Not long ago, I was asked by Fr Peter to speak at the New South Wales Family Group Renewal Day, held at Terrey Hills. Public speaking is not something to which I am accustomed, and I was especially nervous! This is more or less what I had to say…
Like a lot of people to whom Family Groups mean so much, my husband and I are ex-patriots (of the UK and South Africa). Almost 10 years ago, Ken and I responded to an appeal at Mass for new Family Group members given by Carolyn. We were very soon to become parents and I was searching for a way to bring our children up in the Catholic faith in a way that would involve my non-Catholic husband in a non-threatening way. Shirley Carroll, Carolyn’s mother-in-law and FG Co-ordinator at the time, very thoughtfully placed us in Carolyn and Martin’s group and since Carolyn and Martin had a newborn baby boy (Liam), we would immediately have a playmate for our new baby.
We were invited to the home of the then leaders to meet some of the other members over a meal. With the birth of my baby so imminent this had to be arranged sooner rather than later! We were a little nervous – we agonised over whether it would be appropriate to take a bottle of wine, a concern that was allayed very quickly… However, with everything going on, I forgot to mention that I was vegetarian. When we sat down to eat, every dish on the table was a meat casserole. Since I had been craving chicken for most of my pregnancy, I kicked my husband under the table and tucked in – at 39 weeks it wasn’t going to hurt the baby now!
With the recent tragic death of Princess Diana, the conversation flowed easily… and then it got around to birth stories. Everyone around the table had a horror birth story to tell – emergency caesareans, premature births, husbands not arriving on time… you name it, it had happened to someone around the table. Less than 48 hours later, our son was born without drama and while I was still in the hospital, every one of the women who had been at the dinner rang me or visited me. Our son, David, is now 10 years old. He and Liam are firm friends and their sisters, also born within weeks of each other, have a similar friendship. This is just what we wanted from a Family Group. Along with the other children in the group, they have a ready-made family of cousins, aunties and uncles. So we’ve been in our Family Group for 10 years, 7 of those as co-leaders with Carolyn and Martin.
At this point in my presentation I asked everyone to stand up and form a line around the back of the church starting with whoever had been in a Family Group the longest and moving around to the newest members. Moving along the line, from the side door near the kitchen to the central back doors were those who had been members for 35-25 years, from the central doors to the seats behind the musicians were 20-10 years and a handful at the end of the line were 10 years or less. On discussion this illustrated that the FG movement is becoming static, we need fresh blood. As the two ends of the line joined up to form a circle we talked about the ongoing lifecycle that is the Family Group movement.
I have seen our group evolve through at least one dramatic change. 10 years ago when Ken and I joined there were several families who between them had 23 children ranging from 3 months to teenagers.
Then there was another group of couples who were just starting out on their parenting journey, and also a few single people. Over the course of 10 years we have welcomed 14 babies to our group. As the older children moved up into High School, their families found that the demands of a teenager’s social life conflicted with FG events and they started to drift away. This was quite confronting to the rest of us until we realised that in a few years time, the same will probably happen to us. In the meantime, those of us with the younger children took up the reins and moved the FG forward into a new phase. In a few years time, we may well find it hard to give the FG the time we have been used to up til now. However, by then, the “senior” couples may have come back to the group (and perhaps it is our responsibility as leaders to encourage them back) to take the group into its next phase. All Family Groups have their ups and downs – births, marriages, deaths, divorces, disagreements amongst members, teenage dramas, high attendance, low attendance, we lose members because of changing personal circumstances, we gain new members, within the group members make their own close friendships… All this affects the dynamics of a FG, we’ve seen it happen in our group and we have lived through it and hopefully grown from it. Using a visual game, we had an interactive discussion on the meaning of Love in a family group and what happens to the group if the love is missing. What happens if the LOVE is missing from a Family Group? We can still function but the heart is taken out of it. Family Groups are about sharing the LOVE that Jesus showed us as brother and sister. We may not like everyone in our FG but it doesn’t stop us from being there for that person in times of need. As leaders, Carolyn and I have a mantra… “We do what we can”. Coming back to the lifecycle, sometimes the cycle doesn’t close and Groups wind up but that happens, Family Groups are not a cult. The FG movement exists because of the wide variety of reasons that people join them. If a family or individual finds that they can no longer give or take from a Family Group due to other commitments, they move on and should not be criticised for that. We, as a Movement, will always be there to welcome them back at any time. What I think we can guarantee though is that they will take something of their FG with them in their hearts for the rest of their lives. Their FG experience will have been a meaningful and life enhancing experience for them and their family. And to end, I’ll leave you with a quote from Fr Peter:
“FAMILY GROUPS DO NOT TAKE AWAY THE DIFFICULTIES OF LIFE BUT GIVE US THE STRENGTH AND COURAGE TO LIVE AS FOLLOWERS OF CHRIST”