May 1950 Vol. 31, No. 5 On Being A Family
Getting married is really little
more than signing a contract to build a marriage. The real
building is done over the years that follow, and the resulting
structure is called a family. Planning and energy and skill
are needed by the 243,000 men and women who were married in
Canada last year, and by the quarter million who will be married
Making it as easy as possible for these young people to
find the right way to build sturdy family life is the business
of all of us, because the success with which they pair off
in this generation determines the fate of the nation.
These young people really have taken on a big job. The responsibilities
facing them are literally unprecedented. They are called upon
to make decisions which seem to demand all the wisdom of the
Of Married Life
Both the form of the family and the nature of married relationships
have varied greatly in the course of human history, and never
were they more exacting than they are today. Poets to the
contrary notwithstanding, marriage does not overnight change
character and personality so as to fit everyone miraculously
for founding a family.
There is more to family life than biology and romance and
the economics of family support. Understanding appreciation
of each other's good qualities is necessary, and it must be
made known. Many a marriage breaks up in sorrow because one
of the parties basks in the sunshine of appreciation expressed
by workshop or social friends, while at home everything able
and good is taken for granted.
What shall we set up as the motto of the home? One man,
puzzled to find a decoration for over his livingroom
fireplace, discarded pictures and wrote up two Greek
words meaning The Healing Place of the Soul.
Home is the unit of spiritual, emotional and physical security.
The home develops personality, educates in living, and fits
us to take our place in society. It is here that children
grow into men and women who find within the family the fulfilment
of their needs and desires, the release from worry and the
encouragement they need to face the heavy responsibilities
Religious belief is a vital part of family life. It is worthy
of note that not only does the family instil religious observance,
but the various forms of religious confession emphasize the
family as a vital part of our civilization.
The Christian Church carried over a high evaluation of the
family from Judaism. The people of Israel laid stress upon
the beauty and unity of home life. The family pattern became
the symbol of the Kingdom of God. Our hope for the future
of the human race rests in no small part upon carrying into
the wide world the concept of the Christian family.
The Good Family
Good families do not just happen, but are the result of
unselfishness, good temper, forgiveness and humour. A family
needs two parents, qualified to make a home that will meet
the minimum demands of normal life; community surroundings
that make it possible for parents to do their parental duty;
and a vital alliance between the family, the church, the school,
the political system, and all cultural opportunities.
No other institution can take the place of the family. It
is sad to see parental power yielding in some countries to
the broadened functions of the state. The spontaneous cooperation
of natural human association breaks up, and finds precarious
replacement by the external and artificial bonds of social
management and compulsion. Practically all the major religious
and social study groups are agreed that for any true security,
national or international, the rights and obligations of the
home must be safeguarded.
We have seen the other side of the picture in recent years,
when totalitarian states encroached upon the sanctity of the
home and imposed pagan ideas upon their people. This is one
of the dangers in a toosocialized world: that by interfering
in family life the state may weaken the nation in two important
ways, by raising a race of dependent people, unable to think
or do for themselves, and by breaking up the cohesion of the
family unit, which is the basis of national unity.
Some families break up of their own accord. We see mistakes
made in marriage, and we are inclined to ask: "Is this necessary?"
Divorce, desertion, and separation are merely the external
evidence of dissatisfaction and conflict within families.
In the last year of record there were 7,683 divorces in Canada.
In that same year there were 134,088 marriages and there were
3,042,000 families in Canada. For every broken home of which
we hear, there are hundreds which stand as stable structures.
Parents can do a great deal to avert the danger of family
disruption. A major mistake, made by husband and wife alike,
is taking the mate for granted. When each of two persons living
together becomes so absorbed in his own affairs that he has
no imagination about those of his mate, that is inevitably
a symptom of the breakdown of what could have been two happy
Respect is needed in families, all along the line; respect
of husband for wife and of wife for husband; respect of children
for parents and of parents for children; and respect of children
for their brothers and sisters.
On a mundane level, trouble sometimes starts because of
money matters. There are great anxieties in homes which are
not economically secure, but it is not always true that they
raise difficulties which end in family disunion.
