It is within the family that we first come to have that sense of ourselves and our relations with others that is at the root of moral development.1Love of those within our own family and care for the neighbors beyond the household are not mutually exclusive. There is an intricate connection between home and world, love of one’s own children and care of all God’s children. They are potentially complimentary and mutually enriching.
Does this mean we always have the time, money and resources to involve ourselves in public ministry? Maybe our heart is with foster children but circumstances don’t allow us to take in any kids. Maybe we are touched by the plight of the homeless, addicts, prostitutes, etc. Maybe we dream of rocking neglected babies in an orphanage far away and too expensive to travel to. But care of our own children can open our eyes to all other children as well.
The author outlines the following four ways to actualize love of other kids through love of one’s own kids:
- we love our kids to learn how to love other kids
- we love our kids for the sake of a better world
- we teach our kids to care for others and to work for social justice
- we model just love within our family2
How then do parents work for peace and justice at home and in the larger world? The answer is at once simple and complicated: involve children every step of the way. (italics mine)
Practical suggestions in learning justice can be through daily conversations with your children, decisions about the use and placement of TV’s, video games, etc., and learning how to respect all those within the family. Are these small, daily efforts to do justice gestures in the night? I hope not. It’s hard to know for sure. But affirming mundane, routine conversation as a small act of doing justice essential to the faith life of the family is certainly a step in the right direction in a culture where spiritual often means inner peace, personal enrichment, and escape from the world’s injustices. Attending to these small acts with children has certainly intensified our own awareness about how intricately matters of justice infiltrate our lives and shape daily living.
One does justice even in the presence of the powerful passions felt toward one’s children by teaching, learning about, and indeed struggling over justice with them. Adults raise their own social awareness as they strive to raise socially aware children. In this practice, they turn the private task of raising children into an important public ministry.
The author also brings up the practice of serving others, namely one’s own family, by participating in daily chores. …children also need daily exercise of the practice of loving others as they love themselves, and this means a family system in which their pitching in is also essential to the family’s functioning. Children need family duties… “not just because they will learn discipline by doing so, but because through this work they will understand that no one in the home exists just to serve them.”
“…children need a gradual, incremental transfer of power and responsibility for family welfare as appropriate to age and situation.”
So ask yourself: What are your expectations of your children? Do you expect too much or not enough from them? “Participation, responsibility and maturity” are fostered through appropriate familial duties.
So the family is, as one scholar argues, a “school for critical contribution to the social good.” But it is more than this. It is also a “school of justice” unto itself. That is, the family is a school of justice not merely as parents work with children to reach outward to those in need but in its own internal dynamics. Families teach justice by the very way they structure the work and love of daily life.
What does your “school of justice” look like? Parents can be great examples and models of justice by our acts of service to all those around us including family, friends and strangers as well as making sure the pathway of parenting is paved with communication. A simple thing such as talking which we do everyday with friends and family can become harder as our children mature, but we need to make sure we continue to open our mouth, ask questions and make the kind of decisions which will help lead our children in becoming leaders of justice in their own right.
1. Political scientist Susan Moller Okin as quoted in In the Midst of Chaos
2. From the Study Guide of In the Midst of Chaos written by Mindy McGarrah
3. All green text comes from Chapter 6 of In the Midst of Chaos.