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Piety, Familial


The virtue, akin to justice, that directs the interpersonal relationships of domestic society. It guides husbands and wives, parents and children, in their conduct toward each other. Whereas justice regulates the general relationships between individuals and between the individual and society, piety is concerned with the special relationships between the family and its members and between the members themselves. Without this thoughtful regulation of each person's activities, the frictions inevitable when people live very close to each other can make life unbearable and some form of escape attractive, whether this be divorce or simply leaving home.

Love. To understand the duties and rights of members of a family one should first reflect upon their basis, love, Christian love of one's neighbor. No neighbor is closer than husband to wife, parents to children. A self-seeking love that uses the object of love for the lover's own advantage cannot be a basis for union between members of a family. It can bring together only consumer and consumed. Even the love of friend for friend is insufficient as a basis for a family, for it lasts only so long as there are common interestsbusiness, social, or emotional. When new interests supersede those on which the friendship was based, it ceases. If the family ceases there is a greater loss not only to its members but to society as a whole, for children need protection over a long period, and even after they are grown, the husband and wife still need the assistance each of the other, especially in sickness and old age. The only kind of love that can serve as a solid foundation for the family, exemplified by the Holy Family, is that which imitates the love whereby the Creator continually pours out His gifts upon His creatures.

Romantic love, which draws the man and woman together at the junction of their lives, does not endure forever, but rather settles down, in marriages that last, into that deeper, stronger current of married love that continually and actively promotes the well-being of the partner. It is, however, beset in the meantime by various dangers. Some of these arise from third parties. Thus, one parent may begin to think of "my" rather than "our" children, with the result that children come between the husband and wife. Again, husbands and wives may not detach themselves enough from their own parents in forming a new family. Such "in-law trouble" was foreseen long ago (Gn 2.24). Another danger is an attachment for an outsider, which, however "platonic," gives to that person the husband's or wife's heart, leaving little love to the partner, or less if the attachment becomes adulterous. Assertions of man's natural tendency to promiscuity really deny his capacity for enduring love and contradict the evidence of the great majority of marriages, which do last.

Even if third parties are not a threat, a danger lurks in the human tendency to jealousy. This may be aroused by an imprudent action or a fault of the partner, or it may grow out from a mere suspicion on the part of an insecure person who is always fearing, yet seeking, a sign that love for himself, or herself, is waning.

Considerateness. Considerateness on the part of both husband and wife can do much to overcome these dangers. It implies, among other things, that they always try to control their tempers and to speak to each other in a normal tone. Considerateness also avoids sarcastic, belittling remarks, as well as nagging, ridicule, and undue silence. It bears no grudges. Considerateness implies a willingness to talk over difficulties. Many a marriage

ends because husband and wife can no longer communicate, can no longer talk with, but only at each other.

Considerateness implies also tolerance of the friends and relatives of the other partner. Partners cannot continue to spend excessive amounts of time with old friends from school or work. These must be replaced with new, mutual friends in their married circle. While the couple is developing shared interests, new social activities, and a fresh circle of friends, however, they should each be considerate of the other's feelings for the friends who are gradually slipping away.

Considerateness also involves respect of each for the privacy of the other, both with respect to mail and to professional secrets. It implies, too, that mealtimes will be calm, not sparring sessions, and that nightfall will bring an end to the day's problems so that each can relax and be ready to face those of the morrow. It includes care of one's personal appearance. After long association one may become careless and so offensive that cohabitation becomes distasteful. Certainly considerateness is required in love-making.

Duties of Husband and Wife. Love between members of the family should be orderly. The individuals involved are equal in regard to some things, such as their eternal destiny; however, in other things, such as government of the home, there must be subordination. The husband, in general, has the duty of taking the responsibility of head of the family, governing the home. The wife has a right to expect him to do this, not as a brute or as a weakling, but as a man who will do his best to protect his wife and children, support them, guide them, and handle wisely the family property and finances.

Improper management of finances can be avoided by the habit of openness and mutual management, for example, by the depositing of monthly salaries in a joint account. The handling of household expenses and the allotment of pocket money for husband, wife, and children should be agreed upon after careful discussion so that each person understands clearly the financial situation of the family. Without a family budget and careful regulation of charge accounts, there may be excessive spending, getting the family so deeply in debt that the wife is forced to go to work to help pay the bills. As a result the home is neglected and both husband and wife are continually so tired and nervous that they are no longer able to be considerate of each other. This frequently leads to separation.

The wife, in general, has a duty to respect her husband, unless by his conduct he forfeits his right to this. It is likewise her place to defer to him regarding the location and operation of the home and to care for it diligently. This, however, does not mean giving in to his every whim, or to demands that are contrary to her dignity as wife and mother. The degree and manner of the wife's subordination varies with persons, places, and the times. The wife may even have to take over the position of breadwinner, when the husband is incapacitated or cannot find employment. She may have to take over management of the family finances, if he is a spendthrift or simply a poor manager.

Finally, both husband and wife have a right to expect the help of the other, through prayer, example, and encouragement, to lead a virtuous life that will one day be rewarded in heaven. Marriage is intended to provide not only for the procreation and education of children, but also for mutual assistance by the spouses in the reaching of the goals of life, intermediate and ultimate.

