-from the Assemblies of God, USA, website
How important is the extended family? How should Christian couples relate to their own and to their spouse’s family.
The family today is under great pressure. Societal changes, along with humanistic values and teachings, are undermining the God-ordained structure and health of the family. As the nuclear family crumbles so does the extended family with its many relational roots. The impact of broken homes means that many children are growing up without the vital spiritual direction, important historical records, key life lessons, and loving support systems of grandparents and other relatives within the family. Recognizing this destructive trend, the Assemblies of God teaches and advocates the need for strong Christ-centered marriages and the important biblical component of the family and its extended roots.
Within the traditional Christian family there are stresses and struggles that must be addressed. Relationships with extended families and in-laws can be among the main sources of conflict in homes. When such relationships are not positive, family relationships are put under considerable stress.
When two people marry, two families intersect and are brought into alignment (Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:5, Mark 10:7-8, Ephesians 5:31). At marriage a couple begins a process of merging together two separate home cultures, value systems, and sets of traditions. Each spouse will often be accustomed to different and occasionally opposite methods of conducting family life. As family differences arise in the marriage clear communicating and negotiating compromise becomes essential. To successfully form the new household each spouse will need to be flexible and giving, allowing for shared methods and resources of the other mate’s family tradition. Without loving compromise and sharing within the marriage the newlyweds will collide rather than merge together as a new family unit.
Extended family members often unknowingly add undue pressure and stress on a young marriage by placing possessive time demands on a son or daughter. At a time when a younger couple is struggling with limited finances, establishing solid relationships, securing a dependable income, and learning to raise children of their own, overbearing parents on either side can add unnecessary stress to a fragile marriage. Parents must do their part to support and strengthen the marriages of their children. But even when parents-in-law wisely avoid adding stress to their children’s household, tensions concerning relationships with the families of each spouse can still arise. Quite often the newly married husband and wife maintain overly strong ties with their former immediate families; furthermore they may not be fully aware of the strong ties the spouse still has with his or her parents and siblings. A strong desire to spend time with one’s own parents in preference to being with in-laws they do not know as well is a test for any marriage.
These tensions can have hurtful impact when they are added to other disagreements not yet resolved by a young couple. Again, Christian parents should be more concerned with the success and healthy condition of their child’s marriage than with their own assumed rights to time with the family.
Young couples torn in such conflict would do well to implement a record-keeping system that regulates a fair balance in time spent with each extended family. The attitude of each Christian partner toward his or her in-laws should be genuine love and reflect one’s love for his/her mate.
Though relationships with extended family members can be complicated because of geographical locations and close bonds within certain families, adult Christians should be able to work out these problems. In situations where couples are unable to resolve family differences it may be necessary to jointly seek the advice of a mature Christian friend.
Christian adult children and their spouses must also realize they have obligations and responsibilities to their elderly parents. The Bible frequently repeats the command, “Honor your father and mother” (Exodus 20:12, Ephesians 6:2). This is accomplished through love and respect, and living pure lives. Most important, adult children should be committed to Christ. As Christians they should routinely share the wonder of this truth with their parents.
As adults, grown children should generally be self-sufficient in meeting their own needs. They should remove as many of the worries and emotional stresses from their elderly parents as possible. Much of this can be done simply by living Christ-centered lives that honor God and family.
Adult children should also continue to learn from their parents even after beginning their own homes. Many parents have much to offer adult children in the areas of spiritual growth, marriage, child rearing, and prioritizing family over career. All adult children would do well to inquire about the early lives of their parents as children and young adults so as to record and learn from their life histories. At the appropriate time they should pass these lessons and life stories on to their own children.
When aging parents experience failing health, adult children have a responsibility to administer or see that proper care and support is in place (1 Timothy 5:8). Such care may take a variety of forms ranging from supplying financial assistance, overseeing medical treatments, securing necessary assistance, arranging for nursing care or personally administering care within their home, or supplying needed emotional and spiritual encouragement. Though nursing homes and elder care facilities may provide helpful and needed resources in caring for invalid parents, institutions should never be looked to as complete solutions to elderly parental care. Adult children are wrong in thinking that such facilities and programs absolve them from other support responsibilities. Love and emotional support expressed through touch and heartfelt conversation is the responsibility of children and family, not employed care providers. In all things Jesus calls us to “do unto others as we have them do to us.”
Some Christians who have been severely hurt by past actions, attitudes, and mistakes of their father and/or mother struggle with the biblical directive of honoring their parents. Others have difficulty respecting parents who intentionally do not serve God or follow His moral teachings. Yet God’s command to children, “Honor your father and mother” (Exodus 20:12), universally applies in all circumstances regardless of the individual parent’s past record or spiritual standing.
Another great concern is for the one-parent families in the church. Though not the ideal, they are a reality of life. Because of divorce or death, the remaining parent has an overwhelming challenge. This should call forth the compassionate support and encouragement of the entire church. Spiritual and physical needs must be met, especially for those who have been hurt by sin and the loss of marital relationships. Twoparent families, retired couples, and others within the church must reach out to these families, warmly include them, and help to ensure that essential elements of the missing parent are fulfilled.