children.

Children make us better people and often better Christians. In our family, I am comforted when I see my unmarried sons love their nieces and nephews. The most successful single people I know ally themselves to children and families.

This is all part of that tether I keep talking about. Our children are actually the tethers that hold us to the past, to our heritage, to our Christianity.  As weird as it sounds to our modern ears, in so many ways we are saved through childbearing (I Timothy 2:11).

Motherhood is a high calling. Civilization is closely tied to motherhood. Don't get me wrong I do not think you should lose yourself so thoroughly in motherhood that that is all you are because that is not healthy for you or your family, but I do think women need to know that motherhood is a high value commodity in the market of civilization.

As you begin this new year, Mama, do so knowing that you are really the first pillar of education. You are a vital part of the infrastructure of culture, family and even Christianity.

This is not about having the perfect family or the perfect school. Your success or failure doesn't rest on your perfection just your faithfulness. Your family is going to be a mess sometimes. You could cure this by not having a family at all, the modern choice.  Western Civilization does not rest on perfect families but on the imperfect ones.  Yours and mine.


  1. I have been thinking about a comment I read about six months ago from Compassion International's outgoing president: Poverty begins with a poverty in relationship. (I'm sure not an exact quote.) In reading through the latest missionary newsletter from Cup of Cold Water Ministries, several missionaries wrote about ministering in their very poor communities. Without exception, they were plagued with substance abuse, abusive/neglectful parenting (or total abandonment), etc. Restoring a community of families to a modicum of health would likely take care of much of the poverty (regardless of where those families live in the world). I believe you are exactly right. Lori in Wheaton

  2. Thanks Cindy. I was ery encouraged by this.

  3. This is beautiful, Cindy. Family is so important and really such a blessing. It always makes me sad when people talk as if children are always a burden rather than a blessing. I have been listening to an excellent series of lectures on what it means to be a "good wife", and two of the five are devoted almost entirely to this topic of the mother playing such a crucial role in the home.

  4. This is such an encouragement, Cindy. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Talk about starting the year out with a bang. Thank you, I needed to hear that today.

  6. Thank you so much for these wise words. I think there IS strength in numbers and perfection a myth. Keep writing....

  7. Earlier this evening, most of our family was visiting together at my married son's apartment. A single son, who had been working all day, arrived home and immediately called me on my cell. He said, "I just got home but there is no one here!" So he came right on over and joined us in playing games and loving up on his niece and nephew. My point being that people in a large family--even after a long day of work-- tend to dislike being alone when you might think the opposite would be true! (Just my thoughts after I read your article...) :)

  8. This is encouraging. Thank you.

  9. I needed this in a period of time when my medium sized (by modern standards, maybe even almost large) family is just a whole lot of work. Thank you.

  10. You should edit this (or ask Rick Saenz to) and shop it around. It is very good.

  11. Thank you for sharing this. I especially liked this part: "This is not about having the perfect family or the perfect school. Your success or failure doesn't rest on your perfection just your faithfulness. Your family is going to be a mess sometimes." We just started back to school (homeschool) this week, and I'm seriously questioning my sanity. It's hard after moving, not doing school for six weeks and dealing with bad attitudes (including mine) and 3 littles (4, 2, 2). It was very encouraging for me.

  12. I can't believe I missed this post until Sarah linked to it! I listened to that MHAJ, and thought you'd be able to do a good riff on that concept. I'm glad you did!

    Not perfection, just faithfulness. I don't feel very faithful, but today is a 6-year-old birthday girl day, and there are pretties and balloons strung around, her older brothers wanted to give her presents, she made her birthday cake from scratch with only a little help, and even though there's bickering, there's joy in making one member among us special and celebrated.