Guest post: A family liturgy
by Steve G.
[Regular commentor Steve G. had some great thoughts to add to my post about bringing peace to my household, so I suggested that he do a guest post. You can see Steve's other guest posts here -- scroll down to see the full list.]
I can’t help but continue to see all of this in the context of Gordon Neufeld’s attachment theory concepts [summarized in this post], and I think his approach holds the key to understanding the way we should approach such things.
Going back to Neufeld’s book, he argues that what we’ve done in modern society is traded relationships/family as the foundation of society and culture for economics. I think the utilitarian economic underpinnings of modern society have caused us to shift our way of thinking to one of ‘getting things done’ rather than doing things as part of what works for the good of the family.
Let me give an example of what I mean. I am usually the one who cleans up after dinner in our household. I put all the dishes in the dishwasher, and then get to scrubbing pots and pans. After that we all sit down for treat time, and hopefully some playtime after. For a very long time, I’ve approached this with an idea towards efficiency. I want to get this done and out of the way so that we can get to the ‘fun stuff.’
This put me in the position of feeling like anything that distracted me from the goal was a nuisance. Little hands pulling at my shirtsleeves, little voices asking if they can have their sweety now…these were things that were getting in the way of my getting finished and often left me feeling aggravated by the time I was done.
Well, one day after listening to one section of Neufeld’s Power to Parent DVD series (which I HIGHLY recommend) where he was describing life in a traditional town (Provence, France), he talked about how the entire meal time from set up to clean up is a structured routine that everyone participates in. He actually referred to it at one point in religious terms as the ‘liturgy of daily life.’
It dawned on me that maybe I should be looking at this (washing up), not in the economic like terms of efficiency, but in terms of relationships. I wondered what I would change if I did that. So, next day, I told the two oldest (7 and 4) that a new routine for mealtime clean up was going in place (I started modestly to keep it doable). I said that we were going to work as a team to do the clean up, and then after that we’d all sit down to treat time (i.e. treat time wouldn’t come until we were done).
Everyone would be responsible for bringing their own dishes into the kitchen, where I’d rinse, then put in the dishwasher. For pots and pans, I’d wash then hand off to oldest child for drying, who’d then hand off to middle child who would put the pots away — the youngest is still a bit young for this.
I tried to look at it with an eye towards enjoying spending time together rather than with an eye towards getting it done.
It’s amazing what happened…unexpected conversations, laughter, joking, and fostering of a team attitude just to name a few, and of course it took a good bit longer. But most importantly, well…it actually became enjoyable. I was hanging out with my boys and we were working together. No, it wasn’t as thrilling as taking them to Disney on Ice…but in very important ways, it was actually better.
Yes, some days there is grumbling about it. Yes, some days when I feel tired the temptation is there to just do it myself and be done with it. But as we build it into part of our ‘liturgy of daily life’, it gets easier. The ‘liturgy’ and structure does the hard work for us and it builds the relationship at the same time.
Neufeld argues very persuasively in the DVD series that in modern society we are approaching discipline the wrong way. He accurately describes how we are constantly ‘parenting in the incident.’ We think of what tools we can leverage to get our kids to behave as we desire, we are constantly reacting to what they do, should we spank or not spank, should we use timeouts, etc. All at the same time trying to meet all the other obligations as parent, spouse, etc. that we have. It’s exhausting.
He argues that we should be setting our family life up differently and uses a phrase that has haunted me since I heard it. He posits that the best way to discipline is to ‘impose order through structure and ritual.’
We should mirror those traditional societies where the potentially roughest times of the day (getting ready in the morning, meal times, bedtimes, etc.) are more or less scripted out in a sort of family liturgy. We should let the structure do the work of imposing discipline/order on the family members (ahem…including the parents at times…no?), rather than constantly battling through all the episodes of the day and putting out fires.
Now I don’t suggest this to argue that some kind of rigorous military schedule be imposed. Rather the key to any structure of life for a Christian family is what Jennifer taps into as the peace of the family, and what Neufeld would describe as focusing on the good of the relationships involved. My own formulation follows the two great commandants: does this help us know, love and serve God, and know love and serve one another?
I think that if we can begin building these kinds of structures and rituals into our life (bit by bit because until they take hold they require effort themselves to maintain), always within the context of how they nourish and support the familial relationships, rather than how many items get checked off our list, we will be doing ourselves and our children a world of good.
After all, isn’t this how God parents us? He gives us the church, the sacraments, the liturgy to draw us closer to him. He imposes order through structure and ritual…through HIS family liturgy.
Any spiritual director worth their salt will tell you that in order to grow closer to God, in order to foster our relationship with Him (our father, our parent), that we need a daily routine, a rule, a liturgy (call it what you will) built around fostering our attachment…our relationship with Him.
Doesn’t it make sense that our own parenting and family life, as imperfect as it will be, would follow the same model?