The Genius of the Family
Experiential knowledge is the most valuable of all. When Alison and I went to the hospital to deliver our new daughter, we wanted what all parents want: a healthy child. Minutes after Felicity came into the world, she began to deviate from that script. As if she was living out an episode of House, MD, her condition was both perplexing and terrifying. Her symptoms followed the criteria for one condition, only to swerve to a whole new condition. Her care team was chasing a ghost, and one that would not be easily diagnosed.
Less than a day into her life, she was loaded into an isolette and transported to the regional Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. After twelve days and a self-resolving diagnosis, Felicity was finally able to come home. Our journey over those two weeks was difficult, to say the least. The hospital was half an hour from our home, we had to arrange care for Benedict, and many days had to leave her alone at night. As Felicity's condition improved, Alison stayed full-time with her, while I moved back and forth, tending to matters at home and at the hospital.
In all of this struggle and challenge, I saw the genius of the family playing out. The family, conceptually, is a group of related humans, living and working together for a common goal, the care and support of one another. In reality, especially in our modern era, the family is seriously broken. Dysfunction, division, separation, and redefinition has brought the family to a nebulous state. What is a family? Whatever you want it to be.
There’s a real temptation to define things by their features, but a more correct process defines things by their essence. The family, at its core, is a married husband and wife. Both complementary and divergent, each fills a particular role in bringing stability to the home. The mystery of how this actually plays out in real life so successfully, and it is truly a mystery, is what forms the foundation of the family, from which children are reared.
Stability is the true genius of a family. In those very difficult days with Felicity still hospitalized, neither Alison nor I ever questioned the availability, commitment, or involvement of the other. We sensed our each other's needs, and responded. I was actively involved in managing Felicity’s care while Alison was recovering from the delivery. Alison provided round the clock maternal care and answered my clinical questions. She didn’t have to worry about my commitment: this was our child and we would both take responsibility for her.
Families endure all sorts of trials throughout their existence. Stability binds them together and allows the unit to withstand any test.
Granted, the married couple, along with their children form a family, but the unsung hero of this system is the extended family. We all need support, and sometimes require that support to come from outside of the family. This is where the extended family comes in to play. Whether it’s giving parents a weekend off, taking care of household chores after an illness, or just being on the other end of the phone ready to answer any question, the extended family fortifies the family and allows it to thrive.
Neighbors, too, can contribute to healthy families. One morning, the week after bringing Felicity home, I walked outside to see that one of my neighbors had mowed our lawn. I’m not sure which one did, but this small act of kindness, which took less than 10 minutes, made me feel respected and cared for. These small acts, neighbors looking out for each other, can cause us all to reap the benefits of a vibrant and harmonious community.
We owe it to ourselves to labor to build strong families in our communities. The stability that they bring can contribute not just to better communities, but what St. John Paul II calls a civilization of love. All of us dream of a culture of respect, honesty, and trust. That dream can only be realized when we focus on family. Start in your own home, build your children up, and slowly watch the flame spread.