Our families are sacred. While the relationships among us may get sticky or even occasionally sour, there is still a sacred sweetness among us whether our bonds be of blood or of choice. Part of our duty as parents is to help protect the sacredness within our immediate family, sheltering it from the outside winds that have no reverence for what we’ve created.

I write this as an entreaty to all parents — mothers and fathers everywhere — to get serious about giving your family a place of honor in this world and to not let family become just one other part of your lives like work, hobbies, or volunteering. Our culture doesn’t want you to do this. If family is held as sacred like the Sabbath once was, then what happens to work, to commerce, to productivity, to consumption, to profit?

American society has no love of family despite plenty who will claim “family values” are important. The law allows parents to take 12-weeks of unpaid job-protected leave upon the birth/adoption of a child which, while better than no leave, basically says that children are worth 3 months of devoted attention and no more. Our employers, our government, our culture places no importance on family so that is up to us. More specifically it’s up to us as parents with sufficient financial means to reclaim the sacredness of family.

What does it mean to hold family as sacred?

Do an internet search on “family as sacred” and though google can find 141 million results, the first five pages are mostly about religious institutions or rituals or are from The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints. To me, this dearth of substantive results echoes my earlier statements that family is generally not held as sacred. Thus, is it any surprise that our culture trumpets the news that Yahoo’s CEO, Marissa Mayer has decided to take only a few weeks of maternity leave upon her first child’s birth.

In fact, it is the story of Mayer’s decision and MamaEve’s take on it that revved me up to write this post. Two things MamaEve wrote touched me most. When stating that women CAN jump right back into the wider world after giving birth, she emphasized that, “to do so neither honors our place as mothers nor acknowledges the importance of the new life we’ve brought into this world.” And after explaining how it takes time to adjust to our new lives together after baby’s arrival she reminded us that, “Those things take time. They’re worth developing. They’re worth slowing down for, and they can never be replaced.” It’s that last line — “they can never be replaced” — that proclaims the sacredness of family. A day at work — even a big one, even as a CEO — is replaceable. In fact, if we’re honest most of us have worked jobs where they days are utterly forgettable or unremarkable. Why then do we sacrifice our families for our jobs?

Yes, I know, jobs bring us money to provide for our families and benefits that our families often need or appreciate. The problem, however, is that we believe that the money and benefits are the main things our children need when they are only part of the picture (and a smaller part than I think we usually give them). W. Douglas Shumway wrote: “Loving, protecting, and nurturing our children are among the most sacred and eternally important things we will do. Worldly belongings will vanish, today’s number-one movie or song will be irrelevant tomorrow, but a son or a daughter is eternal.” When we deny our families their role as sacred in our lives, we are forsaking the eternal for the temporal.

Holding our families as sacred then is giving them the place of honor in our lives. It means that in addition to providing for the material sustenance of our children, we focus ourselves on nurturing them in other ways. We take time to be with them — not just doing things but actually being present with each other. We put people before tasks, honoring our child’s need to tell us a story and have us listen rather than feigning listening while checking email surreptitiously.  We create time that is safe from distractions (creating a Sunday afternoon sabbath from electronic interruptions, for instance). We have rituals that honor our family and remind us all of our value to one another (a nightly gratitude circle where each family member offers up a word of thanks or appreciation for each other family member, for example). We say “no” to outside invitations and requests that would impinge on promised family time. We treat our families as sacrosanct even if the outside world ridicules us for doing so.

A few final reminders about the sacredness of family

  • We make vows to our families (or at least to our spouses). Something deeply worthy deserves our full-on commitment and most families start with such promises. Even if a marriage ends, the fact is that in our heart of hearts we had given our word to do and be all we could to honor the importance of the relationship when it began.
  • Families are bound to each other in invisible ways. With some exceptions where dysfunction is rampant or the bonds of family were never honored, family endures. Grudges get forgiven or set aside when a family member is truly in need. When your teenager really needs you, their hurtful, aloof, or superior behavior is forgotten. Though other community members or co-workers can provide invaluable support in times of need, they also go back to their own lives at some point and family may be all you have left.
  • Our lives are temporary. Most of us would like to imagine that we’ll be around for every significant event of our children’s lives. In most instances, however, this will not happen. For some families the even harsher reality comes to pass that the parents outlive the children. If we keep waiting until tomorrow to give our family a sacred place in our lives, we may run out of time or miss many special moments that can’t ever be recreated.
  • Our lives are sacred. Whether your beliefs about life are more scientific or spiritual, there’s no denying that each living being is a miracle incarnate. When we treat our most intimate relationships as ordinary we are taking the precious gift of these lives for granted.
  • Our children need us. Though they seem to grow up faster than our technology becomes outdated, our sons and daughters aren’t really independent for at least a couple of decades. When we put them off or neglect to give them our love and attention when they truly need it, chances are they’ll be more distant from us when their needs are satisfied by others.
  • We need our children. Being parents adds complexity to our lives and we occasionally dream of greater simplicity. For almost all of us, however, our children add more to our lives than they ever take from it. Holding our family as sacred protects us from the ravages of life and blesses us in ways too many to name.

“Your family and your love must be cultivated like a garden. Time, effort, and imagination must be summoned constantly to keep any relationship flourishing and growing.”

~Jim Rohn

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