It recently occurred to me that I have spent most of my 41 years to date expecting far too much from my family.
I have also been willing to give far too little in return for what I was expecting them to be able to offer me.
Family, I have discovered, is comprised of people. My people (much as I may wish to believe otherwise) are not programmed differently than other people – they are not more adept at reading my cues or lack thereof, more tolerant when I act out, or better endowed with the precise levels of patience or wisdom that my often erratic progress through life may require of them than the other people I see moving about around me.
They also have their own challenges to face and deal with on any given day. My family members are not going to be able to just “keep it together” if I decide to have a bad day. Again. They may be having their own version of my bad day, and may – gasp – actually need MY support.
Or maybe we just need to stay out of each others’ way for awhile.
The point is, my family has limits, just like strangers, just like acquaintances, and just like close friends. They do not just magically know what to do because we happen to share bits of DNA. They won’t automatically say the right thing at the exact moment I need them to say it, and if they say the wrong thing, it does not mean they are deliberately trying to set me off.
They are simply – like me and everyone else – being human.
This has been a revelation for me. Because we live in a culture that embraces blaming parents for their children’s issues, it has been all too easy for me to see my way clear to following suit. Except that this approach to resolving my own internal (or external) conflicts has never felt good or right. At some point in my early 30’s, a rare newsflash broke through into my by then blame-the-parents calcified brain that announced “HEY! Parents don’t get MANUALS when they pop out kids.”
Nor do we kids get manuals for comprehending the mysterious ways of our parents.
Even if we did, we probably wouldn’t use them anyway. I personally am notorious for cracking open the packaging on an expensive new piece of equipment (iPhone, MacBook, “smart” tv) and racing to set the thing up without “wasting” time reading the owner’s manual. Unsurprisingly, this slapdash method often produces very preventable delays in getting whatever it is to work like it is supposed to. And yet I do not learn.
What I have learned – finally, thankfully – is that my relationship with my family becomes much more peaceful, ease-ful, enjoyable, and downright loving when I step back and allow them to rejoin the human race…that place where I and my less intimate loved ones as well as the rest of the world’s random strangers reside.
There, I find my feet with my family in conversation, contemplation, commiseration, and compassion when any one of us has a bad day – and am as quick to gleefully celebrate with them when we individually or collectively experience something wonderful.
Today, I enjoy taking long vacations with my parents, trekking three hours north to hang out with my brother and sister-in-law and their two dogs and three rambunctious (and smart and talented and attractive) youngsters, and moving through each day’s ups and downs with these people I got lucky enough to share my gene pool and my life with.
Today’s Takeaway: Where have your expectations of your family perhaps bogged down your ability to simply appreciate them for who they are – and vice versa?
Paper doll family photo available from Shutterstock
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Last reviewed: 5 Nov 2012