Dr Joseph Shaw writes for LifeSiteNews — The public health advice—and in some countries, command—to stay at home during the Coronavirus epidemic is forcing many people to spend the kind of continuous time with spouses and children which normally only happens on family holidays, though without the trips out. This is shining a light, and putting unaccustomed strain, on our household arrangements.
The number of people filing for divorce spikes after Christmas and after the summer holidays, and it wouldn’t be surprising if we see a similar spike when the lockdown is lifted. In the meantime, people who might have been planning to leave their spouses (or throw them out into the street) have had to put their plans on hold. There is nowhere for newly separated spouses to go.
The reaction of commentators hostile to the traditional family has been interesting to see. In this Guardian article the writer notes that the lockdown has forced people into a closer approximation of traditional family values, not least because opportunities for extra-marital affairs have dried up, apparently to her chagrin. Over at Soros-funded Open Democracy, a writer with an alarmingly tenuous connection with reality thinks that this is the moment to “abolish the family”, whatever that means, though she acknowledges that the actual effect of the lockdown has been to give it greater importance than ever.
If you are cooped up with your family and are missing having a drink with your friends, or worrying about your children getting cabin fever—and such feelings are entirely understandable—you can begin counting your blessings by asking whether you would want to sit out this crisis without a family around you. Millions of people are, of course, doing just that, sitting in flats and small houses with human contact only by phone or through the internet. Many others have made heroic efforts (not always in conformity with public health protocols) to get back to their families, from wherever they found themselves when the crisis broke.
The family is a uniquely robust institution for times of crisis, because it fosters mutual care through thick and thin, and allows specialisation of roles, making necessary activities vastly more efficient. (Cooking for one, for example, takes hardly less time than cooking for two or three.) And it does these things not through a daily calculation of personal advantage, but out of a sense of obligation, underpinned by mutual affection and a deep mutual understanding. Yes, certainly, families can be dysfunctional, and even abusive, but so can work-places, schools, and sports clubs. On the other hand, those other forms of association cannot even attempt to offer us a home. I mean, a place where we can be at ease, where our needs can be met, amongst those we love, and surrounded by things with historical and emotional significance for us: a place we can be most ourselves.
It is no surprise that when other institutions try to find ways to meet more of our needs they tend to invoke the language of the family: we are told that this or that school or sports team or corporation aspires to be a “family”. It isn’t often that they succeed very well, because the conditions which enable a family to function as it does are not easy to reproduce. In families, except very new ones, members know each other extremely well, and have known each other for a long time. The connections maintained by the love of spouses, siblings, and parents and children, for each other, are underpinned by extremely deep psychological and biological mechanisms which are simply not available to other institutions. Family members’ sense of solidarity is reinforced not only by the shared experiences of the current generation, but the shared history of the family going back indefinitely into the past.
This is a difficult time for many families. It is even more difficult for those without families. For those who are stuck at home putting up with each other, remember the “effects” of the Sacrament of Matrimony: “to sanctify the love of husband and wife”, “to give them grace to bear with each other’s weaknesses”, and “to enable them to bring up their children in the fear and love of God.” These are precisely the graces we need to see us through these difficult times.