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Family Life

Life has ups and downs

by Helen Redfern (revised, originally published in 2009)

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To consider that family life can sometimes be difficult.

Preparation and materials

  • Although no materials are needed for this assembly, please note that this is a sensitive subject and there will be students present who are going through family difficulties at this time.


  1. When you hear the phrase, ‘the joys of family life’, does it make you smile or squirm? Perhaps it makes you feel angry or sad. Does it make you want to thank your parents or throttle them?
    We all know the image of the perfect family – happy marriage, two children (a boy and a girl, of course), an ideal home . . .

    For some of us, that may be what we are privileged to enjoy. That is wonderful and perhaps we need to remind ourselves how fortunate we are!

    But sadly, the reality is often very different. Some of us have to live with the realities of sibling rivalry, marriage break-up and unrealistic parental expectations. Some of us have to live with the consequences of illness, emotional stress and financial concerns. Some of us do not live with our birth families.

  2. Rabbi Lionel Blue, a Jewish religious leader and a well-known contributor to Thought for the Day on Radio 4, has made some thought-provoking comments that may help us as we consider family life today.

  3. He recalls that, when he was a boy, his parents were always arguing. He acted as the referee. The natural order of life is that parents look after their children. Sometimes, it doesn’t work out that way. Lionel Blue felt that he was the parent and his mother and father were the children.

    Many children today take on the role of carer in the home, perhaps looking after their parents, or their brothers and sisters. It may be that their parents act irresponsibly. It may be that a mother is too ill to care for her children. Parents may be out at work at all hours and never be at home to care about their children’s lives.

    Let us remember those children today.

  4. One day, when Lionel Blue was an adult, his mother said to him, ‘Lionel, don’t ever have children, darling. They can cause you such pain and I don’t want you to suffer that pain as I did.’ What a thing to say to your own child!

    Even today, children can be seen as a burden. Children cost so much in various ways. They make so much mess. They cause so much stress and pain. Unfortunately, some children can be made to feel that their parents’ lives would be better without them.

    Let us remember those children today.

  5. When Lionel Blue told his parents that he intended to become a rabbi, they were both disappointed. His father wanted him to be an athlete and boxer, just like him. His mother wanted him to be a property developer and take the family out of poverty.

    Parents often want their children to achieve what they never achieved. They put pressure on their children to follow a particular career path. They find it hard to let their children follow their own heart and mind.

    Let us remember those children today.

  6. Growing up as a Jew during the Second World War, Lionel Blue inherited all of his parents’ fears. He grew up not expecting to live a long life. He had given up all hopes of a future.

    Sometimes, the world can seem a scary place to children. It is portrayed as full of doom and gloom, a bad place full of danger and temptations. Children can look at the current financial crisis and evidence of climate change, and wonder what the future holds.

    Let us remember those children today.

  7. It may feel like this is a sad assembly, full of problems. However, it is good to stop sometimes and remember the problems that each of us will probably face at some point in our lives. If we are lucky enough to be part of a totally happy family, let’s be grateful for what we have and look out for ways to help others who are not as fortunate.

Time for reflection

Rabbi Lionel Blue has said that he never calls God ‘Father’ or ‘Mother’. Instead, he always calls him ‘My friend in high places’.

Please listen to the words of this prayer and make them your own if you want to.

Our friend in high places,
We thank you for the joys of family life.
There may not be many, but most of us do have a family,
And sometimes, there are joys.

We remember those who are carers in their own home.
Help us to support them and care for them when we can.
We remember those who feel that they are a burden to their parents.
Help us to value them and enjoy life with them when we can.

We remember those who feel pressured to succeed by their parents.
Help us to accept them and relax with them when we can.
We remember those who are worried about the future.
Help us to reassure them and have fun with them when we can.

Some of us are those children.
Help us to talk to someone if we need advice,
And to ask for help if we need it.
Our friend in high places,
Show us our friends in everyday places.

Publication date: August 2016   (Vol.18 No.8)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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