Listening to All in the Family

We are created in the image and likeness of a trinitarian God, a community of three coequal persons: a model of perfect mutuality. Putting this theological principle into practice is not always easy, especially for white males used to being in control.

In their recently released pastoral letter, "Follow the Way of Love," the U.S. Catholic bishops encourage families to "move beyond gender stereotypes" toward a relationship of mutuality that emphasizes the basic equality of spouses "in dignity and value" while recognizing "differing skills." They encourage men to share fully in child rearing and household duties and to be more willing to share their feelings.

This is welcome news for all of us committed to mutuality, not only in family life but in all social institutions and structures. And it is also welcome news to find such advice coming from a church struggling with authoritarian and patriarchal institutions and relationships.

Many families are beginning to find in the mechanism of family meetings a workable alternative to both authoritarianism and permissiveness and an effective antidote to children's sense of powerlessness. The "family meeting" approach to making family decisions and plans and resolving family conflicts is based on a mutual model of family life, where everyone contributes and is taken seriously.

"Children are to be seen and heard." This does not mean that everything is negotiable, that there are no bottom-lines. Adults must get in touch with their "non-negotiables" and "bottom-lines," distinguish those that should be truly non-negotiables, and be able to articulate reasons for their positions.

It is important to distinguish between basic values and particular ways in which these values can be lived out. It is fine to say that such things as family worship, community service, less consumeristic living, and helping out with

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Sojourners Magazine February-March 1994
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