Family Life and the Home
Home and family can be both a refuge from the pressures and demands of the existing world and a path to a better world. In a Quaker family, a child may first become aware of the presence of God in our lives when the family incorporates spiritual practices as a regular and essential part of its daily routine. Such practices can include shared worship and prayer, reading from the Bible and other sacred writings, and silent or spoken grace at meals.
As with the Friends meeting itself, a Quaker home seeks to bring all its members into unity of spirit and practice. Not least, this entails cultivating an appropriate balance between the exercise of authority and the development of individual autonomy. Parents have an obligation to be guided by the Inward Teacher in the exercise of their authority, though there is value in the whole family seeking such guidance. Fair, loving and just expectations and behaviors practiced among all family members bring a sense of security to the children and a sense of order to the adults. The best gift parents can offer their children is to exemplify conscientious, consistent, loving conduct day in and day out.
Open discussion contributes to a loving, patient atmosphere in the home, developing interpersonal relationships based on mutual respect and care. It is helpful for parents to establish expectations of behavior for the child, and for both parent and child to continually review and adjust these expectations. Guidelines are not for children alone; parents too must be committed to a disciplined, Spirit-led life. If a family has continual problems with rules, a family meeting for clearness may help resolve difficulties. The meeting community can also help by offering such things as Friendly parenting discussion and support groups.
Conflict in a family is natural; when lovingly and constructively dealt with, it is an opportunity for growth and sometimes for an affirmation of individual leadings. Learning to handle disagreements in a calm and fair manner prepares the way for solving differences in school, the neighborhood and the larger society. Anger between family members can signal a problem that requires attention if it persists. Friends families are not immune to abuse and domestic violence. The meeting has a responsibility to become aware of such situations and to intervene with loving support.
Family recreation promotes restoration, solidarity and spiritual well-being. The possibilities include reading aloud, singing or playing music, gardening, taking a walk, engaging in arts and crafts as well as games and sports. Both competitive and non-competitive games can teach lessons of fairness, sportsmanship and self-esteem and develop fellowship within the family.
In the loving home and family, everyone learns about equality and its limitations, simple forms of stewardship, integrity in its many forms, simplicity in all its complexities, and how difficult and satisfying it is to be peaceable. Indeed, the family can be the most immediate and basic context in which individuals learn to live Friends testimonies.
Two of our testimonies, simplicity and stewardship, may be especially important for family life. A family that strives to practice simplicity is more likely to exercise stewardship in the use of its social and material resources. This will include decisions about the family’s financial commitments to its monthly, quarterly and yearly meetings, as well as opportunities for family witness and service to others. The participation of all family members in discussions and decisions about possessions and activities helps children develop their capacity to make sound judgments about the value of time and worth of different activities, as well as their understanding of Spirit-led decision-making in which ego and personal preferences are less significant than what is in the best interest of the family as a whole. Parents have an opportunity in such discussions and decisions to model a process that gives priority to listening, faithfulness and service.
“Traditional” families characterized by a husband, wife, and children once constituted the great majority of the Friends meeting community. Today’s membership reflects many varied forms of families including single parent households, same gender spouses, blended families, and multi-generational households. Whatever their composition, families remain a vital ingredient of our meeting communities.
Friends seek to acknowledge and nurture sexuality as a divine gift that celebrates human love with joy and intimacy. In defining healthy sexuality, Friends are guided by our testimonies: that sexual relationships are equal, not exploitative; that sexual behavior be marked by integrity; and that sex is an act of love, not aggression. Sexuality is at once an integral and an intricate part of personality. Understanding our own sexuality is an essential aspect of our journey toward wholeness. Learning to incorporate sexuality into our lives responsibly, joyfully and with integrity is a lifelong process beginning in childhood.
Friends are wary of a fixed moral code to govern sexual activity. The sacramental quality of the sexual relationship depends upon Spirit as well as on the motives of the persons concerned. With guidance from the Inward Teacher, we can examine relationships honestly, with the strength to reconcile often conflicting demands of body, heart and mind. Precisely because our sexuality is so powerful, seeking the Divine becomes essential. The self-discipline and obedience to Spirit thus called for is more personal, and perhaps more difficult, than adherence to an external code.
Friends approve the concept of family planning, including adoption. We are in unity about the value of human life, but not about abortion. We are urged to seek the guidance of the Spirit when dealing with an unintended pregnancy and to support one another in avoiding situations that contribute to the need for abortion.
A Quaker home establishes an atmosphere where openness and honesty prevail. It is within the intimate family circle that children establish their identities as persons; an atmosphere which supports their feelings of confidence encourages this development. Children at a very early age develop a sense of their own gender identity and are curious about gender and sexual differences. Within a loving and secure family, even young children are encouraged to ask questions about gender and sex, as parents acquire the confidence to respond to those questions.
Sex education can begin as early as seems appropriate with the use of terms that children understand. The level of understanding is not uniform, and wise parents will judge each child’s capacity to absorb answers to their questions. Simple, direct answers need be no threat to a child’s innocence, and parents do the child no favors by surrounding the subject with fables and mystery. Undramatic introduction of the basic physiological facts of human sexuality is the best preparation for the more sophisticated education needed during the years of puberty and adolescence. As children mature and come of age sexually, parents can continue to provide sex education with sympathy and patience, including clear, explicit information regarding sexually transmitted diseases. They may decide that the assistance of a doctor or educator in this task will be helpful. Whatever the sexual mores of the time may be, and whatever adolescent peers may do or say, it is important for parents to help their children look past peer pressure toward what contributes to loving, responsible relationships and to a secure sense of self-worth.
Sex education is not necessarily a one-way street. Parents may learn from their children about societal problems of which they have been unaware. Sensitive listening between parents and children will go a long way in establishing mutual understanding.
Early Friends tried to avoid behaviors that were unproductive or took time away from life in the Spirit. Friends today know that any addictive behavior separates the person from God and can harm personal relationships. Addictive behaviors and compulsive attachments, whether manifested in gambling, in the use of drugs, tobacco, or alcohol, or in the over-consumption of food, are symptoms of conditions that frequently cannot be controlled by reason or an act of will. These behaviors are a continuing distraction from a meaningful life and can adversely affect the person and the whole family. The meeting has a responsibility to be aware of these conditions among members and attenders. The meeting can provide support in the struggle and encourage the persons involved to seek professional assistance.
The entire meeting community can learn about the relationship of addictive behavior to larger issues of social justice. Marketing of addictive substances, violence associated with drugs and alcohol, and bias in sentencing for illegal possession are worthy of efforts to make improvements.