Sometimes these very stresses seem to have made family relationships
more meaningful in constructive ways. In the families of even
the very poor one may find solidarity, a willingness to share,
and a readiness to live beyond narrow selfabsorption
on the part of both parents and children. It seems as if the
very dearth of material things leads the family to use its
natural talent to make living beautiful.
On Family Ritual
Family ritual means the little formal things done in the
family, things which acquire a sense of rightness as a result
of their continuing history. Ritual centres chiefly around
going to church, observing birthdays and other anniversaries,
family meals, and cooperative ways of using leisure
One must be interested in his family, want to make a go
of it, and think of it as a lasting relationship, to look
forward to the establishment of family rituals and traditions.
It will not do to make up something, like drinking cocoa
together before going to bed, and call that worthwhile ritual.
What is significant is that the family gathers every night,
engages in a common experience, relaxes together, and exchanges
comments. The cocoa is incidental.
The Parents' Contribution
Parents are responsible for giving their children security
and protection, but this is not enough. There needs to be
harmony in the home, affection, and a sense of beauty. Children
do not love their parents because they are parents, but because
they are lovable. Children do not learn principally by precept,
but by example. They absorb the standards we live by, rather
than those we talk about.
The mother of a family has special responsibilities. Homemaking
is a vastly bigger technical task than housekeeping. The ideal
mother may be said to include in her makeup these virtues:
She would be a versatile and helpful manager, looking upon
her home duties as part of a full Life; she would give as
well as take in conversation, games, excursions and planning;
she would be an appeal court in family disturbances, the expert
adviser in problems, and the trusted friend of all the family.
She would find time to keep a spirit of play and fellowship
in the home. She would be a good listener.
And she need not keep all these virtues exclusively for
her children. Clarence Day, in his delightful Life With
Father, shows how mother used effective techniques in
dealing with the other senior partner.
As to father's place in the family, there are two ideas.
One recalls the strange habit of the marmosets. After feeding
her baby marmoset, the mother hands it over to be taken care
of by the old man; from there on it is his responsibility.
The other extreme is seen in Dagwood's family life. He is
kind, dutiful, diligent, wellmeaning; but he has so
completely given up any claim to authority that the family
would risk breakup and disaster if it were not for Blondie.
Somewhere in between these extremes is the true place of
fathers. They are necessary, if children are to grow up to
be wellbalanced adults. Out of the power and wisdom
father possesses in their eyes, children bolster up their
feeling of being small and weak and helpless. It is from fathers
that children obtain their ideals about the "rules of the
No father is expected to carry the whole weight of the family
problems. By coming between his children and all suffering
a father makes them infantile. His job is not to be a buffer
between the family and trouble, but to help his family command
it. He has an important job outside the family, to be a good
citizen, bearing his share of social responsibility.
Fathers should not use the family as an excuse for not doing
the things they would like to do, or feel they should do.
A quip by Francis Bacon is often quoted by men in need of
such an excuse: "He that hath a wife and children hath given
hostages to fortune; for they are impediments to great enterprises."
This generalization must be accepted with caution. Countless
men who would otherwise have led ordinary Lives have been
inspired into greatness by their wives and children. And,
by the way, Bacon was merely repeating what was said by the
melancholy Greek philosopher Lucian in the second century.
It takes a handy excuse a long time to die.
Education for Marriage
A person wishing to become a lawyer, doctor, engineer, nurse,
or teacher must give several years to study and training.
When it comes to marriage, we have been accustomed to thinking
no preparation is needed; that all we have to do is find someone
attractive, pop the question, have a ceremony, and settle
down to a life of bliss.
A change is taking place. During the past few years we have
wakened up to the idea that a little learning makes marriage
more likely to succeed, and certainly it helps in bringing
up a family.
Education for family living has its beginning in school
years, when the child learns elementary facts about hygiene
and home management, but the best work is done in early adult
years. There are facilities for study in every city and in
many smaller centres. The task is to convince young people
that learning is worthwhile because more enjoyment can be
had in married life if they approach it prepared.
