Have you ever felt like your life and your family are fragmented? The typical modern American family consists of two parents working full-time outside the home, at different jobs, with a few children who are daily sent off to either daycare or school. The lives of each family member may intersect at dinnertime, if someone found time to cook after rushing home from work. Or, they may have time together on the weekend, if those hours aren’t full of chores, errands, or TV. An annual vacation may provide some much-needed family time, but one week out of every fifty-two isn’t much.
This cycle continues, year after year, until the kids graduate from high school then move away to start their own lives, often in other cities, states, or even countries.
Adult children (with their own families) occasionally return, usually on holidays. The parents retire from their jobs and continue to age and, if they haven’t maintained good eating and exercise habits, develop chronic diseases (hypertension, diabetes, heart failure, etc) that are difficult to manage. Their children live across the state, or country, or world and aren’t there (or can’t stay long) during subsequent hospitalizations and surgeries–after all, they have their own lives and crazy schedules to juggle!
Ill, aged parents no longer able to care for themselves or their chronic diseases end up in nursing homes, alone and lonely.
And the cycle repeats.
Does this seem strange and depressing to anyone else?
Is this really what life is all about–spending your days chasing riches and comfort until you’re too sick and too lonely to care about them anymore?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I’m a nurse, and I’ve noticed a disheartening, recurring pattern at work. I’ll enter a room of someone who has just had a major heart surgery, and he (or she) will be in there alone–no family, or even friends, present to offer support. I’ll start talking with them about the surgery and the lifting restrictions they’ll have for about 2 months while their sternum heals. And then I’ll ask if they have anyone available to help them during that healing period. And…they’ll say no. There’s no one. Their kids are too far away or too busy with their own lives. Their spouse has passed away, or they’re divorced. They don’t have any neighbors or close friends who can help.
And this keeps happening, over and over. Most people, thankfully, have a devoted spouse or child available to help them, both in the hospital and afterward. But I keep seeing some people who have neither, and it’s heartbreaking.
What are we doing with our time? That money we’re working so hard to earn…it can’t move the heavy trash cans or vacuum the floors or help us out of bed after we have our sternum split in two for coronary bypass surgery. It can’t comfort us or laugh with us or challenge our self-destructive habits out of love. Money can’t buy friendships, so it definitely can’t buy happiness.
I just…what am I doing with my life, and where do I want to be 50 years from now? What do I want to have around me? A big house full of expensive things, or my family that I have invested in and loved?
Then, I read an article recently called A Man’s Place Is In The Home. That’s obviously a provocative title, but the guy made some very good points about the importance of having not only the wife intentionally involved in life at home but the husband, as well. The article talked through some of the history and consequences of the industrial revolution, and the technological revolution, in pulling first men and then women away from home and out into the money-making workplace. And it talked about how much we’ve lost as a result, and as I read it, I thought about all those people who have lived the typical American life and end up with no one when they really need someone.
And the phrase “You reap what you sow” kept repeating in my head, and I was struggling to find a solution, which is never simple or easy.
Part of it is the structure of society. Most people don’t have parents with a family farm or a family business. The goal of American parenting often seems to be the creation of an independent adult able to provide for him/herself and chart their own path in the world. Those infamous 20-something millenials who move back home are considered lazy and an embarrassment. They should get their own house and life, not mooch off their working parents.
Since everyone needs shelter, food, water, and clothing (and a car if you live where I live), we have to get a job. We buy our food at the grocery store (or already prepared at restaurants)–we don’t grow it ourselves. Mortgages, bills, diapers, and loans all take resources, as well. Depending on the size of the house or the brand of clothing and cars, sometimes 2 jobs really aren’t optional.
Our economic system has set us up to spend the majority of our time away from the home, but ironically, we spend a substantial amount of money on making that home exceptional. And then we have to take out a second mortgage or work even more to pay for the upgrades.
Another huge problem, of course, is our selfishness. Selfishness is not limited to a certain age group or gender–it’s a destructive characteristic shared by, literally, everyone. Because of our selfishness, we naturally break our relationships with others. We’re both self-and-others-destructive. We want what we want when we want it, and the most obvious way to obtain things (both needed and wanted) is to get a good job and work hard. There’s nothing wrong with that…it’s just that our jobs now separate us from our families and most of what really matters. And they do it day in and day out, year after year, until we’re too tired and worn out to work anymore. Thankfully we have retirement accounts and social security to fall back on when that happens, so even though we’re lonely, we’re not going hungry.
