Who started the rumor that everyone had a normal family but me? That’s what I want to know. Because if I’ve learned one thing in later life, it’s that they were definitely wrong. Fact is, I am not alone in dealing with the insanity of family. I won’t say that misery loves company, but there sure was some comfort when I finally figured that out.
As a young girl reading Little Women, I longed for the soft, nurturing Marmee, so different from my own mother. And who didn’t want 10 brothers and sisters who all called out Good night! when the lights went out? And then, did your mom wear a dress and pearls every night at dinner? Did your kindly dad walk in the door at the end of the day, remove his hat, get a loving kiss from Mom as she removed her apron and then did he settle down in an easy chair with a pipe to read the paper?
I didn’t think so.
But that’s what fictional families looked like in the books we read and on television in the 1950s and 1960s.
I rejected those roles for myself, but I must have internalized them, because I felt great shame always that my family didn’t meet those standards and believed without thinking about it that everyone else’s family was like that. Normal.
While at some level kids know these characters in books and on TV are fictional, we don’t really think about them that way. We think that’s “the way it is.” Those ideals sneak into our psyches with repetition. And when our own families fall short? It seems like something’s wrong.
Now, I’m not going to say that things didn’t go wrong in my family, because let me tell you, being raised in my family and yes, even being in it now, is not for the faint of heart. Marmee would fall over in a faint at what goes on within my family. I can’t think of a single person I know who would want a family like this. I certainly don’t.
But when I look around, I see a lot of other families have craziness. Very few represent the Gold Standard of Families and many, like mine, don’t even try.
What surprises me most is that I bought the fiction all these years without any critical thinking. And I’m incredibly sad for that little girl who felt separate and alone in a group of people she didn’t understand.
My idea of relativity
So, if your family is close to storybook-perfect, kudos! It takes hard work and a loving heart, among other things, to nurture a loving family.
And if it isn’t, well, take heart. You’re not alone. There are a lot of us out there in the same boat.
And you know what? we turned out pretty ok, after all.
How? It takes consciousness, first, to know that our experiences dictate how we behave, and then work to be sure that we aren’t letting some knee-jerk reaction hurt the chance of forming a happy family unit ourselves.
It’s not easy. But it’s definitely possible.
The past doesn’t have to predict the future–that’s one thing over which we do have control.