Published in The Ferndale Record, August 25, 2010
I suppose there are families in the world with no awkward relationships, no unspoken hurts, no skeletons or weirdness of any kind. But I don’t know any of them.
Most of us belong to tribes that carry baggage—sometimes a lot of it. We slog through years of muck with no resolution, hoping that somehow it will just all go away, or miraculously get better. That way we won’t be expected to do the hard work of mending relationships.
But we all want that peaceful, pleasant, easy give-and-take between family members, and to feel on a primal level that we belong to someone and they belong to us. That’s why when familial relations go south, we seek counseling or retreats.
When people don’t or won’t bend, come clean, or put the past squarely behind them, the worse case scenario is self-imposed exile or estrangement. No one wins.
We like to imagine gatherings where family members could be at least cordial. Showing kindness would be better; checked egos and unconditional acceptance is best. But often, that’s not the case. There’s dirty laundry, not to mention feelings to deal with.
Recently, a friend of mine who’d distanced herself from family decided that she’d like to meet with some of them after years of uneasy separation. Old issues wouldn’t be addressed and no stinging memories were welcome, just a new beginning from that day forward. I think she was brave to put it out there.
The relatives she invited readily jumped at the chance to see her again and plans were made. What resulted were people coming together who had all morphed into different phases of life. But the history was there, happy familiarity evident, everyone was kind, and the event pronounced a success.
This was a victory. When one or a few people display effort to reconcile, no matter how large or small the attempt, it’s a triumph for every generation in the family.
I wonder how much harmony is sacrificed at the altar of pride and entitlement? How many lives are forever branded in the name of favorites and black sheep?
Who’s right? Who’s wrong? My response: Who cares?
A few years ago my oldest son, who has two children of his own, came up with what I thought was an inspired way of looking at family relationships.
He said when children are little they think their parents know everything. When children turn twelve or thirteen, up until twenty or so, they believe parents don’t know anything. Then, when children begin their adult lives and have offspring of their own, they realize everybody is really just on the same plane, going through the same cycles, doing the best they can.
In a perfect world everyone would get this, and in turn, accept one another without limit. Generations would join hands and there could be a harmonic convergence in which we’d all live happily ever after.
But in our ragged, messy lives, we fall short. We don’t see the big picture because there are mouths to feed, bills to pay, emails to open, and an environment to save.
Somewhere in this mix of what’s pressing, what’s most important—relationship—gets lost.
Kudos to my friend, her family, and anyone, who reaches out to another, no matter how tiny the gesture. It all counts.
Let the healing begin.