Suburbia: How it Destroys the American Family

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Every aspect of suburban life in America tries to drive families apart.

I don’t know how we got here. I’m no historian, ethnographer or financial expert. I’m sure there are people in stuffy academic offices that can explain how all this came to be.

I suspect that it can be summed up in words like “greed”.

Words like “control”.

Like “power”.

Everyone Wants a Share

Family life in America is a ripe clump of grapes.  The picking is good and every aspect of our culture wants a share.

Your job, the school system, your house, your church and even your car all have their fingers reaching in to pluck your family life away.

As the owner of the vineyard what are you left with to enjoy?

Work

Work is necessary. Work is good.

And yet.

Americans work longer hours and take less time off than other countries.

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We are work-obsessed, practice productivity as a religion, and wear our “busy-ness” as a badge of honor.

Where does our work life leave time for family?

School

Per week our kids spend (approximately, on average)

Our school kids have 55 hours of…stuff…every week?

And weekends? Back to the school campus for soccer, track, or debate practice.  Or out to volunteer in the community not because you want to “give back” but rather to fill in the blanks on a college application.

Two cars with a parent and kids in each. Communicating by cell phone. Is this the “quality time” you dreamt of when you decided to have a family?

Think you can take your kids out of school for a vacation to get a break from all that?

Think again.

If your kids exceed the allowed “unexcused absences” at school you may find yourself in ankle shackles talking to a judge.

The public school system is intent on providing the entire agenda for the American family for any given week.

Even worse? We have allowed our school systems to usurp our rights as parents.

House

So you manage to be off work, have the homework done, and not be on the hook for attending another game. 

What do you get to do?

Mow the lawn. Clean out the garage. Paint a bedroom. Landscape the yard. 

Home ownership - part of the American Dream, right? Have you ever stopped to ask yourself why? Why is home ownership so…dreamy?

Could be it that government and banks wanted your money so developed marketing materials to reinforce that “Home Ownership is the American Dream” message?

We have a word for that - it’s called propaganda.

Look around your house. Think about the time you have spent working on it. Was that a ‘stay at home’ vacation you just took to finish the landscaping?  Adults spend an extra 9-17 hours per week doing housework.

And the money. Oh the money.

Not just the mortgage. The insurance. The taxes. But also the new furnace, roof, hot water heater, front door lock, carpet, p-traps, toilets, windows, garage door, mailbox, bathroom fan, kitchen lights or any other piece or part you’ve replaced.

Have you ever dreamt about family life without the demands of a house?

Church

I see those raised eyebrows. Surely church is “family-friendly” ?

Yes - church can teach foundational aspects of good personal and family relationships.

But have you ever considered how you make an effort to get to church as a family only to arrive and go in six different directions?

  • Children get taken out of the main service for “kids church”.
  • After the service you check your kids into an “age-appropriate” Sunday School class.
  • Teens go off to attend a Youth Group.
  • You go to a room filled with other adults.
  • Like a family creating an emergency plan you have to define a “gathering point” so you can all find each other when it’s time to go home.

Now factor in time spent volunteering - sound crew, making coffee, deacon, elder, cleanup.

How much time did you spend together as a family at church this week?

How much time were you able to be the church as a family this week?

Drive Time

Well - at least you were all in the car together coming and going.  That’s sacred family time, right?

Not any more.

Technology has invaded this space. In-car wifi is now a thing. DVD players have been factory options for years.

Time spent in a moving vehicle is seen as a void which needs filling. We can’t count the number of vehicles that pass us with passengers staring at a screen.

Self-driving cars are seen as a way to recover some of that “wasted time”.

Own Your Days

What to do?

Choose yourself. Choose to own your days. Choose to say no to overly-demanding jobs. Take your children back from public school systems. Wake up from the “dream” of home ownership. Find ways to live as Christians without the demands of institutional church.

Be a family. Together.

We call it “Ditching Suburbia”.

We’ve done it. Other families are doing it. They are a lot like you.

Join us.

NOTE: The Ditching Suburbia fifth wheel bunkhouse RV is for sale and we are searching for a Class B RV / Camper Van - can you help?

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11 Comments Suburbia: How it Destroys the American Family

  1. Picture of TomTom June 19, 2015

    I liked a lot of your article and I think it is a message that needs to be heard.  That being said, I think you missed the mark on church.  Church is a place where you participate in a much larger family.  Together we bring our resources—time, money, talent.  Together we sacrifice for a mission that is greater than any one individual. This doesnt necessarily take us away from our family, but it requires us to lead them in such a way that they participate in this sacrifice together.  Where will our children learn about sacrificing for a higher purpose if not from us?

  2. Picture of Michael BoyinkMichael Boyink June 19, 2015

    Hey Tom -

    Good to meet you.

    This is one of those conversations I’d rather have after sharing a meal and a beer and knowing you better, but we’ll work within the constraints given.

    I agree we should find experiences that help teach sacrificing towards a higher goal, but… 

    ...speaking for us -  and I say this in a descriptive way and not prescriptive way - we no longer look to the institutional church to provide that opportunity.

    We want to do that sort of thing as a family - and feel that in an institutiuonal church environment we don’t get to teach our kids anything because they simply aren’t with us.

  3. Picture of TomTom June 19, 2015

    I agree that a conversation over a beer would be much better!  Again, I want to emphasize that a lot of what you said seems to be a message people need to hear.  It is too easy in our culture to get swept away into a “keeping up with the Jones” mentality that robs us of life today.  This is Truth with a capital T!  But our culture also drives us to think individually and this robs us of the life that is found living and sacrificing for a higher purpose.