Parenthood is a job for the sturdy. It can be rather rough
going. Young children love to make a noise, and they are given
to moving violently about. The parent who is forever saying
"Quietly!" ought to have made inquiries about the real nature
of children before becoming a parent.
Then, the noisy period past, the children develop into animated
question marks. For 15 to 18 years they display insatiable
curiosity and an inclination to argue. These are part of their
education, and the parent who snubs their curiosity is shirking
It is not always a comfortable situation, because sometimes
the parent just does not know the answers. That need not be
disastrous unless the child finds his parent bluffing. It
is far better to say: "I don't know, but let's find out."
The weak or thoughtless person will end a debate by the mere
exercise of authority, but the child senses that a grownup
who has to stand on his dignity like that must be a person
of short stature.
There is no easy way of being a parent. There is no set
of encyclopedic volumes with all the answers.
It is, however, a good thing to have a list of principles.
This one, though prepared by the Highland Park School in Michigan
for students in its childcare course, is equally good
for seasoned parents: Take your time; use a low, quiet voice;
answer questions; talk to the children when occasion calls
for it, but avoid talking to them all the time; be consistent;
be calm, controlled and relaxed; be friendly, but not aggressively
so; be reasonable, just, and fair; when the children are working
or playing well, don't interfere; laugh with them,
never at them; show no favouritism; avoid talking about
a child in his presence; be patient; encourage selfhelp;
give sincere praise for accomplishments.
Recreation need not be the complicated experience some people
make it. It is relaxation to go down to the country station
to watch the train come in, or to drive out from a city to
look at a few cows and chickens. Think of how fascinatedly
men gather at a subway excavation or a lot where riveters
are bolting together the skeleton of a new building. Adults
return from these excursions relaxed, and children find in
them the raw material for exciting games in the sandbox or
on the living room floor.
Because all families have so different work and interests
during the day that leisure time offers their only hope of
getting together, it is reasonable to suggest that every chance
for recreation in the home should be grasped. Planning for
fun together is an important part of family living. It is
surprising what opportunities can be found around the house.
If parents are the kind who like to tinker and to create
things with their hands, and if they are willing to let the
small fry hang around and ask questions while they work, that
is one answer to the problem of what to do. It is only one
more step to allow the children to make things for themselves.
What they turn out will not look like much, but they will
learn to handle tools. More important, they will learn the
pleasure to be had in a home workshop and will be drawn closer
to parents who are also in the secret.
Today's apartments and houses are not as roomy as living
quarters used to be. It is up to the family to make sure the
best use is being made of what is available. Family recreation
is worth sacrificing some oldtime prejudices for. Such
a prejudice is the tidy parlour. It doesn't seem to have done
much good, in many cases, to change the name to "living room",
because it is anything but that. It would be fun to muss it
up by living in it together of an evening, with cutouts,
card tables, sewing kit, and other diversions.
If that is going too far in the interests of family recreation,
make a survey. Can you set up a hobby corner in the attic,
the basement, the garage, or even in a clothes closet? What
can you provide in the way of equipment - a workbench (a packing
case or several small boxes nailed together will do), game
tables, a stand for the boy's microscope or for the girl's
Are you doing the most that is possible with what you have?
Does everyone get an inning? Is everyone encouraged to become
interested in what everyone else does? Can what one does be
made to contribute to the hobby of another?
In the Community
Most communities provide, either naturally or by cooperative
enterprise, resources to supplement those found or made around
the home. No family can create all the apparatus and opportunities
for a wholesome, balanced and satisfactory programme of recreation.
The ideal situation is where the community bands together
to make recreation available to all citizens at the lowest
Some cities in Canada have gone in for the lighted schoolhouse
idea with great success. They make provision for both children
and adults in classes devoted to crafts of all kinds, music,
shopwork, science study, drama, physical recreation, literature,
public speaking, and a host of other activities.
If the school houses in your community are still closed
in the evening, look for the reason. They are public property,
financed by the community, and best use should be made of
them. Traditional objections, such as possibility of damage,
increased janitor service, cost of supplies and maintenance,
and lack of efficient supervision, are being overcome in scores
of communities by cooperation between the officials
and the citizens.
