Families are funny old things, aren't they? Whether a group of several siblings and a single mom; two middle-aged parents and their young-adult, only child; or an extended network of aunties, uncles, and first cousins, this characterization of family holds true.
Funny old things....
Traditionally-defined families are bonded by blood or legal ties, yet often defy all other rational understanding, as a grouping of individuals. Despite shared blood and/or history, they are clearly absent important commonalties or are sometimes even completely void of shared interests or sympathies.
Funny, that, eh?
Add to this "natural estrangement" the strong probability that, after a time, each family member holds ancient stories about the others, created from events long gone from any accurate memory. These dramatic screenplays now linger only as feelings of dread, joy, relief, or enthusiasm. Yet, now, long divorced from reality, they have the ring of "The Truth."
So what are we doing together? What are the purposes of these relationships formed by marriage, procreation, adoption, and other formal tools for family formation? What are we doing together, if we: a) aren't very much alike, and b) maybe don't even like each other all that much? (I'm not saying that's true of my family; I'm talking about your general, everyday, run-of-the-mill family.)
Today I dipped into a batch of family letters I kept from the mid-80s and early 90s. Oddly, during the move out and house sale, they wound up in the "stuff going on the road" batch. As a nuclear family unit, my siblings and I were not doing so well in our relationships back then. We were struggling to navigate a dramatic upheaval in the shared story of our family's history. Some of us were not very graceful at this dancing in a strange land, including me.
What struck me most about our communication was not that we were all so passionate about our various points of view back then, in our 30s. It was not even how those points of view blinded us to each other, and each other's griefs and pains. Even at this historical perspective point of several decades, I was not most astonished by the vast gulfs of unnecessary and painful misunderstanding among us.
What struck me resoundingly in my heart was how we kept saying we loved each other. Amidst all the painful labeling, judging, and blaming, there was consistently, "I love you."
I remember the first chapter in the text book for my PhD introduction to "The Psychodynamics of the Family," or some such course title. Our first conversation in class was over this initial chapter about the "optimal" family. When our professor asked for comments or questions about our reading, I opened with, "Does this so-called 'optimal' family actually exist anywhere?"
It doesn't. Families do not "optimally" get along, forever.
Sometimes families appear optimal in their interactions and sometimes they don't. Same people; different circumstances, different life stages, different stresses, different knowledge and experience....
Whether there is harmony or dissonance, tears or laughter, anger or open hearts, in the end I believe the so-called optimal family is the one that IS. Because for each of us, this family context is part of what is "walking us home," as Ram Dass said. Regardless of outward appearences in the moment, each step is a healing step.
I'm walking home to the truth of who I am. I've been doing it since the day I was born. My parents and siblings, my grandparents and cousins, my aunts and uncles and nieces and nephews...they have all been walking with me for parts of the journey, as I've been walking with them for parts of theirs. They're walking me home. I'm walking them home.
Sometimes, as we walk, we argue like two fires trying to consume each other, heating the very air around us. Often, we walk with bubbling laughter cooling our steps as if we waded, side-by-side, in a stream. Most days, we walk paths that are light years apart, each of us never seeing most of the other's journey.
So, we are bonded by those ties of family, always, from those parts of the journey we have walked together, each on our way home.
Happy New Year 2019 to you and yours! May all your relationships be the best they can be!
Today, as I write this on December 29th, I am on Day 8 of #followmy2019adventure, driving around the country in my little RV, to share what I know about the wisdom of childhood for our relationships today. Buy my book and read it today, then book me as a speaker for a church, professional group, or parent meeting when I come to your town!