As a full-time minister since 1982, I've had a front row seat to see lots of nurturing families and lots of enmeshed families. What's strange is that they often look alike -- at least on the surface. But they are very different. A nurturing family is one that empowers family members to have a strong sense of self. Children are loved and drawn into the nurturing center of the family--but without losing their sense of self and outward mission. In an enmeshed family, children are loved and drawn into the center--but often at the expense of their sense of self and outward mission. Sound like gobbledygook? All right. Here it is. In an enmeshed family system (which is more common than you might imagine), parents are dependent on each other and/or their children to make them whole, happy, and loved. In biblical terms, it's a form of idolatry: trying to find life in someone or something other than God. When a family is always together, that can be because they are a source of great nurturing and love. But often it's because a system of enmeshment has been formed where family members are discouraged from having other relationships, from expressing their individuality, and from expressing their missional instincts outside the family. They would never say that, of course, and almost surely don't know it. But the parents need-to-be-needed and love-to-be-loved to an extent that they keep their children corralled emotionally and/or physically. Have you ever been around a family where no one else (no Bible school teacher, no coach, etc.) is trusted enough to help guide? Have you ever seen a family where the children are made to feel guilty when they aren't around for birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, or other special occasions? Have you seen a family implode because grown children decided to attend another church? Have you ever heard sound waves of guilt because a child (or parent) didn't write enough, call enough, visit enough, or perform well enough? Sometimes those families that seem the strongest to us because they're so close or always together are the ones that are sickest. (Not always, of course.) Families where people are made to feel guilty when they don't follow unwritten behaviors can be the most damaging of all. It's a sign of health when children form other relationships, when they start to make decisions for themselves, when they don't have to be home to be happy. As parents, we have the important job of nurturing our children--pouring love into deep places of their hearts--while allowing them to be individuals who turn themselves to God alone for life. Differentiation is such a wonderful word. We do our best job as parents when we teach kids to "hold onto themselves" in this world -- to live before God as the source of real life while being in community with others without being enmeshed in those relationships. If you were nurtured by parents who always let you be you; if you are able to miss family members when you're apart without feeling endlessly homesick; and if you are able to connect without being made to feel guilty about failures to connect enough --GIVE THANKS! A nurturing family is a wonderful gift.