I have been located away from my family of origin for many, many years. Now I have family a lot closer at hand – attending birthdays, holidays and visits on a much more regular basis. At this time of year, many people are preparing to spend time with family – sometimes with anticipation, at other times with dread.
As I’ve mentioned before, the subconscious mind is ‘economical’ (read lazy) and often is a little unsettled by change, so recently I’ve been thinking about family and the meaning of the word to the mind.
What is Family?
Family, in the traditional sense of the word, tends to be blood-related or union-related (historically through marriage). In many cultures concepts such as filial piety – respecting and caring for elders – has been ingrained, but is changing because of lifestyles. In the past, a household might have held three generations. Now, the ‘nuclear’ family may not all be in the same place. The line is blurred on families – from steps to halfs to…
Wait a second. Have you ever heard someone say, “he’s like a brother to me” or “she’s my ‘mom’ in Singapore (or wherever you are)”? Do we not prize some friends with an intimacy that ‘should’ be reserved for ‘blood’?
I believe that family is a construct that isn’t limited to genealogy. I believe we can construct our families outside these historic lines, and do. While some connections may be built on obligation or a personal sense of duty, other aspects are built on affection, tenderness and friendship. The subconscious mind works by association, and I believe that we can too. Maybe it’s OK to have a mix of ‘origin’ and ‘new-found’ in our family.
Blessings and Curses
There’s a saying, “you keep your friends close, but your enemies closer”. Some people feel that way about family – the question is, is it the ‘enemy’ or the ‘closer’ part? If we have the opportunity to pick up new family – in-laws, exs etc – we realize that while we may like or dislike our family of origin, usually time and experience has given us practice and exposure, so that it feels like their way is, at least, ‘familiar’.
Is it strange the words ‘family’ and ‘familiar’ are so similar? Probably not. We are raised in a way that becomes our norm to us, it sets our foundations and perspectives of the world. This doesn’t mean that we need to keep it, if it isn’t working for us (more about that later), but it certainly colours our thoughts and reactions and biases, even if we aren’t consciously aware of them.
If these are perspectives that we’ve picked up, then maybe our angle is distorted at times too? Maybe the way it was done in the ‘old days’ wasn’t so horrible or great, or the ‘proper’ way to do things. Maybe horrible Aunt Maude wasn’t as awful as we imagine her or maybe she was being affected by other things that we weren’t aware of at the time. Maybe we didn’t get the support we needed to feel secure, explore our talent, break out of the family ‘business’ – or maybe it just felt that way (which makes it no less real). The big question, is what we do with it now that we realize this?
I believe I’ve talked about the “Wambold Thighs” before. Wambold is the name on my mother’s side and since I was young, the women in my family talked about how they all possessed strong legs that were by no means ‘skinny’. Possibly genetics, this is a defining feature of the ‘clan’, so it feels hard to let go of it. Whether it’s a family temper, that the men all keep their hair, that she’s a great dancer like her mother, or a fighter like his grandfather – these attributes or attitudes are inheritances, just like a set of good china.
When they work, that’s great. When they don’t, it may be time to let them go. It doesn’t mean that you don’t love or respect those in your family, or that you’ll forget and make the same mistakes later – you can keep the positive aspects and the lessons learned while letting go of the negative patterns that were probably suggested to you so long ago.
Finding the Perfect Family
What is perfect? Some people were brought up in a family of resources and love, and have gone on with unhappy and unfulfilled lives. While for some, there is a reality that family wasn’t a safe or happy place to be, yet they create loving and wonderful lives for themselves in spite of the challenges. These may be the extremes but one thing I’ve found is that we grow up no matter what our early beginnings are. And we can carry the burden of our past, or place it as a valuable gem from which we can learn and move on.
I believe, like most situations in our lives, that our family is a choice. There may be those that you choose to spend less time with, or maybe spend less emotion on (how many times have you heard someone go on about their least favourite cousin rather than their favourite). There may be others in whom you’d like to invest more. Whether they invest back is a completely different story. This process is your creation in as much power as one person has over a relationship of two or more. When you look at it as a fun experiment, and artwork, a design of your own construction, it’s amazing what you can do. It may not be perfect, but it’s a process.
Moving home, within yourself
For many years I took planes over the oceans – both ways I was often going ‘home’. To Canada, to Singapore, to Texas, to France… people and places drew me back. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. While I’m blessed to have such a great ‘family’ around the world, sometimes we need to reassess the core – you (or me, depending on your perspective). If you didn’t have any family other than yourself, how would the reunion go? Just like family reunions where there are little feuds, annoying members, fun times and racy stories… you’ve got a little version inside yourself. Sometimes the outside world and people reflect what we feel about ourselves. If that’s the case, what needs to change on the inside, so the outside shifts as well? While you’re great the way you are, if there’s something that doesn’t feel right, if you’ve found that you’re experiencing the same problems or similar people, maybe it’s time to do some inner work. Just like a home renovation, just like an investment in the potential of a stock that may give big dividends, just like coming home.