Loving Relationships and Family
Loving relationships are a basic requirement of a full and authentic existence. Love is the emotional power through which a subject partner and an object partner attract each other, create oneness, and feel joy. The art of loving another person involves investing all of our heart into the relationship. In marriage, a man and a woman sacrifice part of their autonomy for the sake of opening up a new dimension of life. Remembering to express the small acts of kindness and concern which are typically offered at the beginning of a relationship can keep a relationship alive. After the initial romantic bliss fades, spouses act on their commitment to build a joint life and find ways to show their care in the ups and downs of daily life. Couples in the West traditionally pledge to love each other “for better or for worse, in sickness and in health—until death do us part.”
Loving Relationships and Joy in the Family
We experience full joy through experiencing all the dimensions of love in a loving family. The family is a universal institution, and in most civilizations, the familial experiences of birth, marriage, and death are the three most significant events in a person's life. The older we get, the more we tend to value family relationships.
The family as the basic cell of society and is the essential context for reproduction. The family is unique in its mission to educate the heart through the experiences of love. In addition to transmitting values and traditions, the role of the family is to educate in heart. Love is not just some affection that comes and goes. Love is meant to develop steadily and to remain with us.
Past civilizations tended to stress the social, economic, and procreative roles of the family to the exclusion of individual fulfillment and intimacy within love. In contrast, love has become the central raison d'etre of modern marriage. Such love, however, is often an immature, selfish, and temporary emotion. True love means not only the expression of sincere feelings, but adhering to norms of behavior.
The family is where our primal impulse to experience joy through love finds deep and long-lasting satisfaction. Moral development is essential for the commitment to others and is required in the family. When spouses base their relationship on true love, their union deepens their heart and character. The interaction of spouses produces not only their union as a couple but may also bear fruit in the form of a child.
When material concerns such as money, power, sexual gratification, security, etc., are placed in the center of the marriage, spouses are less inclined to serve each other. Instead, family members focus on seeking their own private happiness.
The family is where the primal impulse to experience joy through love finds deep and lasting satisfaction. Family love expands to greater levels. Our heart is motivated to live for our community, our nation, and our world.
Family Life and Loving Others
Therefore, the community, the nation, and the world are not just political concepts. They are our partners of love: they are our heart-lands. The loving heart nurtured in our family motivates us to want to love our country and take pride in it. As an extension of the family, schools should have the familial environment of caring conducive to teachers’ and students’ wanting to make a difference in their community. At the same time, the joy experienced by real life influence spurs a desire in students and entrepreneurs to delve deeper expanding their knowledge, developing their talents, and challenging their personal strengths to further see their reflection in the good work they produce. True citizenship comes from our heart's impulse to keep expanding the sphere of love in order to experience greater happiness.
Born under the same roof and from the same parental love and same lineage, brothers and sisters grow toward maturity. They look beyond the family circle for a spouse to marry and create a new family. The love and lineage that the husband received from his parents will interact with the love and lineage received by the wife, and will be inherited by the children.
Grandparents can be a storehouse of wisdom and experience for the next generations. When children gather around their grandparents, they feel warm acceptance and love, and grandparents find great joy in loving and guiding their grandchildren. When these children have sons and daughters of their own, their parents become grandparents.
In the family the grandparents, with their accumulated life experiences, represent the root of true love, and successive generations are the trunk, branches and fruit of love. Each role -- father, mother, grandparents, and children -- has three types of partners to love. Ideally, love is three-dimensional. In other words, the man's responsibility is to love his parents and parents-in-law, love his wife, and love his children. The woman's responsibility is to love her parents and parents-in-law, love her husband, and love her children. In a similar manner the grandparents and children have three types of object partners. Such family dynamics enable us to experience love to the highest degree and fullest extent.
Families and the Impact on Society
The family is the only social institution in which all members of society consistently and fully participate. Family duties are the direct responsibility of everyone. With rare exceptions, most of us are born into a family and eventually establish one of our own. It is in the family that children are socialized and learn to place their own needs in a larger social context. Society cannot survive without a means for production and distribution of commodities; protection of the young, old, pregnant, and sick; conformity to the rule of law; and so on. If individuals are motivated to serve these needs, society will prosper. It is in the family that these necessary motivations are nurtured.
The family is the key social unit upon which proper functioning of all other institutions depends. For example, behavior learned in the family becomes a model or prototype for behavior required in the society at large. The family serves the larger society in its formation of citizens. If the family fails to function, the goals of the society cannot be achieved.
Families have a central role in all cultures. Children absorb their society's values and standards of behavior through their home life as the family multiplies the lineage and heritage of the past and extends it into the future. What are the unique aspects of the love of a child, a sibling, a spouse and a parent? What are the particular virtues manifested in each of these realms of love? How do these relationships connect to our roles in society?
