It seems rather incongruous to use the words "lonely" and "family" in the same sentence. "Family," after all, is the epitome of social togetherness and fulfillment. However, it is becoming increasingly evident that in today's society, loneliness within what passes for family life has reached proportions perhaps we've never seen before.
The question comes then, why should people be lonely, when they are a part of an integrated social structure like a family? One reason is because of the definite shift that has taken place in the last few generations as to what defines a family.
Longer ago, a greater majority of family settings were multigenerational, and families were a close-knit group. The home and family setting was the focus for social functions as well as religious activities. Children were born there, and grew up in the healthy environment of close social interaction with parents, siblings and often extended family members. Deaths occurred there, and funerals were conducted in that setting, making homes a place where people's roots were placed - from the cradle to the grave.
Somehow, western culture has changed all that - and it has not all been well.
Evolving "western values" resulted in a definition being coined in the 1940's called the "nuclear family." This term defined the change from multigenerational family life to a smaller, single family of a husband, wife and their children.
Increasing prosperity accelerated this shift toward a smaller family style, but the accompanying emphasis on fewer children has made the "normal" family of today a small group indeed, compared to longer ago.
One disconcerting result of all this, has been the negative change upon the social life of the home. Instead of family activities being the centre of family life, and those serving to fill the social needs of the family members, home has become a place of departure. Family members live at home, but don't see much of each other. It is a place to come back to, but only to leave again - to school, to work, to sports activities, to social gatherings, etc.
The home and family structure, which we believe is foundational to a healthy society, has become a place of lonely people - people who are looking elsewhere for social fulfillment.
If you are parent with a family today, take the time to evaluate your home life. Are you doing what you can to meet the social needs of your spouse, or your children? Perhaps its time to evaluate how each family member is spending their time at home. Turn off the entertainment devices at times. Make mealtime family time. The point is, family meals are not just about food. As someone else has put it, "Supper is about nourishment of all kinds," and it is well documented that a meal eaten in a relaxed social atmosphere around a family table has health benefits that a meal eaten in solitude, or bolted on the run does not.
Taking the time to make family life socially and emotionally fulfilling for everyone is by no means wasted time. Your rewards will be worth it.
- Mervin Brubacher,