My parents separated when I was 12 years old. Eventually as my father drifted out of my life so did his relatives. In turn my mothers side of the family was reasonably involved in my day to day life. They were and still are a rather eccentric bunch but I can proudly say that they are some of the most interesting people I know.
They do however have problems just like any other family. Though it is unfair to solely focus on their negatives as they do have a number of positive traits it is those negatives that tend to have the deepest claws and seem to take forever to remove from deep within ourselves as maturing adults.
The extended family reminded me of the clans from the old country. Constantly at war with one another. Creating alliances out of a mutual dislike rather than genuine friendship and then when illness or serious cause for alarm would arise everyone would rally against the common enemy only to fall back into rituals of bad behavior as soon as the storm had passed.
I remember very vividly sitting around a campfire with my cousins and my own brother and sister discussing the sad state of affairs within our family and finding it difficult to relate to such behavior. Fast forward twenty years and here I am in the same turbulent waters.
My goal with this piece is not to specifically call anyone out because truth is I am far from perfect myself. But rather to define what family truly is and how I am attempting to remedy this situation.
“The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life. Rarely do members of one family grow up under one roof.” Richard Bach ~Illusions~
As a single person I was far more willingly to put up with the bad behavior of others. As a parent of three young children I am far less willingly to do so. The delicate balance, that which Somerset referred to as the “razors edge”, is the ability to discern ones own prejudice in comparison with that which is truly harmful. We all have conflict or arguments among family members. Overreacting to naturally arising frustrations is a negative in and of itself. But eventually when bad habits are displayed for years, decades even, and they begin to affect the mental health of ones household it is time to put the false notion of family aside.
The difficulty that I am experiencing is that as a homeschooling family the family structure is extremely important. I have lost count of all the homeschooling books that I have read that speak of having a grandparent share a hobby or an aunt spend a day with your children. For some of us that is simply not a reality.
Though children should not be involved in the direct confrontation of adults for any reason they do recognize something is wrong when Grandma or Grandpa no longer stops by. When aunts and uncles no longer visit. When their birthday is ignored while other children in the family have very public celebrations. They quickly catch on when conversation is cut short in regards to missing relatives. They recognize the awkward hostility when relatives meet in public places. They are sensitive to the sadness that develops when adults feel the need to remove toxic relationships from their own lives.
So how do we define family when our family is broken? If we continue to nurture negative relationships we are teaching our own children a very unhealthy lesson, are we not? We are teaching them that abuse and disrespect are acceptable ways for family to treat one another when resurrecting the notion that blood outweighs all else. This is simply not true.
It is painful and even frightening to admit that ones family does not provide a solid foundation in their own lives. But when one begins to recognize the bond that exist among families with similar values a level of strength, understanding and true appreciation begins to bloom.
Within family structures there is a tendency for familiarity to breed contempt. I would hope that it is obvious that I am not addressing the trivial frustrations that exist within every family structure but rather the deep rooted multi-generational behaviors that destroy trust and most importantly love. Your family , your children , are at the mercy of your decisions to a certain extent. When it comes to creating a supportive , nurturing , caring and loving network one must make the right decision, not the easy one.
Tobias Whitaker also blogs for Mother Earth News and Grit Magazine. You can also find him on Facebook at Seed To Harvest: Bossy Hen Homestead which is a central location for his homesteading blogs and his homeschooling blog, A Mile In Her Shoes: Tales Of A Stay-At Home Dad .