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Family Life ~ now and then

Family Life ~ now and then

Some Reflections ~ On Family Life – now and… then.


I recently attended a diocesan training day for Foundation School Governors. It was a very stimulating day overall. However, one thing that stuck in my mind was the opening address given by Bishop Malcolm McMahon. He reflected with us in theway that family life had changed over a relatively short space of time from when he was a parish priest 17 years ago in North West London.

I was sharing this with Father Chris, who suggested that I might like to share my reflections on the way family life has changed so rapidly, from the traditional concept that many of us remember to the way things are now.

However, first let me start my looking at what the church has to say about the family. To do this I have taken some direct quotations from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which says the following.


456. What is the Nature of the family in the plan of God?  2201-2205, 2249

A man and a woman united in marriage form a family together with their children. God instituted the family and endowed it with its fundamental constitution. Marriage and the family are ordered to the good of the spouses and to the procreation and education of children. Members of the same family establish among themselves personal relationships and primary responsibilities. In Christ the family becomes the domestic church becauseit is a community of faith, of hop and of charity.


457. What place does the family occupy in society? 2207-208

The family is the original cell of human society and is, therefore, prior to any recognition by public authority. Family values and principles constitute the foundation of social life. Family life is an initiation into life of society.


458. What are the duties that society has toward the family? 2209-2213, 2250

Society, while respecting the principles of subsidiarity, has the duty to support and strengthen marriage and the family. Public authority must respect, protect and foster the true nature of marriage and the family, public morality, the rights of parents, and domestic prosperity.

Very sound principles I think most reasonable people would agree. However, in the secular society in which we live today many well meaning families whilst holding these values dear are pressured by employers, business, commerce, advertising, their work colleagues, neighbours and just the way society is in the western world these days.

When I was growing up, my Dad went to work, my mother like most of my friends mothers stayed at home and looked after the family i.e. the children. They cooked, they washed, they ironed, they shopped (daily), they sewed, knitted and also when duty called nursed ailing members of the extended family as well. However, there were many rapidly advancing forms of technology, vacuum cleaners, washing machines,  Televisions, the list of what was called ‘mod cons’ have become ever evolving and  part and parcel of everyday life. Harold Macmillan the Prime Minister of the day told us we have never had it so good.  Children played in the street until late; they walked to school or if lucky cycled. Bedrooms were just
somewhere you went to sleep, because they were cold places, the only places that were warm were in front of a coal fire. However, things are now so different, we would not necessarily like to turn back the clock to a more austere way of life (although the way things are economically, we may well have to!).  Back only a few years and Sundays were very different. Now they are like any other day of the week really. We can literally ‘shop till we drop’. The traditional Sunday Lunch, the gathering of the family around the table has disappeared for many families. There are other   pursuits instead that have taken over. Children’s bedrooms are like mini bed–sits these days. They have central heating, TV’s, games stations, computers, iPods, or some such sound system. Their own mobile phones even. 20 years ago nobody had one of those! The family today may share the living space under one roof, but many although of one family unit lead entirely separate lives,  many not even eating together.

Indeed, it is safe to say that there have been many major social and economic trends affecting families. The late 20th Century witnessed many remarkable changes in family life.

In,Western Europe and North America: smaller household sizes, a further shift from extended to nuclear families, a decrease in marriages and an increase in separation or divorce, the appearance of new forms of unions such as unmarried cohabitation and living-apart-together, changing gender and intergenerational relations, and, last but not least, the substantial decrease in the size of the modern family unit. Beginning in the 1960s a number of interconnected economic, technological and cultural factors combined to accelerate and extend those changes in existing family features.

There is also yet another factor which came later that has changed the way in which families function. In 1994 the Sunday Trading Act (England) came into being. The 1990s saw a relaxation of restrictions on Sunday trading and Sunday working throughout Great Britain.

This act, it could be argued was to act as a catalyst to accelerate change for many businesses and employers There has therefore been a knock –on effect which has had implications for family life and religious practice. Like it or not it this permission to allow more economic activity has affected us all.

So, we can only individually, reflect on our own role within our own family and reconcile it with the church’s teaching. For it is indeed true that ‘Family life is an initiation into life of society’.  Let us therefore pray not only for our own families but ALL families.

Bernard Price

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