I have used this saying for years as an out-loud declaration of what I believe in my heart… and now my typical honesty. As you will readily see by the picture, physically getting family together is not always easy. I think the last all-together McQueary time was 2009. That’s not what “family first” is about (only). Family functionality (or dysfunction) is every family member’s responsibility and privilege. Is dysfunction present in families? Yes, always. Because, as it turns out, families are filled with people… and people are filled with dysfunction. But labeling a family “dysfunctional” and moving on is not the right thing to do… especially if you say you follow Jesus. If you follow Jesus and understand yourself through the eyes of Jesus apart from grace, you know that all of us are by nature dysfunctional. This ought not lead us to despair. Instead, this reality allows and demands that we pursue our families the way that Jesus pursues us. As I have stepped back from this thought in the last few days, these are a few of things that “family first” has meant to me (particularly in my adult years).
Nuclear Family First
I realize this title labels me. I further recognize that the definition of nuclear is changing in our culture. Nuclear has historically been defined as a family group consisting of a pair of adults and their children. My emphasis is not on defining or redefining the term, but challenging myself and you that the one(s) to whom you have been partnered and the one(s) to whom you have given birth or are seen as their primary caregiver are foremost in the discussion of which part of family should be first. If you have chosen to be part of this kind of family, they are your most important responsibility. After God, there is no one who is more important to me than Christina, Natalie, Erica, and Tyler. This choice will likely frustrate other family members from time to time, but if you start early and practice the rest of what follows, they will respect you more for it in time.
Marriage, Divorce, and the Oxford Comma
Even my title is a gentle poke at the irreverence with which modernity handles family realities. Growing numbers of individuals find themselves in very different expressions than what was formerly referred to as “the traditional family”. The poke of my (only-humorous-to-a-few) paragraph title is not meant to say that God has no opinions about the categories that people occupy. What is important in my view is that we see all of them as part of the same family. Simply put, marriage does not remove you from a family (your original birth or adoptive family) any more than divorce does. And whether or not a state or a church recognizes your family, put its members first.
First off, I hate that phrase. I think it is at least partially responsible for why many families function the way they do. I like “included family” or something headed in that direction. When Christina and I married 21+ years ago, we did not remove ourselves from our individual families. Instead, we each joined the other’s family. We did not transfer our membership, we multiplied it. I was thinking about this just the other day as it relates to my own situation. I love Lorri and Eddie and Colleen and Kirk and Rebecca and Brian and Lauren as if they were my “natural” siblings. The first three married my siblings and the last four are Christina’s brothers and their wives. Similarly I love my in-laws (another term of which I am not a fan) as a second set of parents. Why does this matter?
A Few Suggestions
- Family first is work… period.
- Family first is my immediate family before my included family.
- Family first means that sometimes other things take second place.
- Family first means I spend time with my family simply because they are my family.