Mark and Lisa Scandrette are the cofounders of ReIMAGINE: a Center for Integral Christian Practice in San Francisco. CC Editor Angela Reitsma Bick spoke with the Scandrettes about their new book, Belonging and Becoming: Creating a Thriving Family Culture, for this theme issue.
CC: Why is there such a gap between what we hope for our families and how we actually live?
Lisa: I think that our culture really prizes business and productivity. Families are all busy but not always in the same direction. So people have good intentions and good longings, but it’s hard to slow down and make the things that are really in our hearts intentionally come out in our lives.
Mark: Some of the gap comes from not having the example or skills to know how to get the kind of family life you want. A lot of people our generation and younger would say that they grew up in a family with a lot of displacement, divorce, disharmony. They don’t want to be the same kind of family that they saw modelled, but don’t have examples or a tool chest of skills to know how to do it differently.
You define “family thriving” in seven areas – being purposeful, rooted, receptive, connected, responsive, resourceful and productive. Which aspect of family life today faces the most challenges? Which one comes easiest to the majority of people?
Mark: When we do live events, people tell us that they feel good about the ways they have fun as a family. The hardest thing for them is figuring out a good rhythm of time, getting on the same page with what matters most, or having the skills to know how to get along well. To treat each other with the love and respect that they want to. That’s what I hear as the top three challenges.
Is there one piece of wisdom that you’ve found applicable to all parents, no matter what ages their kids are?
Lisa: It begins with your relationship as parenting partners, or, if you’re a single parent, time to reflect yourself. Making decisions that steer the direction of the family. Then everybody knows where you’re going and what to expect. Establishing those intentions puts things in motion for the family. Once people have a picture of what they’re aiming for, it becomes easier to talk about how to get there.
Mark: [Even] empty nesters tell us these are good questions to think about for the next stage of our lives. We need to have new conversations about what is most important to us.
Lisa: Kids aren’t people in the making. They’re already people; they’re already a part of this, so including them as much as possible and hearing their voice in our decision making has the biggest impact.
Speaking of empty nesters, do you have any advice for grandparents?
Mark: Grandparents can play an incredible role in the lives of their grandchildren. It’s only since the 1950s that we’ve had this idea of the nuclear family. A lot of families face some challenges along the way – separation, disability or limits on their ability to be present to the family. It’s beautiful when we see family encompassing grandmas and grandpas, aunts and uncles, extended family that together raise the children.
In previous generations what was thought of as “good parenting” is different than it is now. For Builder and some of the Boomer generation, it was “I’m a good parent if I get my kids to obey me and respect me.” So there were techniques for parenting that really emphasized me telling you what to do, and you showing that you’re a good kid by doing what I tell you to do. [Now] we really want our children to have a developed internal sense of the good – so that they don’t just obey you but also “get” the deep values that you’re trying to get across. You have to spend a lot more time talking about the “why” behind the way you’re trying to guide them. It’s not enough to say, “Stay away from drugs; save sex for marriage” – it’s important to say why those things work and work out better than the alternatives.
Because of the obedience emphasis of earlier generations, a lot of parents don’t feel very close to their parents because they could never grow up into a relationship that wasn’t about command and control. If we can strike a better balance, where we can invite you up into a vision of our family and internalized values, we can pass on the best of the wisdom we think about what it means to be a human being and love God and creation, and also have a relationship with you that moves from guiding to partnering to relationship during a lifespan.
Mark: It’s not just with moral things but with spiritual beliefs. Previous generations said that “if you’re a good kid, you’ll believe like us.” Whereas we realize that in a pluralistic environment, you have to say, “This is what we believe and here’s why. Here’s why we think it’s the best way a person could see the world, and also the most accurate and beautiful and truthful way to see the world. What do you think?”
And to do that without fear. I really appreciated your chapter on faith formation. How does parents’ faith affect the process of faith formation for children?
Lisa: As we grow, we learn new ideas about who we are and who God is. If we can communicate that idea to our kids, it gives them permission to ask questions and have doubts, and talk about it together. If it’s not OK to do that, if everything is firm, then very quickly if you don’t feel like you’re fitting in to that, that means you’re out. That’s not really how things work, so I would hope that it’s permission that, wherever you are in the process, God has space for you there.
Mark: It’s helpful to know that there are different stages of spiritual development. [James] Fowler says there are six. A parent might be in a different place than their kids; young children are pretty concrete in their understandings of things. Some things that we try to convey to our children about spiritual realities fall on deaf ears, because they’re not ready to process that sort of metaphorical or theoretical concept.
How do we resist family itself becoming an idol?
Lisa: One of the reasons we cultivate a healthy family culture is so that we can extend that thriving to the people around us. It’s not so that we can make a safe haven, but that we can make a safe place that is open to our neighbours and to the world around us. Problem solving, learning how to make amends – these are things that translate to other settings. We first practice them at home together.
Mark: For Christians, how you tell the big story of the message of Jesus makes a huge difference. If the message of Jesus is about making sure that me and the people I love go to the right place when we die, that might make us tend to huddle up. But if we think that the message of Jesus is to bring about the Shalom vision that the Creator has already had – everyone who wakes up to the Shalom vision passes it on. It’s a story that says “Who else can we welcome into the life of Shalom?”
Anything else you want to tell Christian Courier readers?
Lisa: Family is a sensitive topic for a lot of people. Creating a thriving family culture isn’t about your family looking like my family, or about a perfect way to be a family. There’s a good way for every kind of family – every family has its gifts and strengths – we need all those kinds of families in this world. I would encourage people just to celebrate their family. And in the places where each family feels an ache, take one step toward greater thriving in that area.
You just read something for free.
But it didn’t appear out of thin air. Writers, editors and designers at Christian Courier worked behind the scenes to bring hope-filled, faith-based journalism to you.
As an independent publication, we simply cannot produce award-winning, Christ-centred material without support from readers like you. And we are truly grateful for any amount you can give!
CC is a registered charity, which is good news for you! Every contribution ($10+) is tax-deductible.