Rebuilding the Fractured Family
THE AUSTRALIAN FAMILY is under enormous stress. According to a Federal Government Report June '98, "TO HAVE AND TO HOLD" the cost of families divorcing today is over $3 billion a year in sole-parent benefits, child-care and associated costs.
This has led to political attack on sole-parents as being extravagant users of public money. Single mothers having additional children at the public's expense have been specifically targeted. Pauline Hanson claimed July 98 single mothers were continuing to have children while on the pension. She said she would limit benefits to the first child only. This received wide-spread public support. However she is wrong. Less than 1% of people receiving sole-parent benefits have had an additional child more than nine months after being granted a pension. Less than 5000 mothers have claimed for an additional child while on sole parent benefits. The fact is sole parent families have fewer children than families with both parents together.
Ms Hanson's statement that a married man cannot go to an employer and ask for a $97 a fortnight pay increase because his wife gave birth to a second child as a single parent gets in additional family payments, is quite mischievous. Married men automatically gets the $97 a fortnight additional family benefit as well as a single parent. No-one asks the employer for any additional income. It comes irrespective of a parent being a sole parent or a couple family. This attack is totally unfair. Likewise the claim that more and more single girls are having babies to live on their sole parent benefits is just not true.
The fact is teenage pregnancies have fallen steadily over the past twentyfive years to one third of the rate in 1971. Currently the rate for teenage pregnancy in Australia is one third that of USA and people who quote USA statistics as if they were Australian are wrong. Even the teenage pregnancy termination rate has fallen in Australia.
Even when this misinformation about the state of Australian families is corrected the fracturing of the family is still a deep concern for all. The fragile nature of so many families means that Christian people and those concerned for the family, must work to rebuild the fractured family. The family is God's method for continuing the generations and of passing down values and beliefs to a new generation. By God's grace, even fractured families can be re-built. It takes a right spirit, and having spiritual foundations in place for a better future. How can we rebuild the fractured family?
1. ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR FAILURE.
By accepting responsibility for failure, we open ourselves to a second chance. 39% of marriages fail and the partners and children separate. What is amazing is how many of them have been married and divorced previously. In 1996, 52,466 divorces were granted but 22,560 of them involved people who had been divorced previously. Among people who have been married only once, the divorce rate is lower today than in the 1970's and has actually continued to fall over the past decade. This decline has been from 125 per 1000 marriages to 115 per 1000 marriages. The divorce rate is significantly increased by the number of people who are being divorced for the second or more times.
There are some chronically dysfunctional people whose repeated marriage breakdowns influence the statistics. It is the story of people who refuse to accept responsibility for failure, and who take that same attitude into the second and third marriage. One out of every three marriages involves remarriage for one or both parties, and the chances of that remarriage working is depressingly slim. The cycle of marriage breakdown will only be broken when both partners recognise their own contribution to the failure of their first marriage.
2. BELIEVE IN POSSIBILITIES.
It is easier to win territory in war than to govern the territory in peace. It is easier to buy a car than to keep the car in good running condition. It is easier to get married than to keep the marriage healthy after the wedding. In every area of life, it is easier to obtain than to maintain. If you know that, and believe in possibilities you will be prepared to rebuild the fragile family. Only 17% prepare for marriage by attending pre-marital classes. Fewer still attend classes designed to improve their marriage after they have been married.
Marriage is the most sophisticated form of human relationship and it requires work to achieve the possibilities. Since the introduction of no-fault divorce in the Family Law Act 1975, Australians have thought of the possibility of no-fault divorce instead of the possibility of a successful marriage. To think positively of marriage requires more than easier divorce. This is now in law of Louisiana, USA., in what is called COVENANT MARRIAGES. The Christian family organisation, Focus on the Family Australia, has suggested we have this alternative marriage.
COVENANT MARRIAGES were introduced by Louisiana in 1997 as a means of strengthening marriage and family life. It is entirely voluntary. It acknowledges marriage as a life-long commitment. For those who chose, this marriage law requires couples to undertake pre-marital counselling. They then agree to have counselling prior to any divorce. The couple agree to give up their right to no-fault divorce, and agree to a two year wait before divorce can be granted to allow for counselling. On the other hand, if there is fault: abuse, abandonment, adultery, the other partner can be granted immediate divorce which is not given even in a non-fault divorce. This gives abused women more protection with immediate financial support during separation. Abandoned children gain immediate financial support. For the couple, the emphasis is upon helping them make the marriage work. When the law recognises that marriage is a life-long commitment, it encourages partners to work at it.
