Happy Families – How to Maintain Them (in too many complicated steps)

All families, yes, even for those who are old enough to remember, even the Waltons and the Ingles had differences and difficulties which they had to overcome for the greater good of the family as a unit.

As I see it, families are not about the here and now, it is a long term investment in people. When the bonds are strong enough then it is not a matter of hate and rejection but more temporary like or dislike. It is entirely compatible to love someone deeply yet, at the same time, to dislike them intensely. It all rather depends on a number of factors in any order, quantity or combination.

This means that a single disagreement can feel, at the time, like the end of an era, the beginning of the end, the end of the family as we know it. The emphasise has to be on the word ‘feel’. Much of what goes wrong in families is perceptual dysfunction and bad or no communication.

At some time it may be sensible to have one person tell another that perhaps they are not particularly happy with what they have just done. It may be ‘sensible’ but not always easy. Indeed, if either or both concerned are not fully in control of their emotions the door is open for misunderstandings and defensiveness which will lead to further miscommunication. It is too easy, when confronted with a negative, to reply with a negative. Let me give an example:

“You just took my shirt, you should have asked” Says person ‘A’

Person ‘B’ replies with: “Yeah, and you took my shirt last week so I reckon we’re even”

Already the conversation is confrontational. It is not looking at the bigger, long term picture. The objective both parties want is for them to get along and show a little more respect for each other. To achieve this the conversation would be better going like this:

“You just took my shirt, you should have asked” Says person ‘A’

To which person ‘B’ should have replied: “I’m sorry, I shall ask next time”.

Now, person ‘B’ may not feel sorry, they may feel aggrieved but what will that achieve them? Using the method I have shown above, the result in the long term will both ‘A’ and ‘B’ moving toward a little more future respect especially if they both remember the conversation and pointedly and politely ask each other in future. It is worth considering that, not everyone thinks the same and has the same values so a compromise needs to be reached.

One person may be little bothered or not bothered at all about others in the family helping themselves to their things whereas, other family members may be highly bothered. Another area of conflict then arises, the perception of double standards and contradiction.

A person who places a high degree of ownership on their personal property needs to transfer those same values on the property of others. In our scenario above, person ‘B’ may be very laid back about their property and generally unconcerned about person ‘A’ borrowing them whereas, person ‘A’ is very precious about their things and expects people to ask first. Both are actually OK about the borrowing of their items yet both expect a different method of approach. Therefore, in our example, person ‘A’ has two options. They either always ask person ‘B’ before borrowing things as they expect others to do to them or, they ease their ownership values to equalise with person ‘B’

Competition has no place within families except during those times designated as ‘games’ and where each family member has agreed that they can compete over an objective.

In a family there is a designated and historical hierarchy which is normally established around generational positions. Therefore, the eldest in the family such as Grandparents are afforded the greatest respect followed by parents and children. A the children become adults they are afforded a higher status but will still need to respect their parents and eldest relatives. The main change is the relationship between siblings. During childhood they may have had an age related status but in adulthood that status needs to be given away and forgotten. All siblings should consider themselves equal in adulthood. Sibling rivalry may seem like a healthy pastime in childhood but, if continued into adult life will almost certainly cause friction. We should all strive to be proud of the achievements of our siblings, to respect their possessions and not seek to compete by insisting on the same things in our own life. Part of this is fully comprehending that they are not competing for parental respect or ‘love’. Most if not all parents have the ability to love equally all their children. No parent has to have a favourite, that is a choice and, a very unhealthy pursuit it is too. All children should be considered equal in our degree of love for them else they will develop feeling inferior, it will prevent them having the best possible start in life.

As if sibling rivalry was not a large enough issue within families the matter is further complicated when others are brought into the family, boyfriends, girlfriends and significant others add another dimension to the family dynamics.

Many ‘outsiders’ feel the need to fight for their rights, for their position at the side of the family member. This is totally unnecessary in most cases. Quite often the partner of our children are welcomed into the family alongside our own children. But, there is a set of rules and understandings to be brought into this equation and there as many different variants to that as there are families. Every family has their communication rules, their expectations, their standard rules of behaviour between themselves and around the house. Mad and inconceivable as it may sound, quite often, all of these are equally valid for all their differences. It is generally not difficult to understand the way each family works and it is no good at all for a person coming into a family to try and force their own family values on their new family. What works brilliantly in one family could be totally unacceptable in another and both families are correct. So, for example, one family may expect their children to do very little around the house and to payroll their children whereas another family expects their children to do chores and pay their way. Both household rules and expectations differ considerably but both are correct. This mean that the child of the first household needs to quickly learn to offer to do things and occasionally dip their hands to their pocket for one household yet, it is perfectly acceptable for them to sit and waited on in another. This is just a normal way of things and has to be respected totally for the complicated family situation to work.

I could continue this for some time, I am hoping that, by now, those who need to understand it have done so. Within my own family there has been some serious errors of communication recently and some difficult adjusting from those who still, after some time, consider themselves on the outside of the family looking in. There is, to my knowledge, no one actually on the outside of this family looking in from those who may consider themselves to be the weekend visitors to this house. Everyone is part of this family. Temporary disagreements are just that. How long they last depends entirely on the one who feels aggrieved and how long they want them to last. In this case, things have been said which were all true. That they were true does not mean that things cannot change with the desire to make them change. We do not always get things right in life, indeed, some times we get them very wrong. Where families have their strength is in their ability to understand the very simple fact, and the main backbone of this blog, just because we sometimes don’t like each other, doesn’t mean we stop loving each other.

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