Is my family completely crazy or is it just a more realistic definition of “normal?”

August 27, 2013

familyWho 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.

Normal. Ha!

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 family is crazy.

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.


6 comments on “Is my family completely crazy or is it just a more realistic definition of “normal?”
  1. hank says:

    Your missives are so poignant and so accurate that it is painful sometimes. Normal, ha! Have you thought about writing? You’d have some readership, I betcha…

  2. Julie Phelps says:

    You nailed it when you described the way we were influenced by those “perfect” families we saw on television. Like you, I fell for it – hook, line and sinker.
    It took me way too many years to realize those television families were the exception rather than the norm of how American families really were.
    Maybe that is why I liked Roseann’s tv family so much; they were NOT that ideal family. Yet they had love and they survived. Just as we did.

  3. Nina says:

    I think that since families are made of human beings and each one of us is an individual human being I believe we can’t expect the unity of a family to be “perfect”, and certainly we can’t expect every family to be the same. Each person views live through its own senses, each one of us translate colors, feelings, experiences and thoughts in a different way inside our own brains.
    I think that the expectation we put into our families is unfair and too heavy. There is no perfection, in dealing with other humans we will always find things we like and things we dislike and blood bonds shouldn’t force or demand that someone acts a certain way, you know. I think that we should learn to look at the differences inside our families and learn from it, and love it, take advantage of it. Every family will look crazy for some people and perfect to some other, you just have to look to the right thing.
    My family has both good and bad, like all families. We are extremely loyal and respectful of each other’s space. Once you are a grown up and you have your own house, nobody will say to your face that you’re doing something wrong, it that’s what you chose to do. But they will be there for you when you need. The bad part is that there is a lot of talking behind your back, because they might not get in the middle of your stuff and say it to your face, but if they don’t agree with something they will talk about it when you’re not there. We are not very affectionate either, and each one of us looks different (physically), so that in family photos it looks like one big annual picture of some foster home (hahaha). But I love them. I love each one of them.

    Your post is beautiful. So much that it inspired this huge comment! hahah hope you don’t mind!

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