People that have kids are required to juggle insane schedules, trying to fit in work requirements (often for 2 different jobs), school and extracurricular requirements (for multiple children), chores, some kind of social life, and some sleep. Kids, if we’re honest, are frequently perceived as expensive inconveniences that stand in the way of our real goals. We pay for daycare and then breathe a sigh of relief when they’re old enough for “free” public schools. If we happen to make a lot of money, we may have the resources for a private school of our choosing. But our kids march off to school and someone else shapes them, planting ideas and watering beliefs, nourishing worldviews as they blossom and grow.
We try to maintain some kind of relationship with our spouse in the midst of it all, but only the very intentional couple is able to pull it off. Divorce and shattered families are depressingly common. Those issues are not black and white or easy; they’re multi-layered and complex. But I know that 2 major contributors are 1) our inherent selfishness and brokenness, and 2) our weird, disjointed lives that move in different orbits and only intersect if there’s very intentional effort to do so. It’s hard to maintain a relationship with someone you never spend time with or talk to.
I’ve decided I don’t really want the typical American life. The cost seems pretty steep and the long-term benefits seem dismal.
I currently have no idea how we’re going to do life together as a family and still pay the mortgage and bills. I do know that we’re going to homeschool our kids. It seems crazy to me to send my kids off everyday to be shaped by teachers I don’t know (and can’t pick), indoctrinated in a government-sponsored view of the world that often fails to correctly answer the most fundamental questions: Who is man? Who is God? What is life all about? What is reality–what is the most really real? What is good and what is evil? I only get 18 years to build the foundation for both our lifelong friendship and each child’s view of God and reality, and I want to spend the time I’m given with my children, with my children. I want to build lifelong memories together as we learn and play and discover the truth about this world, about God, about ourselves, and about our source of hope in the midst of evil.
My husband and I were on the all-work-no-play train for about 4-½ years. We worked 2 different jobs, on opposite schedules, 6 days a week for that entire time period. We didn’t want to put our kids in daycare, so whoever wasn’t at work was in charge of the kids. We don’t live close to grandparents. It was exhausting. We had 1 day a week together as a family, and it was always full of groceries, doctor appointments, and the other necessary errands of life. We were also juggling MBA school (my husband), writing books (me), and homeschooling on the side.
In January, my work increased the requirements for part-time workers (I was working part-time primarily so we’d have health insurance), and our insane schedule could no longer be maintained, unless we wanted to work 7 days a week. We couldn’t, and didn’t. So right now, I’m working part-time (a little under 30 hours a week) while my husband finishes his Master’s in Business Administration. Our bills and mortgage and food and diapers are (almost) covered. Thankfully we have some savings to make up the deficit.
Despite the fact that we have no money (our budget is so tight that my husband isn’t buying coffee because he’s the only one that drinks it), I’m actually happier and more at peace than I’ve been…probably ever, to be honest.
We’re homeschooling our kids and taking them to the science museum and the park. Matt is planning and building a big garden in our backyard. He’s still studying and I’m still writing in the evenings after the kids go to bed, but we both enjoy our days and evenings now. We’re reading stories to our kids and we’re going on walks around the neighborhood. I’m able to bake fresh bread almost every week that we can all enjoy.
Things still aren’t perfect, of course–my kids still wake up well before dawn, and they each have their own idiosyncrasies. I still work every weekend, which makes social activities a challenge. And we encounter various other challenges each day, but we’re walking through the good and the bad as a family.
Our current schedule can’t be maintained long-term for financial reasons, but I want an eventual new schedule that prioritizes time as a family, doing life together. I know that I’m investing in relationships that will last a lifetime and beyond–and relationships are what real life is all about. We were all made to love and be loved. We lost that ability when we defied God in the Garden long ago, but Jesus came to restore all that was lost and fix all that we broke. Because of our Rescuer, we have hope. He changes our hearts so that we can, once again, love and know we are loved.
I want to spend my time enjoying friendships with God, my family, and the others God has placed in my life. That’s what’s going to last into the next life, and that’s what will bring true happiness and fulfillment right now. At the end of my life, I won’t care about my latest gadget or the size of my house or bank account. I’ll care about my good God that loves me, and l’ll care about the people He has placed in my life to both love me and be loved by me, by His grace.