No such thing as a ‘perfect family’

So often we feel that we don’t live up to the ideal of what the family should look like or be. We compare our families to those seen on TV, to the family life our friends portray, to the photographs we see on social media and, if honest, to what we think the Church expects of our family.

Yet in his letter for this weekend’s World Communications Day, Pope Francis bluntly says that ‘a perfect family does not exist’. We can breathe a collective sigh of relief. A myth has been broken. His words should not come as a shock. You would be hard pressed to find an example of a perfect family in the Bible if we think ‘perfection’ is found where there is no fighting, where mum and dad are married, and where money isn’t a worry.

The programme encourages parents to get involved with all activities.
Fun times in the Centre’s Family Services

Ideals help us mature and develop. But ideals can also make us fearful, feel as if we’re not good enough, and overwhelm us so that we are unable to reach our potential. Instead of being afraid of making mistakes, the Pope encourages us to embrace them in the way in which we work through them: ‘We should not be fearful of imperfections, weakness or even conflict, but rather learn how to deal with them constructively.’

And, of course, issues beyond our control can shake our foundations. The stresses put on families increase each day and these contribute to the conflicts and challenges. During the election campaign we frequently heard about increased support for ‘hard working families’. Yet the reality is that most families are already hard working, including those living on the breadline: half of all people in poverty live in a family where at least one person works. More working families live below the poverty line – around 6.7 million people – than there are people in families living in poverty where no-one is able to work.

It is little wonder that every day the Cardinal Hume Centre welcomes families and members of families through its doors. They include children coming to an after-school club, parents looking for help getting into work or seeking immigration advice to enable their family to stay together in the UK where they have found security and safety. All of them are people who want to be better able to support their families, working constructively to bring about positive change in their lives. I doubt any of these families would describe themselves as ‘perfect’.

Yet they all demonstrate something which Pope Francis praises when he says: ‘In the family we learn to embrace and support one another, to discern the meaning of facial expressions and moments of silence, to laugh and cry together with people who did not choose one another yet are so important to each other.’

As we come to terms with the results of the election, and as politicians begin trying to put into place on our behalf the policies which affect all of our lives, let’s hope they remember all families and make it easier for people to support themselves and the ones they love.

We all need to remember the incredible value families make to our society. As Pope Francis makes clear, ‘The family is a community which provides help, which celebrates life and is fruitful. Once we realise this, we will once more be able to see how the family continues to be a rich human resource, as opposed to a problem or an institution in crisis.’

Written by Stephen Davies, Communications Officer for the Cardinal Hume Centre