Three-Family Systems

Photo by Mike Erskine

In The Purpose of Boys: Helping Our Sons Find Meaning, Significance, and Direction in Their Lives, Michael Gurian suggests that parents open up the nuclear family system and create “three-family systems” or “parent-led teams”, wherein parents enlist a broader community to help raise their boys (and girls). 1  Kids need a stable first family, but also a “second family” of three or more other adults who are or who become extended family, and a “third family” of social institutions that feel like tribes to which the boys belong.

Seems like this should be a no-brainer for us in the Church.  Our churches can become sources for both second and third families for kids in our midst when we open ourselves to embrace the notion of church-as-family.  This means parents admitting that we are not enough, by ourselves, for our kids.

Placing the entire burden of raising children on parents’ shoulders is, I think, one of the ways our hyperindividualized culture (and Church) has abandoned kids and their families.  The pressure for individual success is as intense on parents at home as in high-stress workplaces.  It may be true that our culture also makes it easy for parents to pass the blame elsewhere when things go wrong, but most parents feel a great deal of anxiety about their kids’ well-being. If within our faith communities we begin a counterculture of creating second- and third- family relationships—based on a theological commitment to being a “family of families”—we can not only begin to relieve that pressure, but also more faithfully nurture our kids.



1. Michael Gurian, The Purpose of Boys, 92ff