Duties of Parents. The duties of parents and children are likewise mutual. The parents have a duty to love, educate, and provide for their children to the best of their ability, and children have a duty to love, respect, and obey their parents in all things lawful. In loving and taking an active interest in their children as they grow up parents should present a united front in dealing with them; one parent should not seek to win them as allies against the other. This united front is destroyed if the parents quarrel or speak ill of each other in the children's presence. Such quarreling infringes also upon the children's right to have a harmonious home in which to grow up.

Fairness in treatment of the children is another duty of parents. They cannot be partial to one and indifferent to the others, e.g., stepchildren. The whole family, however, parents and brothers and sisters, may well vie with each other to shower love upon one who is, for example, physically or mentally handicapped.

That is not true love which treats children as if they were mere extensions of the parents, instead of being individuals with their own responsibilities and eternal destiny. Thus, punishment administered to the children by the school or the court may reflect upon the training parents have given, but parents cannot complain of a violation of their rights when their children are held accountable for delinquency. Love needs to be moderate, not excessive; giving in on everything may hurt the child, either at the time, or later in life when he or she discovers that the rest of the world does not give in so easily.

Nagging the children, treating them harshly, and provoking them to anger by calling them vile names, all too often produces a rebellious attitude in children, which may result in their running away from home or their truancy from school to spite the parents, and, later, in more serious delinquency. On the other hand, regular rules of conduct and reasonable orders or suggestions regarding the running of the home, given after one has secured the children's attention, joined with moderate praise for good work done, develop an attitude of obedience to law as well as a sense of responsibility and of accomplishment.

The education of the children, if it is to be a progressive and harmonious development of all their faculties, has both spiritual and physical aspects. As to the former, the parents owe it to the children and to society to give them that religious and moral training without which they will not have those inner controls necessary for social living. Until these controls become second nature it may be necessary from time to time to correct the children, but physical punishment administered in anger, or in public, thus downgrading them in the eyes of their group, defeats its own purpose, as it draws the children's attention away from the reason for the punishment to its attendant circumstances. Disapproval of a child's conduct by a loved and loving parent is the best discipline, particularly when the reason for the disapproval is explained. When correcting conduct that is not acceptable, the parents do well always to remember that while they are correcting the fault they continue to love the child who has committed it.

When the children have questions the parents owe it to them to give honest and serious answers so far as they are able, and to direct them to sources from which they can obtain such further enlightenment as is necessary and proper. If this is not done, the child may be forced to get information, often inaccurate, elsewhere.

Besides giving good example as to the relative importance of spiritual and material things, of the law of God and the maxims of the world, parents should develop in their children sound judgment regarding companions, reading material, and entertainment, realizing that as the children grow older the parents will not always be available to advise them. They should also train their children to have respect for their own property and for that of others, lest later they become involved in vandalism.

The physical development of children requires protection of the life not only of the mother and fetus but also of infants too young and weak to care for themselves. It requires, further, and for some years, provision of food, clothing, and shelter in keeping with the economic condition of the family, at least to the extent that the law enforces contracts for such "necessaries." Bodily development demands that the children have such exercise and engage in such labor as is suitable to their years, not being subjected to that overprotection that would leave them so poorly developed that they could not pass a physical test.

The parents have a duty to provide for the children's future, so far as they are able. This means seeing that they achieve a place in life suited to their temperament and aptitudes. They ought to be given an opportunity for such training, academic or in a trade, as will enable them later on to care for themselves in suitable fashion. Children will also need advice as to their choice of a state of life. Parents should not, however, interfere with the children's choices, except to the extent that their continued support is needed by the parents because of age or illness and requires the postponement of the pursuit of other objectives.

Duties of Children. Children, for their part, also have duties with regard to their parents, to each other, and to the society in which they live. They have a duty to love their parents in thought, word, and deed. There can be no question of hating, despising, or cursing parents, using harsh words to them, slandering them, or wishing them ill or dead. Striking them, provoking them to anger, mocking them, pretending not to recognize them if they are poor and shabbily dressed, or turning them out of the house, when they are not upsetting the family of the child with whom they may be living, is unconscionable. Further, children owe it to their parents not to sadden them greatly by consorting with evil companions, keeping unreasonably late hours, or neglecting their studies or training for a job. They have, also, a duty to help their parents when they are in need, whether spiritual or corporal.

obedience is required of children, in all things licit, as long as they are at home and a part of the domestic society. When a parent gives a real command regarding a serious matter, the child is bound in conscience to obey. The matter is to be regarded as serious when disobedience would involve harm to the children, or to the family. Real commands, however, are not to be identified with what is intended only by way of counsel, or as an expression of preference. Similarly, obedience requires children who are not yet emancipated not to leave home unreasonably.

Obedience is also due, proportionately, to other persons who stand in loco parentis, i.e., guardians, older brothers and sisters who have taken over the responsibilities of their deceased parents, other relatives, and teachers.

Among themselves the children have mutual duties and rights to love, assistance, and protection in keeping with their developing abilities.

Bibliography: t. a. iorio, Theologia moralis, 3 v. (5th ed. Naples 1960) v. 2. b. h. merkelbach, Summa theologiae moralis, 3 v. (8th ed. Paris 1949). d. johnson, Marriage Counseling (Englewood Cliffs, N.J. 1961).

[t. o. martin]

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