Wednesday, 26 August 2015

On family.

I've been thinking about this on and off for a while.

I have always envied people who got along well with their families. As well as loving their family members, they genuinely like them, and would hang out with them for preference. Sometimes I have aspired to be like that with my family, but it has fallen flat in the past and I end up feeling that painful mix of resentment and guilt.

On the other side of the coin, I think it is a terrible shame when there are such deep rifts within families that they no longer speak to or see each other.

My family is somewhere in between. The honest truth is confronting, but it is as such:

We have so little in common, apart from shared origins. We are vastly different in personality. Were there no shared origins, no interaction would ever get past the first contact.

There have been many times in recent years where I have bemoaned the lack of understanding within the family. I am sure my other family members have bemoaned the same thing about me. It all arises from the fact that we are essentially different despite the fact we are family.

Unfortunately, though, you don't get a choice about your family. In my humble opinion, at the end of the day, there is only one thing you have to do, and that is be there when they really need you. Of course you love them, but what is love without action?

Beyond this, I keep interactions pleasant and reasonably frequent, but brief and superficial. I listen, smile, nod and make the appropriate sounds, without offering much in the way of advice. I offer practical help.

I've stopped trying to rationalise or understand how they do things. I don't like being told what to do, and apply that rationale to them. I offer gentle but firm explanations of my boundaries when that comes up.

It might sound a bit cold, but it makes for peace and calm, and ultimately a more functional relationship.

What about you?


  1. Well this isn't pithy comment stuff but best not to overthink it. It's not something that's easy. Close families also have their own sets of issues. Like most in the wild humans technically should have a set time with their birth family and they used to move on and I think that's the issue BC we aren't like elephants that naturally stay with their parents/kids for life. Will stop there otherwise it will go on!

  2. I found your post very helpful. For many years I was closely involved in my son's small business and in frequent contact with him. Because I liked being useful to him, I failed to realize that I was making it hard for him to be independent. Then he moved further away and made it clear he didn't want my help any more, so we now see each other about twice a year instead of twice weekly. Our interactions are exactly as you describe - brief and superficial. He probably doesn't yet trust me enough not to be interfering for them to be more frequent. Perhaps all that matters is that he knows I will be there for him if he really needs me, and vice versa.

  3. Not sure if that comment went through or not! Family is complicated. It's rarely like a happy American sitcom in any family. As you know my Dad was a Psychiatrist and I was always shocked at the number of patients trying to angle to get themselves admitted into a psychiatric hospital over Christmas rather than face up to a family gathering that would cause them potential angst and pain. I think your method of dealing with it is a good one. Ultimately we have the power to build our own family if our own birth one is lacking - partner, friends, children, pets. xx

  4. Family is such an odd thing. I dread hanging out with the in-laws. My family is such a hodge-podge of personalities that it's not The Brady Bunch. I will say though that my favorite travel partner happens to be my sister. Aside from travel, beer and learning... we don't have much else in common. If only I could get my step-son to act like a young boy and not a Mowgli-like child I would be happy. Alas, it is asking too much.