For many of us, to address the subject of family requires exploring our emotions deeply. Our experiences growing up in either a “conventional” nuclear family or being raised in foster family settings do not conform to socially proscribed norms. Many of our families were nothing like the squeaky clean folks who pose for advertisements or Internet articles that promote conventional family life. Like ourselves, families come with different challenges and carry different baggage.
Families run the gamut from happy and supportive to severely dysfunctional, abusive, and unhappy. In reality, the rainbows and unicorns stereotype that is promoted by public relations folks is rare. Many of us remember our families as rather messed up with infighting, rivalry, and abuse mixed in with happier moments of members trying their best to hold things together.
My family of origin was highly dysfunctional. Despite efforts to conceal the anger and violence between my parents, the neighbors couldn’t help but notice that our situation was seriously abnormal. I’m not one to share the true nature of my upbringing on this blog nor with others, in general because I have forgiven my parents for their abusive misdeeds. We eventually called a truce then became closer as we both grew older. Although the parental relationship evolved into a happier place, I still have not forgotten the family’s unhealthy early years.
This is why I feel uncomfortable around the December holiday season as well as during Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. I do not relate to the saccharine family memes on social media at all. Nor do I harbor bitterness because harboring resentment is unhealthy. I seek out the best parts of my upbringing, ponder them, and even share them with friends and on this blog.
There is great truth in the pithy wisdom that proclaims that the bond that connects our true family is not necessarily one of blood, but of respect, joy, and love towards one another. For some of us true family exists outside of our family of birth. In my own case, I was fortunate to find wisdom and love from a great uncle, a great aunt, and two cousins. They provided acceptance and unconditional love after I had nearly given up on such concepts. Later on, I befriended people who were on similar paths to mine. A few became true-blue friends and surrogate siblings.
True family, whether birth family or otherwise, flourishes in an atmosphere of mutual worthiness. Differences are appreciated; rules are reasonably flexible; mistakes are used as lessons; and communication is open. Such an atmosphere can be described as nurturing. The mutual admiration and love between true blue friends are the foundation stones for one’s true family.
Family members don’t necessarily know our true selves in the way that close friends do. These mysteries show up in the ways we are remembered in eulogies spoken at funerals and by family and friends at the reception meal afterwards. This was something I noticed regarding the funeral mass of my best friend Doug. His many siblings seemed to be in the dark about their late brother. Visiting with three of Doug’s sisters felt at times like interrogations. I remembered that Doug did not trust his family of origin. He never revealed his true self to his parents and siblings so I kept my replies to their questions vague.
Personally, I feel gratitude towards my one remaining sibling, my acquaintances and friends. I feel a certain closeness and trust with them. I’ve come across many people in life but only a few could be considered very close. I believe that the true-blue friends are my true family. We prioritize each other and everyone else comes second.
Life is replete with challenges. We don’t always get the job or promotion we desire. We have conflicts. Loved ones become ill. We all get older. Life is about resilience and maintaining strength through crisis and fostering compassion and love towards one another. True family is about reinforcing each others’ resilience and strength. True family is our rock and support.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes actor and filmmaker, Matthew Underwood. “Life is full of confusion. Confusion of love, passion, and romance. Confusion of family and friends. Confusion with life itself. What path we take, what turns we make. How we roll our dice.”