Philosophers and social scientists have long been fascinated by the impact of the family on society. Sociologist Brigitte Berger points out that the family is the most basic building block upon which all other social forms rest. “Family systems,” she writes, “provide the foundations from which ... culture and civilizations arise. The family is the culture creating institution par excellence.”[i] Since a civil society is built upon the virtues learned in the family, Berger urges us to recognize “the singular importance of the family in the formation of civilization.”[ii]
In human history there is no example of a culture that has survived without the foundation of a stable family structure. In the words of anthropologist Margaret Mead:
As far back as our knowledge takes us, human beings have lived in families. We know of no period where this was not so. We know of no people who have succeeded for long in dissolving the family or displacing it.... Again and again, in spite of proposals for change and actual experiments, human societies have reaffirmed their dependence on the family as the basic unit of human living -- the family of father, mother and children.[iii]
The Influence of Family Life
Families are culturally universal; there are essential characteristics of societies throughout the world. James Q. Wilson explains:
In virtually every society in which historians or anthropologists have inquired, one finds people living together on the basis of kinship ties and having responsibility for raising children. The kinship ties invariably imply restrictions on who has sexual access to whom; the child-care responsibilities invariably imply both economic and non-economic obligations. And in virtually every society, the family is defined by marriage; that is, by a publicly announced contract that makes legitimate the sexual union of a man and a woman.[iv]
The family is the backbone of a civil and prosperous society. The state of the family is an important measure of the social health of a nation. Parents contribute to their children's emotional well-being.
Daniel Goleman developed the concept of “emotional intelligence.” He states that a person's character and destiny are determined largely by qualities such as altruism, empathy, and ability to love and be loved, which are developed initially in the family, the first “school of emotional learning.”[v] “To build those decent habits of the heart that nourish and sustain neighborhoods,” writes Jean Bethke Elshtain, “… we need spaces for the heart, homes for the heart. A decent, loving two-parent home is that ideal space.”[vi]
“Developing a family is the hardest, most complicated job in the world,” according to family therapist, Virginia Satir[vii]. Mary Pipher, another family therapist, calls families “our shelter from the storm, our oldest and most precious institution and our last great hope.”[viii]
Families are often described in images drawn from nature. Like the multitude of interrelated cells that comprise the human body, families can be called the “cells” of the community and nation. Families are like seedbeds of virtue, according to researchers Mary Ann Glendon and David Blankenhorn, because families are the primary cultivators of competence, character, and citizenship.[ix]
Throughout the world, the trends that are eroding the stability of marriage and the family cause concern. It is well documented that family break-up is a main cause of social disorder. Experts such as Karl Zinsmeister from the American Enterprise Institute hold that the key to solving social ills is to rebuild strong families. As he reported to Congress:
There is a mountain of scientific evidence showing that when families disintegrate children often end up with intellectual, physical and emotional scars that persist for life.... [W]e talk about the drug crisis, the education crisis, and the problem of teen pregnancy and juvenile crime. But all these ills trace back predominantly to one source: broken families.[x]
Thoughtful people recognize the value of the family and look for ways to prevent a crisis. We hope for strong, loving, and harmonious families that nurture our children and uplift our community.
The Family as a School of Love
The highest function of the family is as a school of love. Although the family transmits values and traditions, its core role is to cultivate the heart through the many dimensions of loving relationships. In a sense, love is like a language to be learned. Just as immersion in a language is the most effective learning experience, the constant reinforcement and practice of love in the family provides the perfect learning environment.
When the family is viewed as a cocoon or nest, the focus tends to be on private well-being. To regard the family as the school of love integrates both the private and public functions of the family. In addition, the family as the school of love can generate renewal in the community.
The love we receive at home provides the framework for realizing our destiny as individuals and as a people. That which makes us truly human comes from the unique love that can only come to us through our family in the realms of children’s love, sibling love, spousal love, and parental love.
Without these four great loves provided by the family, we become stunted as human beings. Family love resonates with a deeply-buried dream in our heart. It awakens a capacity for joy that can’t be measured. Rather than maintaining families as mere dutiful fulfillment of our social responsibility, it is better to understand them as schools of love which eventually enable the heart to soar in every realm it touches.
[i] Berger, Brigitte “The Social Roots of Prosperity and Liberty,” Society March/April 1998: p. 43. [ii] Berger, Brigitte. “The Family in the Post Modern Age”. The Family in the Modern Age: More than a Lifestyle Choice. New Brunswick, NJ, 2002, p. 238. [iii] Mead , Margaret and Heyman, Ken, Family, New York: Macmillan, 1965, pp. 77-78. [iv] Wilson, James Q., The Moral Sense, New York: Free Press, 1993, p. 158. [v] Goleman, Daniel , Emotional Intelligence, New York: Bantam Books, 1997, p. 189. [vi] Elshtain, Jean Bethke, “The Future of the Family?” The World & I, December 1995, Vol. 10, Issue, 12, p. 288. [vii] Satir, Virginia ,The New Peoplemaking, Mountain View, California: Science and Behavior Books, 1988, p. 6. [viii] Pipher, Mary, The Shelter of Each Other: Rebuilding Our Families, New York: Ballantine Books, 1996, p. 10. [ix] Glendon, Mary Ann & Blankenhorn, David, eds., Seedbeds of Virtue: Sources of Competence, Character and Citizenship in American Society, Lanham, MD, Madison Books, 1995. [x] Zinsmeister, Karl, quoted by Glenn T. Stanton in “Twice as Strong: The Undeniable Advantages of Raising Children in a Two-Parent Family, a Research Report,” Public Division of Focus on the Family, January 1995, pp. 6-7.