My daughter often jokes that my mother, who passed away in 1972, was a real “Leave It To Beaver” mom, and that I’m nothing like that. My mother was the typical housewife of that time; she was a great cook, kept her house spic and span, took care of me and my Dad, and we were her whole life. Of course, there was a lot more to my mother before her life with us, and I found out some things about her long after she died that gave a much more complete and realistic picture of her. But in the years before she became sick, I had a wonderful childhood, and being an only child I was the centre of my parents’ universe.
I guess my daughter is right, it felt like a “Leave It To Beaver” life. I was lucky!
Realistically, families are nothing like that idealized 50’s version from TV. Partners split up, certain members don’t get along, and in some cases become permanently estranged. There are family secrets, disagreements, jealousies and it can get worse from there. More often than not, divorce takes its toll, kids get shuttled around and life gets very confusing.
In my case, after my mother died, my father remarried and we became a blended family, which is quite common. I inherited a different culture, different traditions, and a whole bunch of new family, many that I have heard of but to this day have not met. I had two new siblings but they were older than me so we never lived together. However I can imagine that when the kids of two families suddenly have to live in the same house and share everything, that can be challenging.
But even in families that remain relatively intact, there can be many problems. Personalities clash, circumstances change, fortunes come and go. Good relationships can occasionally become stressed by the changes that are inevitable and even the closest of families have their burdens to bear. Not long ago my sister and I were sitting over coffee discussing family matters, and we reached the same conclusion.
Family relationships can be complicated, and this can become much more evident when big changes happen such as older members becoming sick or passing away and decisions having to be made because of it. The cream rises, but so can the crap! True personalities suddenly come to light, loyalties change, and it can be a very trying time for everyone involved.
All of you out there reading this are probably nodding your heads in recognition of the disappointments that happen in families. You likely find yourself closer to some family members than others, maybe you feel you have to put up with someone who you would never have chosen to associate with had they not been in your clan. And for some of you, it has been necessary to estrange yourself from an unhealthy family situation completely.
Over time and since the idealistic Leave It To Beaver days of the 50’s, we have learned to accept that there is really no such thing as the perfect family. Or have we?
If there is one occasion, one time of year that brings out the familial disconnections and disappointments, it’s Christmas. For many, there are people in the family you love to see at Christmas, and those you have to see. There are great expectations and devastating disappointments that occur every Christmas that have nothing to do with getting the gift you really wanted.
And now I’m finally getting to the point of this particular blog…expectations. The psychologically healthiest people in the world are the ones who have let go of expectations and found a way to appreciate the family they actually have. We can’t allow ourselves to be sucked into the happily-ever-after Hollywood view of things, it simply doesn’t exist. A “picture perfect” family can mean many things now; for example, it can be comprised of people you choose to be with whether you are related or not. There may be only one parent, there may be two of the same gender. Children can be of mixed races, religions and cultures. And sometimes you have to accept that a member of your family, doesn’t want to be.
For years I used to refer to my siblings with the word “step” in front. And yet, they had no trouble simply calling me their sister. One day I found myself questioning why I had this difficulty, and realizing it was because I STILL harboured this idealized view of my old family, the one I had until I was 14. Maybe that’s a natural reaction…it wasn’t my choice for my mother to die, and it wasn’t my choice for my father to re-marry. But that is what happened. And in the last few years as our parents have aged and we have become more involved in their care together, without any demands or expectations, my sister and brother have taught me what family is really about.
“To put the world right in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must first put the family in order; to put the family in order, we must first cultivate our personal life; we must first set our hearts right.” – Confucious
No, blood isn’t always thicker than water.
Thank you DL and DC.