A tale of two families
After spending a few weeks in Peru with my husband's family in February, I was struck by the differences in family structure between Peru and Australia. In Australia I live over 50 kilometres from my parents, whereas my husband's extended family in Peru basically lives on the same block, in the same town, and often work and eat together.
Rich dad, poor dad...?
In Australia, the pattern I have observed is for children to leave their family, go out into the world, get a degree and a professional job, and build up their own individual wealth starting with huge debts for their very own house. These new adults then have children, put them in childcare while they go to work to pay off the mortgage, and move into retirement villages and/or nursing homes when they grow old, spending most of their estate on their aged care plan in order to enjoy independence and not be a burden to their children.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics notes the majority (58%) of Australians live alone (24%) or with one other person (34%). This is a very expensive set up considering the cost of housing in Australia.
Children in regional Peru have expectations from their parents too, but these are quite different. Firstly, they are expected to help out in the family business when they are not at school. Then when they finish school and/or a degree, they are often given support and even property from their parents to build their house and start up their own business.
The parents expect to help out with childcare when the next generation comes along, hopefully in exchange for care and accommodation with their adult children as they age. In a country where the minimum wage is approximately US$250 per month, the fact people can still live healthy and happy lives is a testament to this family-based system.
The Father's House
So what does the Bible say about family structures?
In Genesis chapter 2, verse 24, God himself sets the pattern for marriage as the formation of a new family unit: 'This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.'
However, it doesn't end there with every couple going out into the world alone. Many important figures in the Bible lived in community with their children and grandchildren, albeit in separate tents or dwellings. Take for example Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Jethro (Moses) and King David, and more could be mentioned. Their strength lay in their family empires, which in Jacob's case, ended up expanding to become the entire nation of Israel!
The Bible repeats 49 times the importance of honouring your parents and providing for/saving up for your children. God talks about himself as Father, giving an inheritance to believers as his very own sons and providing for all of our needs so we might pass on blessing and provision to others. There is a place for all in the Father's 'house with many rooms'!
The Bible also emphasises the importance of community and interdependence in the body of Christ, God's family of believers (1 Corinthians chapter 12). As each one contributes the skills and talents God has given him or her, the whole body can function effectively.
So what can we take from all of this? Should we all move to regional Peru?
While we can't turn back the clock to simpler times where we live, the reality is that 'no man is an island', as expressed by poet John Donne. The more independent we try to be, the more we isolate ourselves. Independence and isolation are huge threats to the Church and to humankind today, in the face of a God who gave his life so people could find true unity in Him.
I believe it is time for a serious rethink of the way we, as modern people, are patterning our family and church family relationships. Although on the surface level independence might seem respectful and responsible, it comes at a heavy cost.
Our God is about relationship, community and above all, family. So who can you depend on today? And can they depend on you?
Rosanne Menacho has a keen interest in sustainable and healthy living, and enjoys learning new languages. She is studying a Masters of Interpreting and Translation at Monash University and is loving every minute of it. Rosanne lives with her husband and Staffordshire terrier in the outer south-east of Melbourne, Australia.
Rosanne Menacho's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/rosanne-menacho.html