Growing up in Alaska, I was surrounded by a number of people I recognized as family. Whether it was by blood or the amount of years and connection forged in close friendships, from a young age to present day I’ve had an example of what family “should” be. I was lucky enough to grow up with a great set of cousins, two grandmothers, uncles, aunts, great aunts and uncles, and family friends that I can’t list here because I’d be typing for entirely too long. The traditional definition of family, according to Google, would be “all the descendants of a common ancestor.” While that definition stands scientifically, for the most part, we all should be aware of the concept of chosen family.
Family friends are a perfect example of chosen family. These people aren’t your relatives by blood, but you call them your “play cousins” or “sis” or “bro” because they’ve been there and you don’t intend on letting them go. This is a queer blog, so I’d be remiss in not sharing queer examples of chosen family. I know individuals who have been cut off completely or kicked out from their households after coming out as queer. Their chosen family from that point would be who they invited into their lives after that point. Now, chosen family have their faults too, hence why I bring the concept up for this post I’m scribbling down at the moment. Family to me is whoever you share your life with, whoever supports you unconditionally, through the good and bad, and shares the joy you give each other in life.
Now before we continue, read the following note aloud so it resonates with you: Relationships, regardless of the type, aren’t one-sided. It takes effort from all that are involved.
In my experience with family, the good far outweighs the difficult periods that have occurred over the years. There were petty Christmases here and there – the battle of the aunties is what I called it, lol – divorces, and some tough times surrounding drug and alcohol abuse, but there were also celebrations, endless laughter, and plenty of love to go around. To this day, I think the pettiest tiff that lives on for my side of the family is who is supposed to call who. That’s right! Phone calls. But let’s dive into that some more, because as petty as it seems, I’ve found that this has been a real source of tension or frustration in other areas of these relationships.
My dad used to get on my siblings and I’s case for only calling when we needed something. I’d say this spanned from the years my parents were going through their divorce – the last half of high school for me – and the early years of undergrad. As we came up in age, he’d also get on our case about reaching out to family outside of Alaska; specifically my grandmother after she moved back to New Jersey. Naturally as people, we gravitate and are more comfortable with the people we know and that have been around our whole lives. Looking back at those moments I totally understand his perspective and respect it. If I had children, I’d want them to have a close relationship with my parents too, but what’s the use in forcing something that’s not there? I don’t mean that disrespectfully. It’s a hard fact and I take full ownership of my role in what I “should” have been doing. We’ll get back to the “should” of it all here in a bit.
As we aged, the fight of who should call who dissipated, but ended up resurfacing within the last year from other members of the family. I called my grandmother the day after her birthday and a sassy uncle of mine, immediately got on my case. “Why couldn’t you call yesterday?” was the question. I found myself explaining my day, and stating that I was “very busy.” I didn’t owe anyone any explanations, so I was highly annoyed in the moment. Eventually I had to flip the script and remind, him in a medium tone of voice, that no one from the East coast calls me to ask how I’m doing. I can say the same thing about my family in Chicago, but guess what? I’m not calling either! There’s no shade or ill intention there at all. It all goes back to people are living their lives and have schedules. We’re going to prioritize those that are a little higher on the connection list, and that’s not to say we can’t make adjustments. Reaching out to more family and old friends more often, is something I’ve been doing my best to improve. I can’t speak for others on this front. It’s on each party to make the effort.
Communication and effort are just a couple expectations that come to mind as I reflect on what I’ve shared thus far. We should call to say hello, we should respect peoples’ time, we should check in on each other when we can, young people should respect their elders. There’s a lot that is expected of us at times, without the expectation being clearly set. The ego takes over and says “I feel this way, so they should respond or act this way, because ABC or XYZ.” That’s no way to grow, move forward, or to enhance the quality of relationships. Now, I’m no therapist. I can and will only speak on my experience. If you’re going through a major situation with your family and you’re at odds, please seek professional help or a trusted, neutral, party to help you work through the issues.
I’m a big fan of productively using your words in conflict. It’s easy to avoid the people in your family when problems arise, but it takes more guts and honor to face them directly. Not letting the drama go beyond what it’s worth is the best thing you can do for your mental health. Why create drama that isn’t present, especially when the other party has no idea a problem exists? Pouring gasoline on a fire that isn’t there doesn’t make any sense to me, unless you fully plan on throwing a lit match upon it. This sets the scene for more confusion, concern for loved ones involved, and does absolutely nothing in the problem-solving department. As mentioned earlier, relationships aren’t one-sided, and it takes all parties involved to work through any rough patches. No one should expect their asses to be kissed or egos constantly stroked for any reason if you fully intend on repairing connections. Assumptions and perceptions have a tendency to run rampant the longer avoidance is ruling your decision making in conflict. Face the issues. Stop the smoke before the fire ignites.
I’d like to route us back to the “should” of it all as we near the end of this piece. Our egos and very human emotions would have us all believe that we know what is best for someone in a situation; or even what’s best for a tougher situation we may be in ourselves. It’s easy for me to stand up proudly in conflict and say “well he should know, or she should not be putting up with, or they should understand this because…” It’s easy for any of us to say what others should do, or how they should act when we’re only seeing things from our perspective. Being open to others’ views or asking them why they may be perceiving a scenario a certain way will save you a great deal of energy and encourage growth in connection. On the flip-side, however, people need and should be open to receiving the feedback. This particular “should” is one I fully believe in and stand by. If you’re only interested in selling your points or winning your case, and not being open to the other side’s view of an issue, no progress will be made.
At the end of the day, people are going to do what they want and act how they want to act. As a family member, you want to be open and present when family needs you (and if they deserve it). What I learned a long time ago was that you can only share the same piece of advice so many times, you can only hear the same story so many times, you can only let yourself be disrespected so many times. If you’re in the position of providing guidance or giving advice of any kind, don’t take it personally if the advice isn’t followed. Some people need to go through whatever they’re going through on their own. If that involves some form of rock-bottom or keeping themselves distant from those trying to have a healthy relationship with them, then so be it. No one should be in the “I told you so” business. Be a support system for yourself – i.e. not being taken advantage of emotionally, financially, or otherwise – and be a support system for who needs it to your best ability. I like to believe that people come around, learn lessons, or grow into better human beings, but I’ve also learned not to wait around for that to happen.
Gays in the Life started as a blog focused on my marriage and romantic relationships in general. This is the first of many more relationship themed posts to come on the blog. Thank you all for reading and remember to be kind to yourselves and have faith that all will be well. If you’re going through something with close friends or family, please feel free to use this post as a talking point, and to help shed light on some of the darkness you may be working through at the moment.