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Prioritizing family in 2021

Kathryn Jean LopezOne of the mercies of 2020 has been the opportunity for families to spend more time together. Perhaps there is no commuting happening anymore for you — or wasn’t for a time. There’s no rushing home for dinner if you’re all already there. This wasn’t so for everyone, but it was for more than before we ever heard of COVID-19.

Of course, this all came with new stresses — the mess that is virtual school, people on top of one another all the time, the need for growth in patience and understanding. That last one could make for better people all around — that’s a tremendous blessing.

But the most important thing about this is the prioritizing that it forced. Family is urgent. That’s come with the additional challenge of how to keep the most vulnerable safe in pandemic times, but what a gift to know that we do seem to value human life — at least in many cases. The deaths in nursing homes should be a cultural examination of conscience about how to best care for our elderly. (That abortions happened in many states, despite some lifesaving procedures put off is only further evidence of what poison it is.)

The other cultural time for choosing before us is about the family itself. Are we going to reorient things to help families flourish? That means getting serious about paid family leave and other policy priorities. It also means making sure all children have a safe and loving home. As parishes, do we know the needs in our communities? As individuals, do we consider what our roles might be to ensure children and families have what they need?

There are children without families. Not everyone can adopt a child from foster care, but everyone can pitch in in some way — whether it’s helping with child care or food or respite, there are myriad ways to step up to the plate. We increasingly have more long-term and permanently single people in our country. How can they be a better service to our families, which, by the way, is mutually beneficial?

The point is: While 2020 was a year for declaring what matters on lawn and window signs (Black lives, all lives, police lives, etc.), the family should perpetually be the person of the year. Motherhood and fatherhood are essential. We needn’t have lawn signs, but we ought to recognize this fact, celebrate it and support them. Stay-at-home mothers should not feel like they are somehow making less of a contribution to the world than a woman who is getting paid for work, when we ask, “What do you do?” or talk about identity. “I’m a mother” or “I’m a father” should trump career, even as there may be a vocational feel and zeal to work.

On the feast of the Holy Family during the Christmas octave every year, there is a beautiful reflection from Pope St. Paul VI that appears in the office of readings in the Liturgy of the Hours. He reveals something wonderful about his heart: “How I would like to return to my childhood and attend the simple yet profound school that is Nazareth! How wonderful to be close to Mary, learning again the lesson of the true meaning of life, learning again God’s truths.” He talks about the silence we learn in Nazareth, the dignity of work we see there, and, he says: “May Nazareth serve as a model of what the family should be. May it show us the family’s holy and enduring character and exemplify its basic function in society: a community of love and sharing, beautiful for the problems it poses and the rewards it brings, in sum, the perfect setting for rearing children — and for this there is no substitute.”

As we leave 2020 behind, let’s not move forward without this lesson. Family is the school of humanity and the most important thing next to God and life itself. Let’s renew our joyful and confident commitment to this truth. Be resolved to reflect this in all choices to come.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and editor-at-large of National Review.

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