There are two ways to read this quote.
Lincoln might be telling us to “accentuate the positive.” That managing our emotions and deciding to be happy will make us feel happy. In which case, this quote is kind of ironic, given that poor Abe struggled with depression. Seems like there’s a little self-loathing mixed into the words.
Politically incorrect as it might be to object to this cheery little rallying cry, it has a dark side. I hear “family first!” and think, “everyone else, distant second.”
The problem is that some of us suffer (or enjoy, depending on how you look at it) a dearth of family, or of nearby family. For us, “family first” can feel a little exclusionary. And sometimes it is, actually, exclusionary.
I have friends who travel to visit family in my hometown, but don’t make time to see me. I’ve had a friend decline to help me in a time of need because family might need her for something.
I hate when friends without family are left to fend for themselves on holidays. At least I have my lovely husband and weird dog. Some of our friends don’t even have that. (And yes, we try to include those friends in our holidays. And yes, every few years we travel to distant family for holidays.)
I’ve always given friends with kids lots of space because I know kids need their parents more than I do. I figured everything would change once the kids were grown. But now the kids are grown and there are grandkids so—family first!
“Family first” is an honorable sentiment. I get it. It’s a matter of setting priorities, of making sure your nearest and dearest get the best of you. But “family first” can also make people myopic. So while you’re family firsting this holiday season, don’t forget those people who stand by you even without the obligation implied by shared bloodlines.
And that “family first” doesn’t (or perhaps shouldn’t) mean “family only.”
Photo of happy family is available at Shutterstock.
As Oprah used to say, frequently, raising kids is the hardest job in the world. And I don’t argue with that. (I wouldn’t dare.)
But choosing not to have kids has challenges of a different kind–not the least of which is censure from a segment of society that assumes you must be selfish, self-centered, or in arrested development.
My husband and I are childless by choice and have some very good reasons for this, which are none of your beeswax. Fortunately, I am past the age where people want to debate our decision with me, but you can’t imagine how tiresome that was. Here’s a hint, people: Asking someone who has chosen not to have kids if she fears regretting the decision someday is uncool. Duh. It’s not like we haven’t considered that. Would you ask a woman who does have kids if she fears regretting that decision?
Not having children is challenging in that your life is not mapped out for you according to the needs of your children. You have to take full responsibility for your own life trajectory, which can be oddly daunting. And you have nothing to distract you from complicated adult relationships. I know a lot of marriages crack under the pressure of parenting, but a lot of other relationships probably last because of the needs and distractions of children.
But I really like the quote from Carolyn Hax, part of a response to someone wondering how to decide about having children, because she acknowledges that some of us are better off contributing something other than our DNA to the world.