Children, Mothers, and Fathers in the Postmodern Family

Browning, Don. “Children, Mothers, and Fathers in the Postmodern Family.” In Pastoral Care and Social Conflict: Essays in Honor of Charles V. Gerkin. Pamela D. Couture and Rodney J. Hunter, eds. Pp. 71-85. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995.

Don Browning’s essay, “Children, Mothers, and Fathers in the Postmodern Family,” elaborates a love ethic of equal regard that serves as a pastoral response to the family crisis in America, reorders gender relations in families, and restores their moral authority in raising children. Browning draws on New Testament Christianity and Aristotelian philosophy synthesized in the thought of Thomas Aquinas to inform his interpretation of the family and the crisis it faces. He evaluates as a “relative good” the family structure of the mother-father team bonded together to raise children as servants of the Kingdom of God. However, the spreading impact of capitalism, the penetration of state services in the lives of families, and Western individualism has led to the decline of the two-parent family, creating the feminization of poverty and kinship which hurts mothers, fathers, and children. <p> An ethic of equal regard or mutuality offers a third perspective between the male-dominated “modern” family and the female-dominated “postmodern” family. This ethic provides important resources for “the dyadic relation of husband and wife as well as for the relation of parents to their children.” The author supplements this ethic with a theory of the human life cycle to argue that mutuality takes different forms at different stages in the relationship between parents and children. Browning believes that a “life-cycle ethic of equal regard” can guide the church’s pastoral care for families and the socialization of youth.