Why Family Life Is Now a Choice
by David Gibson
“Family life doesn’t just happen; it is a decision, a choice.” According to the Catholic bishops of Canada’s Manitoba province, the times we inhabit make this an essential choice for families that want their members to remain close and to fulfill key roles in each other’s lives.
“It may be said that we choose our friends but we do not choose our family,” the bishops note. People may think that “in good times or bad, in sickness or health, in prosperity or poverty, in life or in death our family members are who they are. They simply are God’s gift to us.”
Today, however, “perhaps more than ever before, we must choose to be a family,” the bishops state. After all, many forces in society “propel us toward individualism, toward self-centeredness in our consumption of goods, our search for personal power, our thirst for pleasure.”
In this cultural context, they stress, the need grows “to choose to be a family, to live as a family.”
The bishops cite additional realities of life that “make even more pressing our need to choose to make family central to our lives.” For example, there are the realities “of a fast-paced life (perhaps too fast paced), of mobility, vastly increased technology, having to travel to faraway places for study, employment or career.”
The Manitoba bishops developed their pastoral letter for the first National Week for Life and the Family, an initiative of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. The CCCB proposed that the week be observed May 12-19, and each diocese decides whether and how to do so.
“Life has become more complex for the family,” the Manitoba bishops comment. “Often both mother and father work outside the home in order to provide for the family.” It thus “becomes more challenging to maintain the strong and close relationships which family life demands.”
The bishops challenge readers of the pastoral letter to consider “how difficult it is for most families just to have all members sharing a meal around the same table at the same time — sharing those precious daily conversations that create bonds and heal hearts.”
Family Sizes and Shapes
Families come “in all shapes and sizes,” Manitoba’s bishops observe. There “are many families led by a single parent” and “families in which grandparents play a major role in raising the children, so often providing babysitting.” There also “are blended families in which parents and children, often hurt by separation, divorce or death, desire to love again and so endeavor to welcome and adjust to new relationships.”
The bishops note that “some families are small, and some are large.” The members of some families “live close by,” while for other families “they may live far away.”
But the family, the bishops insist, “whatever the form, whatever the reality across generations, is the principal place in which God’s love reaches us, surrounds, nurtures and supports us, and empowers us to share God’s greatest gift — life itself.”
The bishops explain, however, that in wanting families to be “the place where life is welcomed and nurtured,” God “asks that we not simply be numbered as a member of a family.”
Instead, their pastoral letter considers it essential “that we choose emphatically and repeatedly to live as a family – a family marked by respect, mutual support and encouragement, happiness and laughter, healing and forgiveness, patience and hope.”
Among their recommendations, the bishops ask families to:
- “See and acknowledge with gratitude all that is good, all that lends strength, all that gives and nurtures life within your family whatever its shape or form.”
- “Recognize what each member brings to the whole family.”
- “Say thank you to each other and to God.”
- Seek ways together “to grow as a family in all that is good and holy, in all that is life.”
- “Together seek ways to grow in communication, in attention to one another,” as a means of fostering “the joy, peace and hope of all.”
Bishops of Alberta
In March the bishops of the Alberta province also released a message for the Canadian church’s National Week for Life and the Family. They viewed the week as an opportunity both “to celebrate the beauty of life, marriage and family, and to offer assistance in understanding and addressing the difficulties families face.”
Many families “are struggling or even broken,” Alberta’s bishops noted. To them, they said, “we express in a particular way our closeness and support.”
Current pressures on families “are enormous” and include “busyness, financial constraint, unemployment or underemployment, addictions and separation from extended family or other support networks,” the bishops wrote.
Moreover, they continued, “individualistic and self-centered currents of modern society undermine the virtues of fortitude, self-sacrifice, commitment and hope that enable marriage and family to remain strong and flourish.”
In light of this, the bishops said the church wants “to draw near” to families that struggle, bringing a message of hope and offering “the services provided by its agencies of social outreach.”
About the author
David Gibson served for 37 years on the editorial staff at Catholic News Service, where he was the founding and long-time editor of Origins, CNS Documentary Service. David received a bachelor’s degree from St. John’s University in Minnesota and an M.A. in religious education from The Catholic University of America. Married for 38 years, he and his wife have three adult daughters and six grandchildren.