How well do you know your Family?

Posted: 11 January 2012

Welcome to 2012! Did you have a restful break from work…or did you have a break at all? Did you know that at the end of 2011, Australian workers have stockpiled 129.6 million days of annual leave! It matches the recent conversation I had with a man who admitted that he had not taken annual leave for three years even though he has a young family. His response as to why, was that he liked being at work and would not know what to do otherwise (I guess that if one had not taken a break for that long, one may forget what to do with the time).

This does make me wonder though, why we are not taking breaks. It is good that we like our work but why are we not going home? Could it be that it becomes easier to be at work than to engage with the family?

In our homes and amongst our families we also have work that must be done and it is not mowing the lawn or tidying the house. The real work is the work of building up a community, a place where love is received by each member of the family and a place where each member is able to give love.

At the end of last year I spent one month away leading a residential course for twenty young adults from around Australia. During the month the participants receive many different aspects of formation but apart from everything what makes the event so transformative is the strong community that is formed. These young people that begin as strangers end up as lifelong friends and not only because they lived together for a month, but because they shared their lives at a deep level, their joys and their weaknesses, their hopes and their fears. So close does the group become that by the end it is a challenge for them to settle back into home with their own families. However, if our families were as strong as they should be that month would not seem so extraordinary. In this course there is no TV, no phones, no internet, no iPods and at each meal we eat together. In free time we play cards, board games and talk to one another. We have events in which each person publically honours someone else in the community. Much planning goes into this course but everything that is done there should be and can be done in the family; it is the work of a family.

Many of us may be living with our family under the one roof, but that does not mean we know anyone in our family. Each time I travel on the train there are people sitting and reading magazines about the latest celebrity news. I often wonder if they would score higher in a quiz about a celebrity or in a quiz about someone in their own family. How would you score in a quiz about the members of your family?

Just as one can be married but not really have a marriage, one can be in a family but not really have a family. If our family life only exists by default because we live in the same house then perhaps this New Year is the time to address the situation. And the solution is not complicated. It begins by opening up channels in when we have opportunities to share in one another’s lives. That is why the dinner table should is the most crucial piece of furniture in the house. The dinner table is the place where daily lives are shared, and not necessarily the major events but more importantly the minor ones, the details that only a family really have an interest in. For when we have a place to share our insignificant stories we have room to share the significant crossroads of life. Once the family is secure around the table it begins to make sense to share weekends and holidays together.

When we feel we belong to a family then our weekends and annual leave becomes valuable time to spend not just with the family but as a family, not doing but being. The work of building up the family then takes on its own joys that put the paid work we do during business hours into perspective. We begin to see that work exists for us; we do not exist for work. So if you are the owner of some of those 129.6 million days of annual leave perhaps give some thought to trading them in for time with your family in the coming year.