In Australia many divorced people regret the action. One survey quotes 37% of people regret their divorce five years later, and 40% believe that it could have been avoided with some counselling. Covenant Marriage provides the space for this to occur. One other thing. 20% of people going to pre-marital counselling, decide not to marry each other. That is not a bad decision for them. If they could not foresee a good marriage, they at least avoided a bad one. Covenant Marriage forces careful preparation for marriage and proper counselling within marriage during difficulties. It avoids the knee-jerk reactive divorce which is later regretted and says to all that this couple choose to think marriage, not divorce, and to rebuild their fractured family.
3. COMMIT YOURSELF TO BEGINNING AGAIN.
Many people refuse to give their fractured family a second go. If the daughter walks out of the house many say: "Don't come back here again." If a wife leaves a husband, many say "That's it. She made her choice so she will have to live with it." They say these things because they do not want the responsibility of a second failure. But the essence of Christianity is beginning again. That is the way of forgiveness and faith: forgiveness for what has happened in the past and faith for a new beginning.
Brett and Kathy Odgers are a Sydney couple well known to us. I remember their wedding ten years ago. Brett worked for Wesley Mission as our photographer. We were all saddened when after three years their marriage ended. They had stopped talking to each other. They spoke at each other. Many had prayed for them and wanted to help. They did not become one of the 39% who end in divorce. They went to marriage counselling, learnt to listen to each other. As their listening skills improved so did their marriage. Last week on Ray Martin's "A Current Affair" they appeared speaking on how their marriage was saved. Brett said: "After ten years of marriage, I am more in love with Kath than ever." Kathy said "I am more in love with Brett than ever." They committed to beginning again.
4. DECIDE TO TACKLE YOUR PROBLEMS.
Every family can go through times of great stress and conflict. We are human beings each with human failings. But marital conflict need not be terminal. There may be times of conflict, misunderstanding, hurt feelings, and where each other's needs are overlooked or ignored.
That does not mean the couple are incompatible and the family must necessarily fracture. But the partners must decide to tackle their problems. Every problem in family life can be overcome. But usually, you will need to enlist professional help.
5. ENLIST PROFESSIONAL HELP.
At Wesley Mission, our philosophy is that mostly the interests of the child and society are best served by keeping families intact and by rebuilding fractured families. Some children will need to be placed in care. But, with temporary professional support services, people solve problems every day. We expect people to change. The community is best served by developing the independence, strength and self-reliance of families.
Wesley helps families apply their existing resources, develop new resources, and solve their problems. This raises family self-esteem as the family members realise they can do some things well. This produces hope and lasting change. We teach God's design for family relationships. Society teaches self-fulfilment, maintaining relationships only so long as they are personally rewarding. We teach the Christian ideal of lifelong commitment. Against the popular ideal of sexual liberation we teach sexual fidelity within a permanent union.
We teach parenting skills in seminars and in one on one training through our Child and Family Care. We make congregations more aware of the biblical model of community to encourage people to support fractured families. In 1994 I preached fortysix consecutive sermons on Christian marriage and family life to encourage quality family life.
We organise family holidays at Vision Valley, Mangrove Mountain and Pendleton Farm to develop relationships in a relaxed atmosphere. Wesley Mission has a strong program of family therapy. When a family needs reinforcing, our counsellor meets with all the family, identifying patterns of interaction and assisting family members to develop positive ways of relating to one another. And we show that single people, never married people, and people not now in a family also belong to the family of the church and have an important part to play in helping rebuild fractured families.
When Jesus healed the man at Gadara, the man was appreciative and wanted to follow Jesus. Mk 5:18-20 But 18 "as Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. 19 Jesus did not let him, but said, "Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you." 20 So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed." The aim of Christian ministry with families is seen in this passage: an individual is healed, calmed and brought to his or her senses. Then he or she is restored to the family. The fractured family is encouraged to see how much the Lord has done and how God has had mercy upon them. As a result the members of the family and the community will join in praise to God.
We rebuild the fractured family best when we help each individual come to his or her senses and be restored into a family, and the family be helped to glorify God. The fractured family is healed when you come into line with God's plan for your life.
Gordon Moyes 1999
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