Struggling for family unity

April 28 -May 4
VOL 124 NO. 16
Struggling for family unity
By Claudia Mathis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Diocesan Pastoral Council meeting focuses on youth ministry

“To you, Families, I repeat: Be not afraid: The Lord is calling you to be leaders of a new season of hope in the Christian community and in the world.” — Pope John Paul II

According to counselor Terry O’Brien, there are a number of challenges that families are struggling with today. These challenges stand in the way of families developing strong, confident and loving relationships.

O’Brien said the current technological environment minimizes interaction with one another. “We are so wired to computers and TV, we are less connected to each other,” said O’Brien.

The families’ busy, hectic lifestyles also present a challenge.

O’Brien also mentioned another barrier that stands in the way of developing strong family relationships. He said that many times couples lack the necessary skills to work through differences and issues.

Another stumbling block to maintaining loving relationships is the failure of a couple to invest positive energy and time into doing fun things. “As a result, a marital drift is created and the couple begins to over-focus on other things, such as their children or computers,” said O’Brien.

O’Brien mentioned that American society is very consumer driven. People focus on material goods, hoping for a quick fix. “Joy, excitement and pleasure are important, but they are by-products of our way of living and we get a fleeting value,” remarked O’Brien.

O’Brien explained that while there is no quick solution to these problems, one step to enhance family relationships is to work at developing a healthier lifestyle. He recommends asking oneself, “How do I contribute spiritually and socially to the larger whole?” O’Brien said that people need to cultivate practices that keep them connected to God and give them a spiritual direction. Taking that step will enhance relationships. “Cultivating the spiritual dimension of our life can be very helpful,” said O’Brien.

Father Joseph Phillips, director of the Family Life Education Office and pastor of St. Ann’s Church in Syracuse, agrees with O’Brien that families’ busy, hurried schedules hamper their attempts to stay connected to one another. Father Phillips said that with all the responsibilities that parents and children are dealing with today, it is difficult for them to find time to be a family. “So many organizations and outside interests compete for the family’s attention, they find themselves in the midst of competing interests,” explained Father Phillips. “It’s hard to find time for what is important for the family.”

Father Phillips suggested that families should take the time to have a meal together, raising the questions: “What’s one thing that didn’t go so well today?” and “What did go well today?” Father Phillips said, “Families should be looking for any opportunity to touch base with one another.”

Elaine Crough volunteers her time to help support Family Life Educator Patricia Ennis. Together they present programs for training family life ministers. “The reason Pat and I do the work we do is to give support to families,” explained Crough.

She pointed out some challenges that families cope with today. Crough thinks it’s difficult for parents to cope with the fear that has been created from the 9/11 occurrence. “I just tell myself I’m not going to be afraid,” said Crough.

Crough mentioned the growing sense of poverty as another challenge. Housing and neighborhood safety are concerns to families that are dealing with this issue. Crough feels that concentrating on education is the remedy for dealing with the issue of poverty. “We need to confront our fears to make our communities safe,” remarked Crough.

Another challenge for families is a lack of support from their extended families. Crough believes that parents should try to gain support from the community. Crough and Ennis have encouraged the formation of children’s playgroups throughout the diocese. “The playgroups have grown into a tremendously positive thing,” said Crough. “The parents get a lot of support from the play groups.” Some of the playgroups have branched out to include groups for the mothers. The mothers have gathered for retreats and for Bible reading.

One such women’s group, the Women of Immaculate Conception in Fayetteville, provides a lot of support to the women of the parish. They coordinate retreats, play groups, Bible study and parish picnics. A spin-off of the Women of Immaculate Conception group, the Circle of Care group, provides support to families who are experiencing the birth of a baby, adoption, losing a job or facing a death.

Families today are faced with a multitude of challenges that place great demands on their resources. Strong family systems provide support for successfully meeting these demands and for encouraging the healthy emotional and physical growth of their individual members. Never has it been so important to build and sustain strong families.

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