The Fall of Family Life

Editor's Note: Click here to see an interview Father Jonathan did on Sunday's FOX & Friends about “Green Sins.”

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Even for an expatriate like me, now almost accustomed to the European calendar of a mid-October through late June academic year, Labor Day in America marks the end of summer and the beginning of something new. There is change in the air. It’s fall.

The metamorphosis of seasonal signs like smells, sounds and colors parallels the changing of human activity. Our autumn ritual begins: we turn off air-conditioners, prepare pool covers, bring leaf rakes and sweaters out of storage and become gloriously infected with college football fever. Slow, yellow school buses once again roam the neighborhoods to pick up children and, less conspicuously, to test the patience of drivers everywhere.

Within the framework of this fall tradition, another ritual is emerging among young families. Parents are juggling two work schedules, car pools, baby-sitter availability, soccer, baseball, ballet, football, karate and birthday parties. The ridiculous is on the verge of becoming the norm.

All of this movement, of course, is for the sake of the kids and for the sake of the family. But is it working? Divorce rates for first-time marriages in America hover around 50 percent. And, for the first time ever, as reported by The New York Times earlier this year, more adults are staying single than choosing to get married.

Many studies show that parents are spending more time with their children than in recent years, but parents say they are dissatisfied with the results. Most family time involves little meaningful interaction. Personalized television viewing, Internet networking, cell phones and text messaging have changed the face of family life. Digital messengers are the new live-in nannies.

But the messenger is not the principle problem; it’s the message itself. The loudest voices in American culture make a mockery of the substance that keeps families together. Last week on talk radio, Donald Trump highlighted a Florida man who’s suing his florist for $1,000,000 because the florist faxed a copy of the man’s credit card receipt to his home, allowing his wife to see that her husband was buying his mistress flowers. The Donald’s business-savvy, take-home advice: men, if you’re going to cheat on your wife, pay cash and leave no trail. Tongue in cheek humor made for the media, maybe, but not exactly the type of nanny you would choose to raise your kids.

Labor Day has come and gone. Now that change is in the air, it may be the perfect time to generate new family-centered traditions, rituals capable of turning the tide on what I consider the greatest threat to our nation’s future — the degradation, the fall, of family life. Let’s get practical:

1) Hold a weekly family meeting: Sunday nights are perfect times to hold a “family meeting.” Have something special for dinner, something simple that the kids will look forward to, and then converse about the upcoming activities of the week. Compare calendars. Set goals. Distribute chore lists. Learn from last week’s mistakes. Discuss options. Make decisions. Kids will never forget how mom and dad worked together, in their presence, to prioritize what was best for the family.

2) Make family time a priority: In the same way we make time for after-school activities, parents can schedule meal times, outings and other family activities. The other option is to reduce family life to whatever is left over between the pauses of life’s more important moments.

3) Be the first educators of your children: Take advantage of every opportunity (at the dinner table, around the television, before tucking the kids into bed, on the way to school) to let your kids talk with you about their lives. As they get older, converse with them about your take on current events, social issues, your relationship with God and principles of morality. Schools and teachers should not be the primary educators of children. Parents should be the first and most influential educators. In the new media age, this requires parents making a concerted effort to speak louder, more convincingly, and with greater love than the digital messengers.

4) Pray as a family: Back in the 1950s, Father Payton was famous for saying, “the family that prays together, stays together.” We could say that the family is “a little church” — the place where we learn to love God and our neighbor. Perhaps the easiest way to bring prayer into the family is before meals. You can start with a common prayer (if you don’t remember any, ask your parents, or grandparents) then allow each member his or her turn to thank God for the major blessing of the day.

5) Look beyond the home: In a healthy society, the family is the primary social unit. It is the place we learn civic and moral responsibility. Participate as a family in your local community. Attend a free concert, volunteer in a soup kitchen or reach out to a new neighbor. If children don’t see their parents make service and charity a priority, it is unlikely they will do so as grown adults. Are you too busy because of work? So will your kids when they grow up.

God Bless, Father Jonathan
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P.S. You can click here to see an interview I did on Sunday morning about “Green Sins.” It looks like my regular Sunday television segment will now air on the FOX News Channel at 9 a.m. ET. I hope this is a better hour for all of you!

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