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.
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.
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.
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.