What Is Happening to Family Life?
“PLEASE can you help me. My husband ill-treats me and I can no longer stand it. I have no one to turn to. I am alone except for my one-year-old son. My husband is given to violent tempers and my arms at times have been black and blue through his punches. He butted me on the nose two weeks ago and I had a terrible nosebleed. Then in bed one night he started to strangle me and it was not until I passed out that he realized what he had done. For days it was hard for me to swallow. . . .
“My husband shouts and breaks things in the house and frightens the baby. After my husband had knocked me on the floor one night, the baby screamed in terror and I was hurt and too frightened to do anything. . . . I’ve told him I want a divorce. Now I dare not say I want to go or he starts and I am afraid that either my life or my son’s is in danger.”—From the book Scream Quietly or the Neighbours Will Hear, by Erin Prizzey.
An isolated incident? By no means! It is estimated that in the United States alone, each year some 1.8 million wives are beaten by their husbands, that is, kicked, bitten, punched, hit with an object, threatened or attacked with a knife or a gun. Add to this the cases of sexual abuse and emotional neglect of children, abuse of parents and grandparents, and the picture becomes even sadder. Hence, the question: What is happening to family life?
You have reason to be concerned. ‘Why me?’ you may ask. ‘I can assure you that those things do not happen in my family!’ Even so, such family problems should be of interest to you. Why? Because the Bible long ago prophesied that the prevalence of such family disturbances would be part of the clear evidence that we are living in “the last days” of this entire worldwide system of things.* Notice what the apostle Paul foretold: “Know this, that in the last days critical times hard to deal with will be here. For men will be lovers of themselves, . . . disobedient to parents, unthankful, disloyal, having no natural affection.”—2 Timothy 3:1-3.
Are Paul’s words really being fulfilled today? Just what is the extent of such family strife? Does it serve to support the fulfillment of Paul’s prophecy indicating that we truly are living in “the last days”?
It should be noted that the Bible prophecies regarding “the last days” constitute a composite sign. That is, when all the things foretold would happen to one generation, it would be proof that we are living in the time of the end. In this series of articles, we will focus on one aspect of the prophecies, namely, the effect of our “critical times” on families.
Our “Critical Times”—How Is Your Family Affected?
“Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.”
So wrote composer John Howard Payne. But that was 160 years ago. In today’s world a different picture has emerged. “Home, sweet home” is often a battlefield. The natural love and affection we should expect to find within the family are missing in all too many homes. But why? Is there anything unique about such family troubles in our time?
The 20th-Century Family
In previous centuries the family was often an economic production unit. That is, all—parents and children—cooperated in building the house, making the furniture, cultivating the fields and tending the flocks. (Genesis 37:2; Proverbs 31:16) But with the onset of the industrial revolution, things changed.
As Western nations, in particular, became more industrialized, many families moved to the cities in search of factory work. Now people had to leave home to go to work each day. Families had less and less time to spend together. Things such as clothing and furniture were bought instead of made. And as the book The Family, Society, and the Individual notes:
“These changes, as might be expected, have had a marked effect on . . . domestic life. The family no longer produces anything as an economic unit. Since the passage of compulsory-schooling legislation and child-labor laws, children have become economic liabilities instead of assets.” With what effect on child-rearing patterns? “The patriarchal nature of the family group changed, and discipline and respect for authority came to be something less than cornerstones of the good life.”
Such changes have meant unique, and in some cases greater, strains for the 20th-century family. And this is not strictly a Western-world problem. Colonization and subsequent industrialization have upset traditional family roles even in so-called Third World countries. In some cases wives have come to resent not being viewed as partners. Thus one African wife lamented: “Why is it that men leave us to carry the baggage? I go to the field with a hoe on my shoulder and a child on my back. He carries nothing. Then I return with the hoe, the child, and a huge container of water on my head. Still he carries no part of the load. The money is spent on drinking, not on us or on the children. We share the work, or do more of it, but he takes all the money telling us it is his—that he earned it. It is a joke.”
The 20th-century family has felt the impact of something else never before experienced in history—television. It is estimated that by the time a youth is 18, he will have watched about 15,000 hours of television compared with about 11,000 hours spent in the classroom. By the age of 14, the average American child has witnessed some 18,000 people killed on TV. With what effect? Answers the book Childstress!, by M. S. Miller: “Many psychologists and judges hold television responsible for the violence young people emulate. When a nine-year-old held up a New York City bank with a toy gun, extracting one hundred dollars, he said it was because ‘I saw guys do it on TV.’” Adds The Family Coordinator magazine: “While the direct effect of this exposure on the young is empirically inconclusive, it is clear that a number of values are portrayed in the media that will invariably have some impact on the life and later life style of the youth.”
Without question, the 20th-century family has experienced a peculiar and unique set of living conditions that have subjected it to strains and influences never before seen in human history. But has this really resulted in family troubles that give supporting evidence that we are living in “the last days”?
With remarkable detail the apostle Paul foretold that “the last days” would be characterized by “critical times hard to deal with.”* What would be the effect of such “critical times” upon family life? Paul answers: “Men will be . . . disobedient to parents, unthankful, disloyal, having no natural affection.”—2 Timothy 3:1-3.
‘Disobedience to Parents’
Children are the flesh and blood of their parents and are indebted to them for countless blessings. It is a frightening commentary when youths fail to show parents the honor, respect and care that they deserve. As one Bible scholar put it: “It is the sign of a supremely decadent civilization when youth loses all respect for age, and fails to recognize the unpayable debt and the basic duty it owes to those who gave it life.” Is such really the case in 20th-century families?