    For example, as a Christian, this is living out our gifts in the larger family—the body of Christ which is his Church.  The Church is charged on a mission to continue the ministry of Jesus setting captives free and loving those who believe themselves unlovable.  When my daughter asks why I am going to the church for a meeting, I can tell her the mission of the church is too important for me not to and that without people like me sacrificing my time it just wouldn’t be possible. Yes, I am sacrificing time with my children, but this is exactly how we teach them.  I am demonstrating that somethings are more important than our own desires and our own timeframes.

    I’m not sure what you mean by the “institutional church”, but possibly you just haven’t been a part of a church that reflects that mission?  If so, I wouldn’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

  4. Picture of Michael BoyinkMichael Boyink June 19, 2015

    Oh, looong conversation there. We’ve done a lot of refactoring what “Church” means in our world over the past few years.

    Institutional Church = a place with a building, hierarchical leadership, scheduled meetings etc. MsBoyink and I were born into that, grew up with it, and raised our kids there in the early years - but longer attend or intend to attend.

    We’re done with that.  For us our the Church is the people around us in our world. The people God puts in our lives.

    NOT to say that all Institutional Churches are bad. Or that God can’t work through them. But we’re not called to be part of them any longer.

    To really grok where we are at you’d have to read:

    Pagan Christianity - a study of the history of the Church in America and where the various practices come from.

    Then Finding Church by Wayne Jacobeson. In it he describes living as a Jesus-follower and seeing Church the way it’s described in the Bible.

    We are also waiting for Church Refugees to come out - which is a study of people leaving the Institutional Church but not because they are done being Christian.

    It’s been a 4+ year journey for us, but traveling fulltime is what really got us looking at what the Institutional Church is, how it operates, and what it meant for us if we weren’t able to fit it into our lives.

    If God is the God of all people, and there have always been nomadic cultures, then surely there is a way to live in Christ but not attend a church building every week.

    Assuming that’s true and now searching to find out what it means has been the driver for our questioning and exploration.

  5. Picture of TomTom June 19, 2015

    Sorry, I haven’t read them!  I am just responding to your blog post.  Any description of church (with or without a building) must include community with people different than ourselves on a mission to continue the ministry of Jesus.  From a biblical standpoint, at its most basic level that is what church looks like.  Also, from a biblical standpoint,  pursuing Him will require us to sacrifice—living sacrifices denying ourselves and our own desires as we lay down our lives for others.  This is the issue I brought up about your post as you seemed to be saying that sacrificing for the sake of the church is not something we should do.

    Sorry, I didn’t mean to turn this into a theological debate, but felt like others need to hear a different perspective on participating in church.  I strongly believe doing life in community in a sacrificial way leads to abundant life and this is counter-cultural as well as counter-intuitive!

  6. Picture of Michael BoyinkMichael Boyink June 19, 2015

    I didn’t mean to assume you had read those books - just wanted to mention them as they’ve helped shape how our failth is..actualized..(for lack of a less hoity-toity sounding word..;).

    We have found community - indeed we have found truer and deeper Jesus-based community outside the walls of the traditional church building. 

    And sacrifice for the sake of the “Church” yes - but again we define the Church as the people who God puts in our lives organically.

    All of this is a bit outside where I meant to go with my post - which was simply to point out that while we talk of the Institutional Church as being “family-friendly” and “family oriented” it often becomes as segregated as other areas of our worlds.

  7. Picture of Garrett TershelGarrett Tershel July 09, 2015

    Loved the article.
    It needs to be said.  So many people around me who own houses are not happy.  We are nervous about he economy, taxes or who are the new neighbors moving in or out of the house down the street.  Meanwhile bleeding to death having to buy a new heater or window or flooring ... and not really growing any equity in our houses.  Also when did equity become the only thing I cared about in a house?  Suburbia or Citytopia has wounded me deeply and made me bitter and tired.

    Your “school” section I agree with the most.  Many schools where I live have become daycare centers.  Feed the children, keep them safe and if they learn something even better.  (Now take into account how much time you mentioned the kids are in school.)  We now homeschool but my oldest daughter was in school for 3 years K to 2nd Grade.  She made many friends in school.  When we decided to homeschool those friends turned out to be friends of proximity, no matter how hard we tried.  We wrote letters and scheduled play dates but slowly friends drifted off.  It made us sad.  It has given us the opportunity to show our children how to work on relationship and learn if you wish to keep relationships you must work at them.  They now have friends all over the US and in Europe and keeping up those relationships are fun.

    Every article I have read makes me more and more comfortable with a choice I have already made yet still trying to convince my wife.  Hope to be on the road someday…

    Thanks for writing

  8. Picture of Alice Alice August 10, 2016

    I thought this was an interesting article, and I largely agree with it - except the housing issue - it seems incomplete. Outside of houses, what mode of shelter are you recommending for people? If you say “rent” - that still implies someone is putting up the time investment to create a liveable shelter, it just offloads the responsibility to someone else. I guess the only right answer to this could be “commune” or something of that sort, but…that would still inherently require *some* effort to maintain. I agree that focusing a lot on superficial aspects of homeownership is an excessive time suck but…who doesn’t value heat, running water, a mold-free environs? I mean…surely you see value in “basic” home ownership?

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