There are certain organizations which seem to be the logical
centres for starting or improving community recreation programmes:
Home and School Associations, Citizens' Associations, Community
Clubs, and so on. If there are no such organizations, or if
they do not function, then a voluntary society of wideawake
citizens can fill the gap.
What Can Be Done
The way to go about it is to survey the recreational and
cultural facilities your neighborhood offers its people. Are
they adequate? Are there activities for the teenagers,
the preschool group, the young married couples, and
for parents? Is there a playing space with provision for tennis,
badminton, bowling, archery, and such games as softball and
hockey? Is there an indoor recreation place, not closed to
ordinary amateur groups by red tape or expense, giving everyone
a fair chance to play? Have you a library?
One of the oldestsettled communities on the St. Lawrence
still hasn't a library, but it will have one by the end of
this year. Citizens found a building that could be bought
for a few dollars, obtained permission to move it to a corner
of a park, and are fixing it up into a presentable place.
Boy Scouts and Girl Guides are collecting books in a housetohouse
roundup, to form the nucleus of a collection. This is something
that can be done anywhere, and it is an effort not to be despised.
When citizens keep their fingers in the recreation pie they
are acting wisely. It does not do to give over such an important
activity wholly to experts. Recreation together is one way
of helping to keep the family together. It is a creative experience
not only in regard to muscle and mind, but of sympathy and
The danger of parents' abdication is vividly portrayed by
George Orwell in his unhappy forecast of what regimentation
might bring by the year Nineteen EightyFour.
Here is his picture: "This was the second time in three weeks
that he had missed an evening at the Community Centre: a rash
act. In principle a Party member had no spare time, and was
never alone except in bed. It was assumed that when he was
not working, eating or sleeping he would be taking part in
some kind of communal recreations.
Besides taking part in home and community recreation, parents
need to show an interest in the commercial activities which
cater to their children's appetite for amusement. Children
need to be shown how to discriminate, how to avoid mental
indigestion through a surfeit of any one kind of fare, and
how to arrive at their own standards of selection.
It is interesting to watch the evolution of children's tastes,
and it is not wise to become alarmed when they seem to go
overboard about this or that programme. We can listen with
them to the radio they enjoy, go with them to movies they
fancy, and then invite them to join with us in our listening
and seeing. In families, taste is contagious.
It is the privilege of parents to listen to the problems
which crowd children's minds. What they see on the screen
and hear on the radio and both see and hear on television
confuses them. We need to interpret conflicting standards
On Being Mature
The task laid upon parents is not easy. From marriage through
all the experiences of raising a family there are thousands
of decisions to be arrived at, things to be done, and choices
to be made. Every one of them is pregnant with meaning for
Canada's next half century. It is no exaggeration to say that
what Canada is in the year 2000 depends upon the mothers and
fathers of today and tomorrow.
That responsibility demands maturity of outlook. What does
"maturity" mean? A person cannot be mature if he is dependent
on others, or if, contrariwise, he is puffed up with pride
in his independence. None of us can get along without others,
without affection, without being looked after in situations
where we cannot look after ourselves. But that must not lure
us into leaning on relatives, neighbours, the community or
Maturity means not playing at being flighty because we are
afraid of being looked upon as old fogies. It means not thinking
of adulthood as merely a time of glory departed. It means
not being afraid to participate. It does mean having a buoyant
and courageous impulse to seek ways of achieving a new significance
To sum up: there are several things a family must be if
it is to keep its preeminent place in our civilization.
It must be permanent, companionable, and cooperative.
It must provide both partners and their children with a major
opportunity for selfdevelopment. It must have a spiritual
centre. It needs to be unified, democratic and adaptable.
It must work intelligently with church, school and community.
Lord Halifax stated four basic principles of life which
are quoted with approval by the United Church of Canada commission
on marriage and the home:
1. The religious principle of the absolute value of every
human soul in the sight of God.
2. The moral principle of respect for human personality.
3. The social principle of individual liberty.
4. The domestic principle of the sanctity and solidarity
of the family.
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