Sunday, December 22, 2013

Who's family, who's the enemy, and how can I tell the difference?

The holidays are a time for family. I spend a lot of time reflecting on family dynamics-- namely what's a "truth", what's an issue, and how I can be the healthiest I can be-- in spite of. I was raised in a pretty liberal fashion, in a rather communal setting. There were lots of complicated relationships. Although my parents' relationship ended when I was very young, my mother remained friends with his siblings and nieces. Because of this, I always had positive feelings about both sides of my family- even though I didn't know the vast majority of my paternal relations.  My favorite uncle is an ex in-law who, in spite of separation from my aunt, always visits us when we are in town; and likewise, we will drop by to see him if time is tight.

My own generation now has its share of complex relationships-- with exes and dramatic pasts and episodes. The kinds of situations where bad blood spills, and lines are drawn, and allegiances are formed. Until recently, I got a muddled, headachy feeling when I tried to sort things out logically. How close can I be to an ex-in law? What's betrayal? Who's off limits? But this year-- after so much introspection and the book talks, and sharing insights with a community of strangers, I have a new level of honesty working within myself. Insights assail me like shooting stars. They are beautiful and unexpected, and they have brought me peace. 

So these are the personal truths that now resonate with me when negotiating the complex family relationships that are so commonplace during these times. They are not for everyone, but they feel like a good fit for me and the culture in which I was raised.
  • Marriage does actually make someone a family member. Just because a divorce happens doesn't mean that all the relationships are severed. I have fallen in love with many of my in-laws, and I have been thrown for a loop when things didn't work out. Likewise, many of my relatives love my husband, and if I had issues with him, that wouldn't mean they don't love him any more.
  • Little children never know who is the blood relative and who is the relative by marriage. They have to be told who's who-- which says it all. 
  • Hearts can open wide enough to include everyone. Over time, I've seen that the happiest families are those that don't adhere to too many rules. My coworker recently went to the wedding of her brother's "baby mama" who was marrying a different man. At the wedding was the bride and her relatives, her new husband and his relatives, the "baby", the baby's father and his relatives.  My coworker travelled 500 miles to be there, and she said it was wonderful, and there was such a sense of family and happiness because the "baby" is surrounded by everybody who loves her. 
  • My heart does actually snap shut to exclude those who have been mean-spirited, violent, or harmful to the well-being of others. It's like an intuitive default mechanism. There are deal breakers.
  • My mother (I'm amazed by how often I mention her!!!?????) has always modeled acceptance and goodwill. She has only spoken of my father in complimentary terms. She has never exhibited any bitterness of any kind, and she sleeps better than anybody I know.
So when there are difficult family choices to make-- especially during the holiday season, take a minute to find the personal truths that really do rest in your own soul. Don't believe the hype. Don't let the emotions of others guide your thinking, and sit yourself in multiple seats and see life from different perspectives. That's the only way to live an authentic life. And it is only in living an authentic life that we bring peace to our hearts.

"This book will leave you wanting more! 
Tara  |  2 reviewers made a similar statement

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