There should be communication in the family. In spite of the different opinions which always occur in families, the family should be characterized by peace, love and joy.

American author Dolores Curran’s book, Traits of a Healthy Family, tells how she wrote a letter and sent it to 500 “experts” on the question of family living. In the letter, she gave 56 suggestions as to what were the most important qualities which made for a really healthy family – in the psychological and spiritual sense. She asked them to mark off the 15 that they considered the most important. As far as I remember, 90 or 95 per cent marked off the word “communication.” The members of a family should be communicative with each other – parents with each other, children with parents, and children among themselves. Curran concentrates on the damage television can, and often does, do to communication in a family. I give many talks on the family and, when mentioning the importance of communication, always ask the audience, “What is the greatest enemy of family communication today?” Invariably, I get the reply, “TV.” Television is a wonderful invention, which can do a great deal of good for society. But, when it takes over, it can ruin family communication.

Curran says a “healthy” family has control of the TV. She came across one American family in which there were seven members and nine TVs! There is a story of the seven-year-old boy coming to the door of the TV room and saying, “Daddy, I’m doing my homework. Where’s the Taj Mahal?” His dad replied, “Don’t bother me. Don’t you see I’m watching the game? Ask your mother. You know she puts everything away in this house.”

Almost everyone who answered Curran’s questionnaire mentioned the importance of “table time.” Dr. Lee Salk, a child psychologist, said, “Meal time is incredibly important in this regard (communication). People used to talk and laugh during dinner. Now, they often watch TV. I hope your family doesn’t do this. It is an insult to the rest of the family. Meal time, especially dinner, should be a time for chatting and communicating and being interested in what happened during the day.” A family counsellor has said that the best way to get to know a family is to have a few meals with them. He says, “They can’t fake it. Some are miserable and some are beautiful to behold.” A stony silence during dinner is the death knell of communication and consequently, of love.

I want to talk especially about the power of the mother in the family. In the foreword to a book on the family, Dr. Charles Fell of McMaster University says, “If I were asked to sum up the book in a few words, I would say, ‘The mother is the heart of the family and consequently the heart of society.'” That is a tremendous statement, but by no means a new one. We have all heard that old saying, “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.” In the past, the hand that rocked the cradle was invariably the mother. Can we be so sure today? It is very often a 15-year-old babysitter, watching TV with her boyfriend. Women have been given by God and by nature a gift which Eve never fully shared with Adam. It is called the instinct of maternal love. This maternal instinct expresses itself in love and self sacrifice. Of course, the father has an important part to play, which I shall mention later. But nobody – nobody – can take the place of the mother, particularly, though not exclusively, during the early years.

We don’t need psychologists or psychiatrists to tell us this. It has been recognized from earliest times by the more primitive tribes. I spent 30 years in Kenya, East Africa, mostly with the Kikuyu tribe. I never saw a baby’s bottle in what the white man called “the bush.” Every mother fed her child at her breast at home, in church, going to market or working in the fields. And the Gospel tells us, “They found the Child with Mary, his Mother.”

An American writer, Brenda Hunter, has written a book called Mother’s Key Role. In it, she says, “The attachment relationship that a young child forges with its mother forms the foundation stone of his or her future personality. The young child’s hunger for the mother is as great as the hunger for food.” She says that, when a mother goes back to work during the baby’s first year of life, the baby comes to view the separation as rejection. The mother may not be rejecting the child, but that is how the baby interprets the separation. Hunter goes on to make this devastating statement about American society: “I believe that we have created a cultural climate that makes it hard for women to rear their children themselves.” She quotes one young mother thus, “I find myself vacillating about my worth, due to the pressure placed on me by the world’s value system.”

I have written a lot about the mother. What about the father? Here is a quote from some authority, “The presence of the father that is necessary is a loving presence and a caring presence. The first condition of fatherhood is presence. A presence that reflects the Fatherhood of God. This means that the father tries to be generous and unselfish in meeting the needs of the family members. He puts his family first, careful that his outside commitments do not cause division and discord among the people he loves best. The single complaint that ranks number one among wives and children is that the husband (and father) does not spend enough time with them. The reasons for this may seem quite important for the man, but it remains a matter of letting important things rob one of the best things.”

I cannot conclude without some reference to the importance of family prayer. First of all, the example of attending church on Sunday. This is of paramount importance. If parents do not consider church important, neither will the children. Next in importance is prayer in the home. For Roman Catholics, the family Rosary in the home has been the traditional prayer from time immemorial. Your values express themselves in your attitude towards God, displayed in prayer. “How great God must be if daddy goes down on his knees to talk to him.”

I conclude with a verse, which was probably written for preachers, but which expresses more eloquently and more briefly what I have been trying to say to parents:

“I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day. I’d rather you would walk with me than merely show the way. The eye is a better student and more willing than the ear. High counsel is confusing, but example is always clear. And the best of all the preachers are those who live their creeds; for to see the good in action is what everybody needs. I may misunderstand you and the high advice you give. But there’s no misunderstanding how you act, and how you live.”