“I’m afraid of my own child,” lamented one mother in talking about one of the most sobering evidences of children rebelling against parents—parent abuse. In one violent outburst, this woman’s 17-year-old son had dislocated her shoulder with a brutal kick. Just how common is such violence against parents? In reporting the results of research on family violence in the United States, the book Behind Closed Doors noted: “One out of three children between the ages of three and seventeen hit their parents each year.” Is it not normally a gross lack of respect when a child raises a hand against his parents?—Compare Ephesians 6:1-3.
Children are rebelling against their parents in less violent ways too. In the 1960’s it was the hippie dress and long hair. But when adults copied those trends, young people were forced to come up with new ways to rebel. The book Childstress! explains: “Through all the creativity, tried and true means of defiance grow in intensity—drugs, drinking, truancy and running away from home. As the generation of grandparents exclaims, ‘I’d hate to start raising kids in this day and age.’”
Young children are not the only ones who fail to show their parents the love and respect they deserve. There is another group—adults who abuse the elderly. In what way? Psychology Today explains: “Elder abuse can be physical, exploitative (confiscating a parent’s savings, say), neglectful (failing to give food or medication) or psychological (name-calling). Abusers also often threaten to put their parents out on the street or to commit them to a mental institution or a nursing home if they complain about the abuse.”
It is especially sad that many grown children do not feel a responsibility toward aged parents. For example, F. Ivan Nye, in a research paper published in Journal of Marriage and the Family, noted: “A majority of the respondents [in this research study] do see a duty to keep in touch with relatives and to assist in financial emergencies, yet over 30 per cent disagree that such duty (financial) exists and less than 40 per cent of either sex express strong disapproval of others who fail to discharge such obligations.” This led Nye to conclude that “kinship” is “in the process of disappearing from the normative structure and may well become” an optional family function. Is this not “the sign of a supremely decadent civilization”?—Compare 1 Timothy 5:3-8.
Not all children spurn parental authority. But accounts about youths rebelling against their parents are widespread enough to establish beyond question that what the apostle Paul foretold is coming true today: “Men will be . . . disobedient to parents, unthankful, disloyal.”
“No Natural Affection”
Children are not the only ones affected by these times “hard to deal with.” Paul also foretold: “Men will be . . . having no natural affection.”—2 Timothy 3:2, 3.
It is only natural to expect your family to be the most supportive of groups. “Home, sweet home” should breathe an atmosphere of love—love for your spouse and for your children. Yet, the apostle Paul said that a lack of “natural affection”* would characterize “the last days.” And true to his words, in all too many cases “home, sweet home” is far from “sweet.” How so?
In the previous article we noted the prevalence of a startling lack of natural affection—wife abuse. Surely no wife deserves to be kicked, punched or otherwise abused. What a far cry from the Scriptural exhortation for husbands to love their wives “as their own bodies”! That is natural. Wife beating is not!—Ephesians 5:28-33.
Perhaps even more surprising is the number of reported cases of husband beating. In one case a husband “wore constant scars and bruises” inflicted by a wife who had “bullied him with hysteria, screaming tantrums and vicious physical violence.” Some sociologists estimate that in the United States alone, some 282,000 men are beaten by their wives each year. Is this not also a shocking example of the lack of natural affection in many 20th-century families?—Compare Ephesians 5:22-24, 33.
As sobering as such reports are, even more heartrending are the reports of increasing child abuse. It is not at all unusual to read headlines such as the following:
“Abused child, grown up, talks about scars.”
“Woman Admits Drowning Her Four Children as They Slept.”
“Battering of young, death rates soar in Denver and state.”
“Child Neglect ‘Kills Britain’s Loving Image.’”
We spare you the more gruesome details.
Just how prevalent is such abuse of children? Reporting the results of research on family violence, the book Behind Closed Doors estimated that “between 3.1 and 4 million children [in the United States] have been kicked, bitten, or punched by a parent at some time in their lives; . . . between 900,000 and 1.8 million children between the ages of three and seventeen have had a parent use a gun or a knife on them at some time.”
While it is true that children, especially infants, are vulnerable and at times can be demanding, surely no child deserves to be abused—physically, emotionally or in any other way. After all, as the Bible says: “Sons are an inheritance from Jehovah; the fruitage of the belly is a reward.”—Psalm 127:3.
There is no question that the 20th-century family has been beset by pressures and strains never before experienced in human history. Notes U.S.News & World Report: “Why the surge in family troubles? Dr. Bertrand New, a psychiatrist at Westchester Medical Center–New York Medical College, cites personal and economic setbacks, alcoholism and the greater strains modern society puts on many families.”—Italics ours.
This surge of family strife is but one part of the composite sign identifying “the last days.” Future issues of The Watchtower will discuss in detail other aspects of Paul’s words at 2 Timothy 3:1-5. But one thing is certain: Reports about children rebelling against parental authority and a decline in natural affection, as Paul foretold, are widespread enough to constitute part of the clear evidence that we are living in “the last days” of this system of things.
Indeed, we are living in “critical times hard to deal with.” However, these “critical times” need not mar your family happiness. Jehovah God has provided practical guidelines in the Bible, which if followed will make for a happy, successful family life even now. More than that, if you closely follow those instructions, yours may be counted among the happy families that will enjoy life forever in a righteous new order of God’s making, now near at hand.—2 Peter 3:13; Proverbs 3:13-18.
The Greek word for “critical times” (chalepós) is translated “fierce” at Matthew 8:28, where it is used to describe two demon-possessed men who were extremely violent and dangerous. Thus, “the last days” would be particularly menacing, threatening and dangerous.
The Greek word storgé has reference to family love, love of kindred. But the word for “having no natural affection” is a form of ástorgos, which means just the opposite—a breakdown in the natural love that should exist between family members.
[Pictures on page 6]
He watches people being shot, beaten, murdered. How does it affect him?
Applying the guidelines found in the Bible can make for a happy family life even now