How “Normal” are Your Families?

General / Leadership / Leadership Development - Kids //

When you think of a “normal” family, what image comes to your mind?  Maybe it is a picture of your family; don’t we all think that we are just normal?   Or maybe you think “no way is my family normal” and so normal is anything other than your personal family.  Perhaps the image that comes to mind is a culturally manufactured image propagated by the media that has no real connection to the actual families in your community.  Or maybe yours is a media-driven image carried with you from media memories of long ago.


Is your image of the family reflective of an  “ancient” time – like the 1950’s?  Is normal for you defined by a “Leave it to Beaver” family concept complete with Ward, June, Wally, and The Beaver?  Is that the picture that flashes before your mind when you hear the phrase “normal family”?


Or perhaps you’re much more contemporary than Beaver and your media-induced image of a normal family comes from the 1980’s and looks more like the “Huxtable’s”. Claire was recently voted America’s favorite TV mom after all.
If your programs, practices, and communication flow from a perspective that the “Leave it to Beaver” or “Huxtable” families are truly “normal” or the norm today, then you are probably missing a good number of people and perhaps even alienating them.  The reality is, according to statistics,

  • 50% of adults are married and only 26% of young adults are married
  • 41% of children are born to single parents
  • 24% of children are born to cohabitating couples – and another 20% will at some point in their childhood live in a cohabitating home
  • 10.5% of children are being raised by their grandparents
  • Less than half of our church’s children actually live with their married, biological parents.[1]


When it comes to family structure, who is in the house and how they are related may be drastically different than how we define normal; the Beavers and Huxtable’s aren’t typical or “normal” anymore.  If we want to embrace all the families in our care and forge relationships that can have life-changing impact, our communication must use language that is inclusive of all the various families structures represented.

–       Do you know whose at home and how they are related?

Reflect on your last announcement, public conversation, or invitation to an event –

–     What kind of language did you use?

–       Was everyone included or are you making assumptions that everyone present is as “normal” as the Cleavers and Huxtables?


If family structure is no longer the reliable source, what is it then that defines a family? Diana Garland, in her text Family Ministry, suggested that we must also take into consider the way in which people who may not be structurally related are considered a family because of they way they relate to one another. “Functionally a family is defined as the organization of relationships that endure over time and contexts, through which persons attempt to meet their needs for belonging and attachment and to share life purposes, help and resources” [2]


We find ourselves in this new reality where family is not defined solely by structure with titles such as mom, dad, and children; family is also defined by how the individuals function or relate to one another.


When we define families in our ministry contexts through how we communicate, how we design programs, and how we develop practices intended for families or family members, are we including both families who have the structural titles and those who function like a family?


Not only do we need to be aware of the new ways “normal” families are defined, but family culture has changed as well.  There is this television show called “The Middle”[3] that takes place in an Indiana town with a family of five. There is a mom, a dad, and the three kids who live in a very typical mid-western home.  The show is just a glimpse into their every-day life and while not a “reality TV show” it certainly captures the reality for many real-life families.  In every episode, regardless of the topic or situation, the family’s response is loud, chaotic, and disorganized. There is a great deal of yelling, not much listening, and significant misunderstanding – all of which for some reason is humorous to watch.  Perhaps it is humorous because we can all identify?  Not only have we lost the “Leave it to Beaver” structure in most families today, but our homes don’t look or sound anything like the Cleaver’s quiet, organized, respectful, and slow-paced world either!


Families today are BUSY, their homes appear chaotic and disorganized, and communication is a challenge.  Do your programming and your practices intended to enhance family faith formation add to the over-scheduled homes and encourage the chaos, or do they help bring relief and encourage rest?


Two questions we must ask ourselves, if our goal is to impact and encourage family faith formation:

  1. How do we provide ministry (not necessarily programming) to every member in the household?
  2. How do we equip & empower the home for faith formation to happen there?

And how do we do it all with today’s real “normal” family in mind?


We are born or adopted into families of one sort or another and these families of origin impact our spiritual formation.  For better or worse, intentionally or haphazardly, our hearts and minds are fundamentally formed in these chaotic, disorganized worlds inside the home because, as M. Robert Mulholland Jr.[4] suggested, every action, response, relational dynamic, thought, and emotion work together to shape us spiritually.


It is vital that we understand what “normal” looks like for today’s families in structure, function, and in every-day life so that we can equip, empower, and serve them in a way that results in spiritual growth rather than frustration and alienation!



Families are busy!

Adding more events to an over-crowded calendar is not the answer, but we can help families redeem the moments spent together and encourage natural conversations of faith and God in their every day “miniscule moments”[5].


 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (Deut. 6:5-9, NIV)

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About the Author

Colleen Derr serves as Professor of Christian Ministry and Congregational Formation at Wesley Seminary. She provides oversight to the M.Div. spiritual formation courses and the MA in Child, Youth and Family Ministry program. Prior to joining Wesley Seminary Dr. Derr has served as Director of Children’s Ministry for The Wesleyan Church and as Assistant Pastor of Fall Creek Wesleyan Church in Fishers, Indiana. She has been involved in local church Christian education for over 30 years. Colleen developed a children’s catechism program for The Wesleyan Church, Building Faith Kids, and a preteen discipleship tool, Explore. In addition, she developed a host of training materials for local church ministry leaders and has provided training and consultation for local churches across the country.